, Salem, MA

March 29, 2013

Our view: In Peabody, Gravel for state representative

The Salem News

---- — It is a rare thing these days to see a contested state representative race. On the North Shore, only one representative, Ted Speliotis of Danvers, saw opposition last fall, and he won re-election handily.

So we are encouraged to see a full slate of candidates vying for the chance to represent the citizens of Peabody’s 12th Essex District, which includes Wards 1 through 4 and part of Ward 5. This Tuesday, April 2, voters will choose between Republican Leah Cole, unenrolled candidate David Gravel and Democrat Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne.

Griffin Dunne, 55, a School Committee member, has a long record of service to the citizens of Peabody and has promised to carry on the tradition of constituent service championed by the late Joyce Spiliotis, whose death last year necessitated next week’s special election. Cole, a 24-year-old nurse, has acquitted herself well in her first run for public office, offering a consistently conservative alternative to her opponents.

For the residents of Peabody, however, Gravel is the clear choice.

The 56-year-old Gravel, a current city councilor and former School Committee member, has the necessary blend of both public and private sector experience to advance the city’s interests on Beacon Hill and form an effective partnership with the administration of first-term Mayor Ted Bettencourt.

Just over the line in Salem, state Rep. John Keenan and Mayor Kim Driscoll have worked together, with others, to land several projects for their city, including a new courthouse, a new train station and an expanded Salem State University. Those initiatives are revitalizing Salem, and there’s no reason similar teamwork can’t pay dividends for Peabody.

Gravel has been a strong supporter of efforts to improve downtown Peabody, where his business, GraVoc, is located, and knows firsthand the importance of fixing, or at least mitigating, the city’s chronic flooding problems. He was also instrumental in getting the new YMCA on Lynnfield Street built.

While Gravel would caucus with Democrats if elected, and would eventually re-enroll in the party, he follows the Peabody tradition of keeping taxes as low as possible. For example, Gravel says he would not blindly support such initiatives as Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to raise nearly $2 billion in new taxes to boost spending on everything from higher education to high-speed rail.

“I just don’t think it’s a good time to increase taxes on anybody,” he told reporter Alan Burke earlier this month, saying the best way to increase state revenue is to put more people back to work.

Gravel stood out in recent interviews and in a candidates debate earlier this week for his response to questions about fraud in the state’s Electronic Benefit Transfer card system. The cards, which work like debit cards, are given to residents who need state assistance for food and other day-to-day expenses. Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars are lost to the program each year through fraud and abuse. Rather than resort to demagoguery or painting all assistance recipients as criminals, or throw up his hands at the problem, as many in the Patrick administration have done, Gravel chose to focus on a technical solution.

Gravel would see the EBT cards work more like flexible spending accounts, which allow pretax spending on health care necessities. Spending with those debit cards is closely controlled.

“I can’t believe that the technology doesn’t exist that we can’t implement controls that allow for more efficiency out of the EBT program and eliminate the fraud and waste that goes on with the few who abuse it,” he said at this week’s debate.

It’s a straightforward, technical approach to solving a problem that others merely scream about.

That’s the kind of measured, intelligent approach to the issues that residents of Peabody need, and it’s part of the reason why Gravel has earned endorsements from Jackie Torigian, the wife of the late Mayor Peter Torigian, as well as former Mayor Michael Bonfanti and City Council President Tom Gould.

We add our name to the list, and encourage Peabody residents to vote for Gravel next week.