Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll put to rest years of speculation this week when she announced that she will indeed run for a third four-year term. That’s good news for Salem.
The city has had able mayors before, but Driscoll brought an unusual level of professionalism to the job that has served both residents and businesses well, particularly in difficult fiscal times. When she walked in the door at City Hall in 2006, she already had a wealth of experience, not only as a city councilor — the usual route to the mayor’s office — but as a city lawyer and deputy city manager in Chelsea. She had already pored over city budgets, bargained with unions and helped with the day-to-day management of a city.
Driscoll has faced daunting obstacles — a financial crisis, a school crisis, the demise of the power plant, among others — but has led the city through those minefields, drawing on coalitions of private citizens and public institutions and using all of her contacts, including her friendship with the governor, to get Salem the help it has needed. Throughout it all, she has been open and accessible.
One of the hallmarks of her administration has been a willingness to tackle tough — and seemingly insoluble — issues in collective bargaining. Driscoll led the fight not only in Salem, but throughout the state, to rein in overly generous health plans for public employees, and she is now chipping away at sick leave buyback provisions, a budget-busting benefit unknown outside the public sector. This hasn’t won her a lot of friends among city union members, but it has saved taxpayers millions of dollars and helped keep the city in the black.
We haven’t agreed with all of the mayor’s decisions, and neither has everyone else. Her efforts to resolve the cleanup issues at the city transfer station, a plan that would result in a dramatically expanded regional trash operation, put her in the cross hairs of lots of nearby residents and businesses. Some people opposed her backing for a new gas plant on the site of the old Salem power plant. Others opposed her plan to open a new community center, serving seniors and other age groups, at the St. Joseph Church site.
She even faced controversy over her advocacy for outdoor tables in the downtown, a trend that several city councilors opposed.
Driscoll has won some and lost some. But she and her staff consistently come up with creative solutions to problems, and because of that, there’s a feeling that despite the issues Salem faces, it is a city on the move. The downtown has been revitalized and is now a restaurant mecca. We have a ferry, a Zipcar franchise, a new train station under way. Haunted Happenings, the bane of many residents, is at least under control, thanks to smart moves that restored it to a family gathering while still providing revenue for businesses.
Part of her political success has to be attributed to the fact that Salem’s mayor serves a four-year term, which gives her the ability to tackle controversial issues without facing an election battle every other year. It’s an option that other local cities may want to consider.
In the meantime, however, Salem is lucky that Driscoll will be in the mix again when voters go to the polls this fall.