SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 7, 2012

Benton: Spiliotis' winning formula

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — The late Rep. Joyce Spiliotis’ populist brand of politics became a model for many local office-seekers who have found that the surest route to success at the polls is to pander rather than lead.

This reporter was not a fan of the veteran legislator’s style, but her popularity with voters both as a city councilor and legislator was undeniable. And for better or worse, she had more influence on the manner in which politics is conducted in the Tanner City than stalwarts like the late Nick Mavroules and Peter Torigian and the about-to-retire Senate majority leader, Fred Berry.

Spiliotis was an expert practitioner of what I like to call the concierge style of politics, performing minor services for constituents and vowing to be on their side regardless of the issue. If the latter required her to tell a particular faction one thing, and another the opposite, it didn’t matter to her — or, more significantly, to those on either side, all of whom were certain the state representative was in their corner.

It was a winning formula, and one that’s been copied by many, including some present members of the Peabody and Salem city councils.

Spiliotis was perfectly suited for the rough-and-tumble world of Peabody politics, and despite our differences — I particularly recall one confrontation in former News Publisher Cy Newbegin’s office at which Spiliotis and then-Ward 3 Councilor Jim Moutsoulas accused me of conducting a personal vendetta against them — we departed friends when I last saw her this past spring. I’m grateful for that last lunch at which we talked about old times and the current state of affairs both locally and at the Statehouse.

Covering her career over the years provided a great education in the art of electioneering.

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Count Citizens for Limited Taxation among those concerned about the liberalizing effect of last month’s election, which resulted in another Democratic sweep of state and federal offices.

In a recent memo to legislators, CLT warned against any attempt to institute the graduated income tax being pushed by members of the “union-liberals coalition” that propelled Elizabeth Warren to victory in the U.S. Senate race and saved the scalp of North Shore Congressman John Tierney.

Concerns about a return to the tax-and-spend policies of the past may be legitimate given the recent decision to boost state workers’ salaries even as the commonwealth faces a $549 million budget gap.

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It comes as no surprise to find Mayor Kim Driscoll jumping aboard CinemaSalem owner Paul Van Ness’ effort to raise $60,000 for needed updates to the downtown movie house.

Driscoll realizes the importance of such a venue — along with hotels, quality small stores, museums and plenty of public art — to keeping the city’s central business district alive and worthy of accolades like the best shopping district designation recently bestowed on it by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

Look for Driscoll to be the subject of a profile in an upcoming issue of MassINC’s CommonWealth magazine, which will look at her tenure as Salem’s chief executive and speculate on her future political aspirations.

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Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at nelson.benton3@gmail.com.