, Salem, MA

October 31, 2013

Letter: New representation needed for the heart of Salem

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

The potential election of a new Ward 2 councilor in Salem is something that has attracted my attention. We need a new one. I’ll tell you why.

It has been interesting living in Salem for most of my life. For a period, I got to travel the world and interact with personalities and places not afforded to the average citizen. I was lucky, but I never forgot that I was from Salem and returned to call it home for a total of half a century now. Having seen what exists outside of the city line, in locales around the world and the nation, you wanted to help move the city forward with innovative “outside the box” programming that would finally make people quit repeating the “Salem has so much potential” mantra. It could become the next Newburyport, etc. etc. Today’s Salem, thankfully, is way past that now.

I know from first-hand experience that for many years if you tried to introduce new ways of thinking and a vision for improving the city that would benefit all citizens and newcomers, as well, then you were rebuffed by provincialism of the first order. This would come from both politicians and the business leadership still lamenting the fact that somebody built a highway three miles away that “stole” all of their business. Well, after 40 years of that nonsense, something interesting happened. Those not too familiar with the old ways decided to take a chance on this neglected downtown and its “woe is me” climate and put down stakes to try to service a newer and younger constituency who had no idea of what Almy’s, Empire, Bowman’s or Webber’s were. They looked ahead to creating clientele who wanted what they had to offer and did well. This attracted additional entrepreneurs who interacted with each other to spawn a niche unique to the North Shore. No longer were we going to be “Lynn with a museum,” as we once were.

So, it was fascinating to attend a Ward 2 candidates forum a few weeks back and hear “experience” vs. “fresh and knowledgeable.” The very things that everyone applauds the city becoming were seemingly lost on the “experience” candidate. When asked how he liked what the city had become with all of these people living downtown, the lifeblood of the retail trade, he was opposed to that sort of “density.”

When asked about potential future projects that merely exist in the imaginations of some of his constituents, he was opposed to that, too. “Forever.” When asked to name his three top achievements after a decade of service, he was hard-pressed to come up with a third one.

Remember, we are a city. I know how cities thrive. People. Lots of them. Being attracted to what you have to offer that is better than all the other options they can choose from, makes it work. Our downtown had fewer than 500 people calling it home 25 years ago. Now it has more than 3,000 who are our neighbors and friends and shoppers. To outwardly oppose that “miracle,” as does the incumbent, is just plain shortsighted and dangerous. Our outdoor café seating became an issue because someone thought that it was unfair to offer unused city property to help better their business. In this case, our present councilor couldn’t get behind this. It is now a hallmark of our downtown’s vitality.

We have elections every few years to provide change. Change of thinking, change of knowledge, change of direction and, most of all an understanding of change that moves you forward. Hopefully, this, in time, becomes what we all want and enjoy. Like a recent letter writer, I, too, remember Old Old Salem, having lived on Liberty Street, roughly where the ticket desk of PEM is now. Over the past six years, 1970s Old New Salem has given way to New New Salem. It wasn’t the museum or the new road, or Salem State, though they helped. It was all the newcomers who brought life and businesses to downtown, through their personal effort, investment and, most of all, their love for the city. This attracted thousands of new residents (and their dogs) wanting to call our Ward 2 downtown “home.” We have all benefited, and this change has been good. We are no longer a “used-to-be city” with used-to-be thinking. We need people who understand this, who can work together to keep Salem moving forward on the course only just at its beginning. We don’t need someone representing them who finds this “density” troubling.

I know, you get experience by being in the game. But, eventually, someone as great as a Ted Williams or a Carl Yastrzemski has to retire. There are new players who need to be heard from to take their places and who also understand where positive change can lead us, and it is not backward to some mythical Salem of Yore that doesn’t exist anymore.

Ward 2 is the heart of Salem. It is downtown, the Common and its many unique historic neighborhoods and entry ways. It is important not just for those who live here but for all in the city and our many guests. We need to have representation that can stand up on principle and deed. Not just go along to get along the divisive highway of special interests and political mediocrity.

I am supporting Heather Famico, because she is the way forward for Salem’s future and will clearly be an independent voice on a City Council sorely needing one who can clearly evaluate both sides of issues as they come along to best serve her Ward 2 constituents. Please join me in helping her get elected to this important seat on Nov. 5.

David Pelletier