SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 7, 2014

Benton: Doing the right thing for the wrong reason

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — It took a Republican governor’s veto of a bill passed by the Republican legislature for Arizona to avoid further embarrassment last week.

Regardless of its zany supporters’ assertions, the bill had nothing to do with freedom of religion and everything do with the fear that, as happened next door in New Mexico, some business might be sued for refusing service to a gay couple. Gov. Jan Brewer did the right thing; sadly, not because it was the right thing to do, but because of fear it might cost her state the Super Bowl and other lucrative business opportunities.

Meanwhile, back on this reporter’s former home turf, the Salem City Council has passed a non-discrimination ordinance put forward by the city’s No Place for Hate Committee. Mayor Kim Driscoll signed the ordinance Monday making Salem the first community on the North Shore and one of only five in the state to expand upon the state’s existing non-discrimination law by extending it to the transgender community in the matter of public accommodations.

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It’s rare that a city or town planning board finds itself at the center of a mayoral election as happened recently in Beverly.

Voters in North Beverly and Montserrat were livid over a decision by the board to approve the rezoning of land near the intersection of Route 128 and Brimbal Avenue that would allow the construction of a new shopping plaza and a long-planned new highway interchange. Mayor Bill Scanlon and both of his would-be successors supported the rezoning as well; but the eventual winner, Michael Cahill, saw fit to throw neighbors a bone by asking for Planning Board chairman Richard Dinkin’s resignation.

After 30 years on the board, Dinkin did not go quietly, opting to voice his dismay in a speech to the City Council. Cahill says he wants all members of his administration to show “respect in all public discourse.” Sadly, some only feel respected when you agree with them.

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Many bemoan the fact that, unlike in New Hampshire or Arizona, serving in the Massachusetts Legislature has become a full-time job with salary and benefits to match. But running for office, in this observer’s view, certainly ought to remain a part-time endeavor.

So you will find no criticism here of Paul Tucker’s intention to remain as Salem’s police chief while running for the state representative seat being vacated by John Keenan. In a telephone interview this week, Tucker said he is highly sensitive to the potential minefields that face anyone holding one public office while seeking another, but is confident that can be navigated without injury to his electability or reputation.

A clear field, particularly on the Democratic side, would certainly help Tucker by reducing the pressure on him to raise money. But while some potential candidates have decided to remain on the sidelines, Grace Harrington, Keenan’s top Statehouse staffer and a member of one of the city’s most prominent political families, says she’s still considering a run.

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Datebook: Several candidates for state and federal office are expected at the next meeting of the Salem Democratic City Committee to be held Monday, March 23, at 7 p.m. at 11 Tedesco Pond Place.

Political columnist Nelson Benton retired as editorial page editor of The Salem News in 2012.