, Salem, MA

October 30, 2013

Our view: Progress in Peabody

The Salem News

---- — In his first two years of office, Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt has mirrored the pro-growth, taxpayer-friendly approach to municipal management advocated by predecessors Peter Torigian and Michael Bonfanti. And that, no doubt, is why he finds himself without an opponent in his first bid for re-election.

Efforts to revitalize the downtown area continue apace, while at the same time, the administration has embarked on an ambitious effort to inject new energy and attract new businesses to the aging Centennial Park out on the highway. In addition, the city is about to begin construction on a much-needed new middle school. The ability to make vital infrastructure improvements and maintain essential city services, while at the same time keeping taxes among the lowest in the region, has long been a formula for success for occupants of the corner office. Bettencourt would do well to emulate this model in the years to come.

That progress hasn’t happened on its own. The City Council, with a few notable exceptions (councilors voting themselves a pay raise, for example), has been much more productive and forward-thinking than in past years. It was with council support, for example, that Bettencourt was able to remove the police chief position from Civil Service, giving the mayor much more flexibility in his search for a replacement for the retiring Robert Champagne.

Tuesday’s election gives voters a chance to see that progress continue.

The departure of veteran member James Liacos paves the way for at least one new at-large member on the council. But there are two we would recommend: Tom Walsh, whose previous experience on the school board and Statehouse, as well as the council, has since been enhanced by a long stint in the private sector; and longtime community and Republican activist Scott Frasca.

Deserving of another term among those running citywide is Tom Gould, whose promise we touted in his first bid for election in 2011 has been met by a strong performance in the two years since. As council president, Gould has set the tone for the past two successful years.

We also endorse Anne Manning-Martin, whose attention to detail and willingness to ask uncomfortable questions serves the city and its citizens well.

When investigating complaints about buses stored on Pulaski Street, for example, she found some were actually garaged there, leading to another $70,000 in taxes for the city. And it was Manning-Martin who sought to mobilize city government to help process applications for fuel assistance when the partial federal government shutdown put that program in danger.

Another incumbent deserving of re-election is David Gravel, who like Manning-Martin has also served on the School Committee. As a business owner, he has out of necessity become an expert on the city’s efforts to solve its chronic flooding problems. As the council’s expert on zoning issues, he has also become a key driver behind efforts to revitalize the downtown. Like others on the council, he has made it a priority to keep the tax rate stabilized.

In Ward 2, the choice is Peter McGinn, who understands how growth helps keep taxes in check. In Ward 3, businessman Thomas Serino’s private-sector experience gives him the edge. Finally in Ward 5, we prefer Joel Saslaw, who was chosen by Bettencourt to be part of the committee overseeing the revitalization of Centennial Park.