So, Salem, are you missing Joan Lovely yet?
The now-former City Council president could almost certainly have brokered some sort of compromise to avert the deeply embarrassing disaster that was Thursday night’s council meeting. (At least, councilors should be embarrassed. Given their conduct last week, some may not know the meaning of the word.)
In a stalemate lasting more than seven hours and 300 votes, the council failed to select a replacement for Lovely, who was sworn in Wednesday as the region’s newest state senator. If you think the council’s evening consisted of vigorous, soaring Lincoln-Douglas-style debate, you are sorely mistaken. Much of the meeting was taken up by councilors making an identical vote to the one before.
Of the 300 votes taken, 295 were the same: Councilors Robert McCarthy, Joseph O’Keefe, Josh Turiel, Kevin Carr and Tom Furey wanted former Ward 1 Councilor Lucy Corchado to serve out the remainder of Lovely’s term, which ends in December. Jerry Ryan, Arthur Sargent, Paul Prevey, Michael Sosnowski and Todd Siegel voted for former Councilor-at-large Steve Pinto.
After 75 votes, Carr at least sought to broker a compromise, putting forth a vote for William Legault, the former YMCA fitness director, freelance writer and personal trainer. Though Legault was a qualified candidate, the effort went nowhere, and after another handful of votes, the council reverted to its Pinto-Corchado standoff for another 220 votes (Members took a break every 50 votes; it’s good to know they were pacing themselves through such freewheeling, civic-minded debate).
At 2:25 a.m. Friday, the council gave up, deciding to take the matter up again tomorrow night.
So what happens then? The candidacies of both Pinto and Corchado have been tainted by the council’s childish, churlish actions. The hope here is that Pinto realizes his candidacy is going nowhere; he was voted out of office by the citizens of Salem, and other than his five allies on the council, there is little appetite to see him back. If he’s eager to return, he can run again in November.
Corchado, unfortunately, continues to be seen by the Pinto Five — Ryan, Sargent, Prevey, Sosnowski and Siegel — as some sort of surrogate for Mayor Kim Driscoll. The view here is that Corchado was a skilled, responsive councilor capable of independent thought; there’s no reason to think that has changed. She has also made it clear she is interested only in filling out the remainder of Lovely’s term.
Based on Thursday’s circus, it’s difficult to see a road to compromise unless someone changes their mind, or if someone manages to forge a new path to a resolution. Salem voters have every reason to be skeptical that will happen tomorrow night.
We expected to see a drop-off in leadership with Lovely’s departure from the council. We didn’t expect a chasm.