SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 1, 2013

Benton: Gamache's courageous vote

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Peabody Ward 5 Councilor David Gamache, who announced recently that he will not seek re-election after 12 terms in office, did indeed distinguish himself with his vote in favor of closing the then-city-owned J.B. Thomas Hospital. He reflected on the controversy during a recent interview with reporter Alan Burke.

The facility was hemorrhaging money when then-Mayor Peter Torigian proposed closing it in 1991. Given the number of Peabody residents who worked at the facility at the corner of King Street and Ellsworth Road, the move was not a popular one. Employees and members of their families hurled insults and threats as Torigian tried to persuade the council to do the right thing.

But shuttering the hospital was the right move given the amount of money it had and would continue to cost taxpayers. (Officials in nearby Haverhill were not so courageous, and that city is still paying off the huge debt it took on in what proved a futile effort to keep its Hale Hospital open.)

One wonders whether those in office today would be capable of a similarly bold move under those circumstances.

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Middleton’s Marisa DeFranco won’t be the interim U.S. senator between now and June’s special election, but then neither will former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.

DeFranco, who challenged Elizabeth Warren in last year’s Democratic primary, and the longtime Newton congressman both thought they had a legitimate claim to the interim post that went instead to Gov. Deval Patrick’s former chief of staff, William “Mo” Cowan, this week.

John Kerry’s confirmation as secretary of state sets the stage for what should be an interesting scramble, at least on the Democratic side, to fill the remainder of Kerry’s current term, which expires in 2014 . Two veteran Bay State congressmen, Ed Markey of Malden and South Boston’s Stephen Lynch, are expected to compete for the seat. Meanwhile, Republican Scott Brown, who lost to Warren last November, is said to be leaning toward making a comeback attempt. (Cowan has said he will not run.)

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Wayne Burton, who is giving up the presidency of North Shore Community College at the end of the current school year, had an influence on the region’s civic life that extended far beyond the campuses in Danvers, Lynn and Beverly.

He viewed education as the great equalizer and strived to make his college a place where everyone, regardless of his or her personal circumstances, could acquire the skills and experiences that would allow them to fulfill their dreams. His legacy will endure in the expanded campus in the Hathorne section of Danvers and the nearby regional vocational school that he was instrumental in getting built.

There was a time prior to 2000 when Fred Berry, the veteran legislator from Peabody, contemplated the idea of trying to follow some his colleagues into the academic ranks by applying for the NSCC presidency. But Berry decided to stay put, and the post went to Burton, who had been dean of the business school at Salem State University. Good move for both.

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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.