SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 26, 2013

Column: Helping Salem 'become strength'

Christopher Sicuranza
The Salem News

---- — New Salem vs Old Salem; Pro-Mayor vs Anti-Mayor; Traditionalist vs Progressive; Republican vs Democrat; Us vs Them.

In a city steeped in historical moments, I’m mindful of where Salem has come from, but more importantly, how it will progress after the dust settles when our political season ends on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 5.

This year has seen remarkable changes for Salem — from deeper outreach with community groups, more funding toward landmark construction projects, increased growth from Salem State University, major educational adjustments, a progressively developing downtown, and of course, the potential to see new leadership in the form of changes on Salem City Council and School Committee.

Nearly 10 months ago, I was an unwitting participant to one of the sorriest tales in Salem’s history in attempting to fill the now state Sen. Joan Lovely’s vacant councilor-at-large seat. When I submitted my name to fulfill the obligations of the position, I would have never imagined that after 300 votes deadlocked until nearly 3 a.m., begrudging personalities prevented our city from moving on. Instead, true friction was exposed in our leadership when two former councilors, Lucy Corchardo and Steve Pinto, pitted against one another, seemingly in pro-mayor and anti-mayor camps respectively. So went the votes evenly — five to Pinto, five to Corchardo. Over and over and over, the votes went on and on and on. Another brave candidate who threw his name in, William Legault, and I watched in dismay, as we were now active members of the circus our leaders were suddenly creating around us.

After speaking to councilors, leaders and active community members before and during that fateful January night, I was made to believe compromise could be achieved by avoiding partisan outlooks. Nevertheless, in witnessing the events above and stepping up to take on the heavy burdens of the position, I had an outburst during the last recess of the night. The cameras of SATV went mute, but I grew loud, demanding with a roar, “Somebody, do something! I have lost tremendous respect for all of you! You were elected to lead, now showcase that!”

And so, I left the council meeting that night knowing I likely squandered my opportunity (the interim councilor-at-large title belongs to Legault) to add my value to the leadership of Salem. I remember thinking, “Why would I even want to work with this kind of ineptitude?” with equal parts “How could I become so emotionally overcome to disrespect our city?” — arriving at the conclusion that I had a moment of weakness during a clearly tenuous time.

Today, I amend my outlook on that moment. It was not a moment of weakness; instead, it was a moment of strength.

In every major call to action in history, there has been a powder keg instant. For Salem, potentially speaking, this could have been the catalyst that awoke spirits who were dormant in recent years. The creation of an initiative that I’m proud to have spearheaded, Salem First Coalition, was created, encouraging our citizens to connect with our leaders more personally through nonpartisan social media and empowering voters to register, while finding out the true issues at stake. As the Salem School Committee displayed similar frustrations in a public way over the course of this summer, the tone of what happened in January was once again pointing out the tale of two cities. Those that are in positions to add value, and those that want to maintain the status quo.

In everything I do in life, I often assert my quest in finding the “center.” Through mutually beneficial relationships, I have found that we have a community on the precipice of amazing and noteworthy achievements. I have had the good fortune of meeting neighborhood leaders at forum debates, hearing from future school committee members, tracking down where problems are and providing an accountable voice for the people of Salem.

I take the responsibility of democracy seriously, which means holding our leaders accountable, voicing your opinions, reading about what’s at stake and engaging with all citizens, not some, as to how we can best move Salem forward, together. I believe that the offerings from candidates like Milo, Gachignard, Legault, Eppley, Famico, Gerard, Johnson, Hunt and Schultz are beyond worthy — they are hungry to bridge the gap between young and old, they have skin in the game, and they all want your vote. If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting any of these candidates, take advantage of the tools and pages on SalemFirst.org, which outlines who these people are, where they have been campaigning and their visions for the future of Salem.

We can’t let Salem become another Washington, D.C. We can’t let personalities prevent our city from progressing. We can’t forget the 300 votes in January. But what we can do is dedicate ourselves to our beautiful, amazing, kick-ass city, which will only get better with your support. That starts with your vote on Tuesday, Nov. 5, when I implore you to engage in your civic duty and vote.

I’m proud of this city and where it’s going, so let’s drop titles of “pro” or “anti” administration, “us” and “them” adages, “old” versus “new” symbolism. Instead, let’s make Salem the home of true democratic engagement and “become strength.” It starts with your vote, though, which perhaps one day soon, I’ll also be proud to earn.

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Christopher Sicuranza is vice president and co-founder of Go Out Loud, co-founder of the Salem First Coalition and secretary of the Salem Democratic Party.