SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 22, 2013

Benton: Gravel the Democrat

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — In a letter to potential voters this week, Peabody state representative candidate Dave Gravel explains his decision to run as an independent in the April 2 special election.

“Although I am a lifelong Democrat,” he states, “I am required by law to run as an independent ... because while serving on our nonpartisan City Council I decided to become an unenrolled voter to avoid party divisiveness on local issues. When this unexpected election was announced, it was too late to change that. If elected, I will be returning to my Democratic designation.”

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“Lincoln” is the most nominated film in the Academy Awards ceremony that will air Sunday. And President Barack Obama might find it useful to review this account of how the Great Emancipator managed to coax a reluctant Congress into approving the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery.

Unfortunately, in contrast to Abraham Lincoln, this president seems to regard stagecraft rather than statesmanship as the best method of cajoling skeptical Republicans to do the right thing regarding the budget and deficit. The latest example was this week’s press conference at which Obama surrounded himself with firefighters and other uniformed first responders to make the point that the failure to reach a deal on the sequestration of federal funds by March 1 could imperil public safety.

This practice of exploiting the alleged victims of congressional inaction, whether by putting them on risers behind the president or giving them prime seats at the State of the Union address, is becoming wearisome. Worse, it isn’t working.

It’s time for Obama to gather up the carrots and sticks the office of president provides and do some hard, face-to-face bargaining with the GOP’s chieftains. After all, he was elected to be a leader, not a propagandist.

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Peabody city councilors finally found a mayor willing to accept a pay raise — which finally gave them a reason to boost their own salaries.

It’s hard to argue that the chief executive’s position deserved more money. And we suspect former Mayor Michael Bonfanti, whose salary was supplemented by the pension he received as a retired federal bank examiner, enjoyed tweaking the council by consistently threatening to veto any increase in his or councilors’ pay during the decade he was in office.

The 10 percent boost granted Bonfanti’s successor, Ted Bettencourt, to $105,000 a year brings his salary in line with those of other municipal chief executives in the region.

Councilors naturally gave themselves a pay hike, from $7,466 a year to $9,450, which might also seem reasonable, except that they also freed themselves from ever having to address the issue again by tying their salary to the mayor’s. It’s now set at 9 percent of what the mayor receives.

Kudos to Councilors Anne Manning-Martin, Gravel and Rico Mello for voting against the automatic raises. If members of the city’s chief legislative body feel they deserve more money, they should be required to vote on it.

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Recent polls show U.S. Rep. Ed Markey with a fairly comfortable lead over colleague Stephen Lynch in the race for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, and Republican Dan Winslow a decided long shot in the final election.

Salem’s Darek Barcikowski, a well-known Democratic activist, will serve as North Shore coordinator for the Lynch campaign.

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Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at nelson.benton3@gmail.com.