Sen.-elect Joan Lovely won’t be leaving the Salem City Council until January, but speculation has been swirling for months about who will replace her.
So far, there’s been no decision about how a decision will be made, but there’s a lot of maneuvering behind the scenes and no clear idea of how someone could be nominated for the post, much less chosen. Some have already declared their support for former Councilor Steve Pinto, who lost his re-election bid last year. We’d encourage the council to put this issue out in the open, however, and not give the impression that this is locked up before there’s even a public discussion or a chance for other candidates to be considered.
According to council rules, councilors remaining when Lovely departs can choose anyone they like. Precedents for filling vacancies have varied. When the School Committee faced a vacancy recently, a joint meeting of the City Council and School Committee chose the next runner-up in the election. That certainly seems a worthwhile precedent, and one that affirms the will of the voters in the last election.
In 2006, when a councilor resigned, remaining councilors chose a former councilor who promised not to run when the seat next came up for election. The advantage: The city got an experienced councilor who could hit the ground running, but the council was not seen as trying to give one individual an advantage in the next election. This, too, is a reasonable alternative.
So far, two former councilors, Pinto and Lucy Corchado, have asked to be considered, but only Corchado is believed to have no interest in running in next fall’s election. Should either of them be appointed to serve, it should be with the understanding that he or she will not run in the fall.
The only proposed scenario that does not seem reasonable is to return to office a councilor whom voters turned out of office in the last election, on the grounds that voters were somehow ill-informed, misled or just plain stupid in refusing to re-elect him. Pinto has every right to run for election again, and perhaps he would win his seat back. But it would be unseemly for his former colleagues to deliberately thwart the will of the voters, bypassing someone who beat him in the election, because they think voters made a mistake.