SALEM — Ward 4 Councilor Tim Flynn had planned to be the first candidate to take out nomination papers early Monday morning, but Mother Nature had something else in mind.
City Hall was closed Monday due to the snowstorm, so nomination papers to run for city office this year will not be available until Tuesday. Three of the School Committee's six seats, as well as all of the City Council seats, are up for grabs in 2019.
Even though they couldn't take out papers yet, several candidates had already announced plans to run. Three challengers are in the running for councilor-at-large: Jeff Cohen, who ran unsuccessfully in 2017; Gary "Gigi" Gill, a well-known LGBTQ activist; and Alice Merkl, who was defeated in a primary election last year for register of deeds.
"It just spoke to me, that you can't expect people to vote when there aren't any options on the ballot," Merkl said of her 2018 run. "So I thought, hmm, is there more to the Registry of Deeds? And with no options since 1997, it caught my eye."
Of course, this is a different race for Merkl, but she says the two jobs — city councilor and register of deeds — do have parallels.
"When I was looking into the Deeds race, I also learned about how the North Shore Community Development Coalition and other agencies are working on housing, trying to do something with buildings, and it's a priority for Mayor (Kim) Driscoll," Merkl said. "Working on that issue as a whole interested me in councilor-at-large instead of a ward."
Cohen came in last of eight candidates in 2017, but he certainly doesn't lack experience around Salem. He is co-chair of the city's No Place For Hate committee, and served in a variety of other roles, including on the sustainable energy resiliency committee. He's also worked as the city's recycling coordinator and a solar coach.
"Having worked for the city both as the solar coach and recycling coordinator, I know how to get things done within the city," Cohen said. "Constituent services is just as important as the big, city-wide issues."
Gill, meanwhile, is a well-known personality in Salem, chiefly as a drag queen and an activist for the gay, lesbian and transgender community. He uses the name "Gigi" when in drag, and is a founder of the North Shore Pride Parade in Salem.
He hopes to represent the LGBT community at City Hall.
"I'm a perfect candidate right now for this situation, this time period, for everything that's going on in the city of Salem, to be the eyes and ears for LGBT first, and equality and rights for everybody else," Gill said. "It isn't anything I haven't been doing already for eight years, and people have been asking me to do this for eight years."
But he's also focused on other issues, including taxes and how support for the city's business community can help take the pressure off residents. That comes amid several years of decreased tax rates but higher tax bills credited to skyrocketing property values.
"We're on the map," Gill said. "We can always still want to be Salem, the small city we know and love, but opportunity is knocking on our door, and we're being very strict about who we let in, how we let them in the process."
How many at-large seats will be open is undetermined. Tom Furey, the City Council's most senior member, has already announced he won't run again this year, but the other three at-large councilors — Domingo Dominguez, Elaine Milo and Arthur Sargent — haven't yet made any announcements.
Others have already thrown their names in for ward seats on the City Council. They include Robert McCarthy, the incumbent Ward 1 councilor, who is a general contractor; Flynn, the Ward 4 incumbent, who is a fire department lieutenant; and Josh Turiel, the Ward 5 incumbent, who has his own IT business.
So far, only one new face has emerged: James Willis, a Pingree Street resident, who plans to challenge McCarthy in Ward 1.
Willis ran at-large unsuccessfully about a decade ago, and he's a frequent volunteer around the city and frequently seen at City Council meetings. He wants to run for Ward 1, rather than at-large, he said, because of the heavy activity and needs in his ward.
"I am looking forward to knocking on doors and talking with my neighbors about what they are looking for from City Hall and what I can do to help," Willis said. "I plan to run a positive campaign and focus on what unites us as a city."
2019 ELECTION DATES
July 26: Last day to take out nomination papers
July 30: Last day to file nomination papers
Aug. 28: Last day to register to vote in the preliminary election
Sept. 17: Preliminary election
Oct. 16: Last day to register to vote in the final election
Nov. 5: Final election
Source: City of Salem