, Salem, MA


August 30, 2013

Column: Tough week for Salem mayor

More than one person has described the mayor’s job — any mayor’s — as being among the toughest in America. And the past week has been a particularly bumpy one for Salem’s chief executive, Kim Driscoll.

Plans to reconfigure the Salem Harbor Station site for a clean-burning gas plant and cruise terminal continue to draw protests in some quarters. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued a report indicating the city’s vaunted school turnaround plan has not exactly been an unqualified success. And even the seemingly benign effort to eradicate the West Nile virus by spraying for mosquitoes elicited protests from beekeepers.

Who knew there were so many of the latter, and that they were so well-organized? But according to Bethany Bray’s story, the Essex County Beekeepers Association has 324 members, including a dozen in Salem. And it must be admitted that the glass-plated hive the group maintains in the 4-H barn at the Topfield Fair was always a must-see for this visitor.

In any case, the week provided further evidence that every executive action, no matter how well-intentioned, is bound to have its share of boosters and critics. It’s a major reason why the city councilor’s job is much easier than that of mayor.

Councilors delight in pandering to the opposition. It’s why 10 of 11 Peabody city councilors this week saw fit to reject a compromise on the siting of that controversial billboard at the intersection of Lowell Street and Route 1, despite their own attorney’s opinion that it’s likely to be approved in court anyway.

And it’s also why it’s the rare city councilor who is fit to serve in the corner office.

Those who oppose the redevelopment of the Salem power plant site, for instance, won’t have to deal with the dire fiscal consequences of seeing that property sit vacant. The late Peter Torigian, when he was mayor of Peabody, used to observe how he was responsible to all 50,000 residents of Tanner City, while those on the council had the luxury of catering to the minority whose only focus was what was happening in its own backyard.

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