SALEM — There’s a new fact-checker in town, and they’re working for “all.”
A group of city residents, past and present elected officials, and organization leaders have formed “Salem 4 All,” a political action committee “to help set the record straight when misinformation rears its head around Salem.”
“Our opinions may vary, but the facts do not,” the organization’s site reads. “We are people who care deeply for this community; we have invested our time, talent and treasure to move Salem forward, together, whether through serving as former elected officials, on boards and commissions, and as leaders of all sorts of organizations and businesses around the city.”
The PAC is led by Lisa Peterson as executive director — a former Ward 3 City Councilor and candidate for Congress. It includes 16 other advisory board members from different areas in the city, including education, communities of color, housing and development, among others.
“We’ve assembled a really incredible team of advisers, and the advisers are people who I’ve identified from across the city,” Peterson said. “It’s a very diverse, very independently minded group of people who are local leaders, who are experts in their fields — whether that’s professional, academic, lived experiences, historical knowledge of the city.”
The organization emerged at the tail-end of a preliminary election season, under which accusations and complaints about misinformation in local races rippled through the city’s political atmosphere. That includes multiple instances of alleged misconduct or conversations that both sides involved dispute, leading to no resolution.
“Division is the word of the day,” Peterson said. “It’s really driven by the sharing of misinformation online.”
Misinformation has become a national problem, Peterson said, “and it feels really overwhelming to tackle it at the national level. But we have an opportunity and obligation to correct the record here in our own community. By really working at the local level, we can tackle this and make sure people have the facts and information they need to make informed decisions.”
The question of balance arises, as some in groups more aligned with mayoral challenger Steve Dibble than Mayor Kim Driscoll have highlighted the makeup of the group as an area of concern. The group includes city councilor Christine Madore, who is not seeking reelection, and three former councilors in Lucy Corchado, Beth Gerard and Matt Veno.
When asked about covering both sides of Salem’s political landscape, Peterson said the group has “spent some time thinking about that, because we knew — and know — we need to earn our trust as an organization. We aren’t going to be trusted from day one for that very reason.”
“People are very skeptical of anything in the political sphere, anything that touches on leadership in the city,” Peterson said. “And this isn’t a problem that’s unique to Salem, but it’s certainly a problem we can tackle, because it is our community.”
Veno, who has served both as city councilor to Ward 5 and on the Planning Board, said opinions from the board’s members aren’t a factor in the organization or how it operates.
“We want to focus on facts. We want to expand the knowledge base in the city about the challenges we face, and to use documented analysis and research to add to those discussions,” Veno said. “We’re hoping to kind of lower the temperature a little bit on some of these issues, and promote a thoughtful and collaborative dialog that’s really focused on solutions.”
That’s the mission of Salem4All, Veno said — to present the facts, and let the conversations build from there.
“We’re all entitled to our own opinions and can advocate for our own opinions, but facts should be facts,” Veno said. “Let’s debate the merits of certain policy decisions. If we spend a lot of time just debating what should be established fact, we’re not moving toward a solution.”
For more on the organization, visit salem4all.com.