, Salem, MA

January 11, 2013

Benton: Picking through the pieces of the council votes

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — At least the Salem City Council’s Pinto 5 knew when to cut its losses.

Last week’s deadlock, during which Councilors Michael Sosnowski, Todd Siegel, Arthur Sargent, Paul Prevey and Jerry Ryan cast 300 consecutive votes for pal Steve Pinto, had invited comparisons to the dysfunctional GOP House majority in Congress. This week, apparently having been satisfied by Ryan’s election to the council presidency (incredibly, there were reports the post might have gone to Pinto had he been chosen to fill the vacancy created by Councilor-at-large Joan Lovely’s elevation to the state Senate), the five councilors spared themselves further embarrassment by casting their votes for compromise candidate William Legault.

Hopefully, Legault, a Salem native and military veteran who has made many friends working in a multitude of jobs locally over the past couple of decades, will bring the kind of balance that was Lovely’s hallmark during her years on the council. As was pointed out on this page Monday, her moderating voice was sorely missed in the events leading to last week’s deadlock.

As a result, voters got a harsh glimpse of what might have awaited Mayor Kim Driscoll had the pro-Pinto faction prevailed. Having a council that serves as rubber stamp for the administration does not serve the city well, but neither does one that seeks to thwart its every initiative. Sadly, Pinto supporters have shown over their too many years in office (Siegel is the lone freshman), that they are much more comfortable pandering to the demands of various opposition groups than they are providing the kind of leadership Salem needs. That’s in stark contrast to their mayor, who has pursued an ambitious and sometimes controversial agenda of urban improvement and, it should be noted, remains extremely popular.

Much credit must be given to those five councilors (Kevin Carr, Tom Furey, Joe O’Keefe, Josh Turiel and Robert McCarthy) who, fearing the potentially disastrous consequences of a Pinto restoration, refused to take what would have been the easy route in acquiescing to their former colleague’s return.

The vote had to be particularly difficult for McCarthy, given Pinto’s many connections in the Willows neighborhood where the Ward 1 councilor resides and which has delivered him a lion’s share of the vote in recent elections.

Sargent was apparently willing to put his own at-large seat at risk in backing Pinto. Despite his seniority, Sargent has hardly been voters’ first choice among the four councilors elected citywide and might have found himself on the outside looking in come November. (That might still be the case, of course. Carr has announced he’s had enough and will not run for re-election this year, leaving one seat open; Legault has left open the possibility of running for a full, two-year term in the fall; Pinto and local businessman Darek Barcikowski, the first runner-up in the 2011 at-large race, are likely candidates; and who knows how many more might have been inspired to run by last week’s shenanigans.)


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