SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 2, 2013

Benton: Outspoken, unchallenged

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Perhaps the most surprising “free ride” of the current municipal election cycle was that received by Salem Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel.

The freshman representative from South Salem has quickly earned a reputation for outspokenness — not necessarily a bad thing — seen most recently in the contentious debate over the extended-year program at Saltonstall School.

Turiel, a Saltonstall parent, made no secret of his preference for the status quo and has also made clear his desire to see School Committee members Brendan Walsh and Janet Crane get bounced in November. That pair, along with Jim Fleming and Nate Bryant, voted to bring the Saltonstall calendar back in line with the rest of the district’s.

In remarks some might describe as impassioned and others as intemperate (later reprinted on this page), Turiel declared that “from all the most recently published data, Salem’s schools suck.”

It was probably fortunate for Turiel that the comment, which certainly had many teachers seeing red, came very close to the deadline for taking out nomination papers. As a result, in a year that will see challenges to three veteran ward councilors and lively contests for school board and councilor at large, Turiel will go unchallenged.

Too bad. The city might have been treated to a first in terms of campaign slogans: “Vote for Josh. He don’t suck.”

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A reader responded to a recent tweet regarding what constitutes the “new” Salem as opposed to the “old.”

Well, think about those who frequent Bertini’s as opposed to Gulu-Gulu Café. Or who regard chairs and tables on downtown sidewalks as a safety hazard rather than a cool way to dine outdoors.

Think of those who pine for the glory days of Salem High School football as opposed to those who don’t know there was such a thing.

In certain respects, this year’s election will show which faction has the most clout at the polls. Should be an interesting fall.

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On Feb. 24, 2012 I wrote in this column, “One of the people being mentioned as a possible Republican vice-presidential candidate, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, has a Peabody connection. His father, the late John F. ‘Jack’ McDonnell, was born and raised in the Tanner City.”

Since then McDonnell, who is constitutionally prohibited from running for re-election, has been caught in a scandal of major proportions for accepting money from a friend in the business community.

Tuesday, he announced he would be returning $120,000 in loans he received from Star Scientific executive Jonnie Williams, which doesn’t include the tens of thousands in “gifts” the dietary supplement hawker bestowed on McDonnell’s wife and children.

Fair to say McDonnell’s prospects for national office have been considerably diminished.

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It seems Massachusetts can now lay claim to having the second-highest cigarette tax in the country, what the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation calls the “the most far-reaching software services tax in the nation,” and a rare self-inflating gasoline tax. If the Republicans can’t use this money-grab to scoff up a constitutional office or two and more than a few legislative seats in 2014, it might be time to consider disbanding the entire party.

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And is there anything more archaic than the Massachusetts law requiring at least one member of each political party on city and town licensing boards?

Nelson Benton covered North Shore politics for 40 years before retiring last year from The Salem News.