, Salem, MA

November 7, 2013

Our view: A message of change in Salem, Beverly

The Salem News

---- — Come January, the municipal landscape on the North Shore is going to look significantly different.

Tuesday night’s elections saw Beverly replace the longest-serving mayor in the region in Bill Scanlon with Mike Cahill, a fellow political veteran who promises to blend Scanlon’s fiscal savvy with an inclusiveness and transparency many critics found lacking.

“Mike finally got his message out about being more inclusive and open,” Rantoul Street resident Barry Checchi told reporter Paul Leighton Tuesday night. “He doesn’t leave anybody out of the process. It was a change from what we’ve had the last 18 years.”

In choosing Cahill, voters passed over a strong candidate Scanlon endorsed and worked hard for, Ward 2 City Councilor Wes Slate.

Beverly also elected four new city councilors and replaced its school committee president. In the coming months, the city will also be hiring a new police chief and a new school superintendent. The challenge for Cahill in the early days of his administration will be to hire key personnel and build a relationship with a transformed City Council.

Salem, meanwhile, swept aside a raft of incumbent councilors and School Committee members in a wave that should make even those who were re-elected take notice.

Incumbent councilors Paul Prevey, Mike Sosnowski and Jerry Ryan were all voted out of office Tuesday, and former councilor Steve Pinto failed in his effort to oust Robert McCarthy in Ward 1. All were persistent opponents of Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, who was handily re-elected. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with the mayor — the City Council isn’t supposed to be a rubber stamp. Over the past several years, however, some councilors have scuttled or delayed initiatives large and small, seemingly out of spite. The knee-jerk obstructionism often kept the city from moving forward, and on Tuesday, voters let everyone know they wanted it to stop.

Significantly, the top vote-getter in the council race was a newcomer, Elaine Milo, who works in the grants office at Salem State University. Milo ran on a platform of consensus-building and “thoughtful decision-making.”

That message obviously resonated in the School Committee race, as well, where incumbents Janet Crane and Lisa Lavoie were ousted, and Rachel Hunt, head of school at the Salem Academy Charter School, was the leading vote-getter.

Hunt and former school teacher and administrator Patrick Schultz, who was also elected Tuesday, promised a sustained focus on helping lift the beleaguered school district out of Level 4 status, the last step before a state takeover.

“What we saw today was a transition taking hold,” incumbent (and re-elected) at-large Councilor William Legault said Tuesday night. “New residents, younger residents asserting themselves. ... This is a new city, and we have to find new directions.”

While Legault has a point, in many ways, the “Old Salem” vs. “New Salem” argument making the rounds in recent weeks is a misnomer. The change Salem needs isn’t generational; it’s in the need for a shared vision, a sense of common purpose and a feeling the city’s leaders are working together to meet a phalanx of challenges.

On Tuesday, Salem voters let it be known that’s the type of change they want.