SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 28, 2012

Benton: Changes afoot in the New Year

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Democrats, particularly in Massachusetts, had plenty to celebrate in 2012. But with the presidential election still fresh in our memories, more decisions await at the start of the new year for voters statewide, as well as in Salem and Peabody.

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Unfortunately, those in Salem will have to wait until November before they can weigh in on what will be a 10-person vote to replace Joan Lovely on the City Council. The popular former Ward 3 and at-large councilor is on her way to the Statehouse, where she will represent the 2nd Essex Senate district, replacing retiring Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry.

Lovely, despite having very big shoes to fill, is no doubt happy to be departing the council chamber on the second floor of City Hall, where a cabal lead by Ward 2 representative Mike Sosnowski continues to make life difficult for Mayor Kim Driscoll. Sadly, those efforts could be enhanced by the selection of Sosnowski’s pal Steve Pinto for Lovely’s seat.

Pinto was given the boot by voters in 2011 for his obstructionist tactics, but for some unfathomable reason is viewed by his supporters on the council as the second coming of Abraham Lincoln. They made it clear to the first runner-up in the last councilor-at-large race, local businessman Darek Barcikowski, that despite what logic, fairness and precedent might demand, he would not have the votes to secure Lovely’s seat.

There are a number of other well-qualified candidates, most notably former Ward 1 Councilor Lucy Corchado, who have expressed interest in the seat, but the odds at the moment seem to be in Pinto’s favor. His selection would be a slap in the face of Salem voters, who might well choose to exact their revenge in the fall. But that would mean another 12 months of unnecessary discord for an administration that has won plaudits both locally and statewide for its progressive policies.

While she could pursue other opportunities in both the public and private sectors, Driscoll has announced that she will seek a third term as mayor in 2013. There’s been talk of a challenge by Sosnowski or another council dissenter, but the betting here is that rather than risk humiliation at the polls, all will be content to hang onto their seats on the council from whence they can throw their snowballs rather than provide true leadership.

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Freshman Councilor-at-large Tom Gould would have been the clear favorite to replace the late state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, D-Peabody, in the special election likely to be set for this spring, had he chosen to run. But Gould’s decision to stay put sets the stage for a contest that pits veteran Councilor-at-large David Gravel against veteran School Committeewoman Beverley Griffin-Dunne.

This race has the potential of reviving the dormant feud between members of the Torigian-Bonfanti coalition, many of whom can be expected to line up behind Gravel, and the anti-City Hall faction that long proclaimed Spiliotis their hero.

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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.