The Salem City Council will convene Thursday night to select a replacement for outgoing President Joan Lovely, who is giving up her seat after being elected to replace the retiring Fred Berry in the state Senate.
All indications are the majority of councilors are ready to hand the job to former Councilor-at-large Steve Pinto, who was ousted by voters in the last citywide election. Cafe Polonia owner Derek Barcikowski, who finished ahead of Pinto in that at-large race but still fell short of election, did not put his name forth for consideration after it became clear he didn’t have enough council support.
“Over the last few weeks, I have met and reached out to the councilors. ... I just don’t have the support of six councilors,” Barcikowski told reporter Bethany Bray. “The decision, ultimately, has become very political.”
Barcikowski is correct, and the citizens of Salem may be poorer for it. They deserve a full, open vetting of every candidate instead of a handoff to a former member, as if the council were an exclusive club.
The city charter gives the council great latitude in selecting Lovely’s replacement, dictating that any vacancy should be filled by majority vote of the council. If the remaining 10 councilors (other than Lovely) are all eligible to vote, the winner would need at least six votes. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 93 Washington St.
The winner will fill the remainder of Lovely’s term, which ends in December 2013, and would be able to run for re-election in November.
Several residents besides Pinto have put forth their names to fill the vacancy, including Christopher Sicuranza, Lucy Corchado and William Legault. Each of their candidacies should get a thorough and public discussion before any vote is taken Thursday night. If the council is going to pass them over in favor of Pinto — which is its right — the public should know why.
Corchado, for example, is also a former councilor, representing Ward 1 from 2004 to 2007. She said her interest is more in filling the remainder of Lovely’s term than in running for re-election.
Sicuranza is the director of communications for the New England Police Benevolent Association and is also active with Go Out Loud, a Salem-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender initiative.
“This is very much a city on the rise,” he said last week. “If you want to talk about a demographic that’s not being represented ... I would like to be the voice of the people for a new generation. I mean that sincerely.”
Legault is well-known around Salem as the former fitness director at the Salem YMCA. He currently works as a personal fitness trainer and as a consultant to a group hoping to open a restaurant in the city.
Pinto, who served four years as councilor-at-large before being ousted in 2011, has been actively lobbying councilors to return him to the council.
“I enjoy being a city councilor,” he said. “I was born and raised in Salem. I miss it. I worked hard at it, I was very serious about it and enjoyed it.”
Pinto said his experience would allow him to “hit the ground running.”
That may be true, but it could also be said for Corchado. Sicuranza and Legault also have backgrounds that could prove useful in the months to come. That’s why the council needs to take their candidacies seriously.
It has been a little more than a year since citywide voters ousted Pinto, making it clear they wanted the council to move in a different direction. If some councilors are going to reject that vote, they need to offer a compelling reason why Thursday night.