SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 1, 2013

Benton: Embarrassing acts of obstruction, in Salem and D.C.

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Some quick thoughts on Tuesday’s election:

The lack of serious opposition provides further evidence that Salem voters are plenty happy with the direction in which Mayor Kim Driscoll has led the city over the past eight years. Indeed, the city today is the envy of older, urban communities struggling to attract new businesses and maintain a vibrant and affordable environment for those who live there.

Thus, it would seem the height of folly to saddle her with a City Council determined to thwart the administration’s efforts. Yet, that’s exactly what the tired council cabal of Arthur Sargent, Mike Sosnowski, Paul Prevey, Jerry Ryan and Todd Siegel sought to accomplish last January when they voted 301 consecutive times over two nights to restore Steve Pinto to their ranks.

The spectacle was as embarrassing as the one put on by congressional Republicans recently in their attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and, fortunately, no more successful.

Four of the dissidents are seeking re-election Tuesday, and the fifth, Ryan, is seeking to move up from ward councilor to councilor-at-large. Meanwhile, Pinto, who was removed by voters from his post as councilor-at-large in the 2011 election, is running for the Ward 1 seat. His opponent: incumbent and former friend Robert McCarthy, who had the temerity to vote for someone else in January’s special election.

McCarthy should be rewarded, not penalized, for his stand against what was a blatant attempt to stack the council against the mayor. Meanwhile, voters have a host of new, independent-minded candidates who are committed to putting the council and School Committee on a more positive path.

Respectful and intelligent questioning of a mayor’s practices and policies serves everyone well. But as was just seen in Washington, reckless opposition fueled simply by envy or worse is a recipe for disaster.

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Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this year’s municipal elections on the North Shore is the lack of a contest for the Peabody School Committee. Three incumbents (four if you include Mayor Ted Bettencourt who serves as chairman) are running unopposed.

That’s a sad commentary on a board that seems more enthused with keeping voters out of the schools and naming streets for its political pals than with improving the quality of education in the region’s second-largest city.

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It’s easy to understand why gambling magnate Steve Wynn is questioning whether Massachusetts really wants casinos, despite a 2011 law authorizing the establishment of three of them within the state’s borders.

Rather than celebrate the decision by rival Caesars Entertainment to withdraw from the effort to build a casino at Suffolk Downs, Wynn told Bloomberg News recently it was a logical move given the regulatory environment in the Bay State. Wynn is proposing to build a casino in nearby Everett.

Wynn, known as a ruthless entrepreneur, sounded almost sorry for his competitor, noting that Caesars executives may have succumbed to “deal fatigue.”

“If I was in any other business and I was willing to spend the kind of money, create the kind of jobs that these states have requested, we would have had the red carpet rolled out for us. But if you’re in the gaming business, there’s sort of a crummy presumption that you might be unsavory,” Wynn said.

Given the time that has elapsed since the Legislature approved a bill authorizing casino gambling in the Bay State and the decision by several developers to withdraw their bids, one has to wonder whether the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is more interested in thwarting the industry than regulating it.

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Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at nelson.benton3@gmail.com.