, Salem, MA

April 25, 2013

Our view: Replacing Scanlon

The Salem News

---- — “I really just tried to put myself in campaign mode again, and it really just didn’t fit. It’s been a struggle to figure out, but I’ve really just decided it’s time.”

With those words Monday, Mayor Bill Scanlon turned what looked to be a relatively quiet Beverly election season into one of the most interesting on the North Shore. Make no mistake, replacing the dean of the region’s mayors will be no small task, as Beverly has benefited greatly from his leadership.

Scanlon, who began his first term in 1994, took a city that was in deep financial trouble — on the verge of bankruptcy, essentially — and restored it to solid footing, without resorting to overrides. He oversaw the transformation of the old Shoe factory complex into the still-growing, tax revenue-generating Cummings Center.

Scanlon proved willing to make controversial decisions, leading the charge for a tax break that led Cummings Properties to take on the Shoe project. The rundown property was generating $160,000 a year in property taxes when Cummings entered the picture. Today, the 2.3 million-square-foot office park generates $2.3 million a year in revenue for the city.

“If it wasn’t for Bill Scanlon, that place wouldn’t look like it does today,” former City Council President Bruce Nardella told reporter Paul Leighton earlier this week.

The continued growth of the city’s tax base led to sound investment in the city’s infrastructure, including the impressive new state-of-the-art high school that also serves as a hub for community events. (The city also renovated all of its elementary schools on time and on budget.) The city’s downtown has been significantly transformed, as has the area around the regional airport.

Scanlon also forged strong partnerships with the region’s other mayors, helping advance common projects and issues, like reining in the municipal health insurance costs.

The mayor admits to being most proud of his work early in his municipal career to eliminate inequities in the number of low-income students in each elementary school. In the former Washington-Beadle School, he told Leighton, 78 percent of the students were eligible for free and reduced lunches.

“The kids and the teachers didn’t have a chance in that environment,” he said.

Yes, replacing Scanlon will be difficult. But it is important to note that the successes of his administration were not his alone. Beverly has been fortunate to have a number of smart, innovative and dedicated city councilors, School Committee members and department heads over the last several years, and the hope here is those people will step up and make a bid for the mayor’s third-floor office. Already, School Committee President Maria Decker, City Councilor Scott Houseman, and former City Councilor and state Rep. Mike Cahill have expressed interest in running.

The early interest bodes well for the city’s chances of sustaining its continued improvement under Scanlon’s leadership.