SALEM — It seems Ward 1 has an information disconnect, and the trio of candidates in this year's preliminary race are all noticing it.
Take, for example, the Fort Avenue paving and repainting project, with its armadillos, drag way-style layout and even a 14-year ward councilor who was surprised by the project's outcome.
"The day we paved Fort Avenue in its entirety, and then all of the sudden they came out painting lines, I was out on the street with one of the foremen from DPS. He showed me the plan — which I had never seen," said Ward 1 City Councilor Bob McCarthy, who is seeking his eighth two-year term presiding over the city's most diverse ward. "The Bike Plan Committee and Traffic and Parking Commission had taken a study from a few years ago and implemented it without consulting anyone."
Residents in Ward 1 — constituting most of The Point and all of Juniper Point, Salem Willows and Winter Island — packed a spaced-out ballroom at Salem Waterfront Hotel for a quickly assembled forum. Voters will select two of the three candidates in the field next Tuesday, who will then go on to the Nov. 2 ballot. The event was organized by the League of Women Voters of Salem, in partnership with the Salem Willows, Historic Derby Street Neighborhood, and The Point Neighborhood associations.
It led off with a question on Fort Avenue, a 30-miles-per-hour mostly straight road known for its speeding cars and scary collisions. At the end of June, a 28-year-old Salem man died after losing control of his high-powered scooter. Police say rider was using the scooter in the road's bicycle lanes and crashed after dodging a skateboarder heading in the opposite direction.
Maribel "Belle" Steadman, a prior City Councilor-at-large candidate now battling in Ward 1, said the people living around Fort Avenue "weren't consulted. There was a meeting five days before they did this, and nobody told us anything."
"We woke up one day and had, first, the big white posts," Steadman said. "All we ask for is speed bumps, and also for police officers to maybe monitor that area" in a bid to control speeding.
Christopher Malstrom Jr., the third candidate in the busy field, said the city had "good intentions behind redeveloping Fort Avenue, but this ties into a main aspect that I'm running on."
"By having more community meetings with people — stakeholders and the neighborhood — we're getting feedback from the residents who actually drive down the street," Malstrom said. "That could've been (designed) a bit better by having more feedback from people in the neighborhood."
Later, a question gave all three candidates pause — a project targeting green space around the South Essex Sewerage District for housing development. The candidates were asked if they support it.
"Absolutely not," said Steadman. "I'm a gardener. I love my greenspaces. Enough is enough for housing development. Thank you."
Moments later, McCarthy added, "there is no proposal. ... I like the fact that it's green right now."
The event ended on a question targeting a redevelopment project at Lee Fort Terrace, a Salem Housing Authority property that has become a contentious issue in Ward 1 in part because of confusion as to what the project actually entails.
"I don't know who's down there talking to the folks at Lee Fort Terrace, but they're scared — and they shouldn't be," McCarthy said, adding that the redevelopment project is still being designed and "still in the conversation stages."
Steadman said she wanted to see Lee Fort Terrace undergo a recent rehab project in Ipswich. Her vision, as such, involved raising the elevation of the property so "it wouldn't be flooded anymore." At the same time, however, she opposes the plan proposed by Beacon Communities.
"We have a 107-year-old person living in those units, and these are old folks — they have ailments," Steadman said. "They were promised to be moved out, helped to move somewhere, but they don't know where. They've been promised to be helped to be moved in, but they don't know when, and they don't know if it'll be a Salem Housing Authority building or if it's Beacon."
Malstrom said he didn't have a concrete plan for Lee Fort, in part because "what's important in that area are the priorities for the people there now. That community needs to have a reinvestment in their living space."