SALEM — Kim Driscoll is many things: Salem State grad, the Witch City’s first woman mayor, and a master of transition as she manages simultaneously being the city’s CEO and gearing up for her new state-level role.
Driscoll, mayor of Salem since 2006 and now lieutenant governor-elect, said she will continue leading the city through the end of the year, anticipating her resignation as mayor to take place in January. She does so while already serving as the transition chairperson to the incoming Healey-Driscoll administration, which will be sworn in on Thursday, Jan. 5, at noon.
“It’s a bit like riding a bicycle backwards while juggling. It’s just a lot we’re finding in terms of people who want to be part of this administration, which is exciting,” Driscoll said in a recent interview, of the state-level transition, from her corner office at City Hall in Salem. “We’ve spent the last 11 months traveling across Massachusetts, so some of the issues and challenges that the state faces are the things we know we need to work on right away, whether it’s housing, transportation, or education. Those are going to be areas we’re hoping to have a strong agenda on early.”
But that doesn’t mean Salem is in the rear-view mirror, she explained.
“The strength of the city is that we’ve got leadership that’s been here, a really strong senior staff. So the transition will be really smooth,” Driscoll said. “I don’t think people will really experience the changes, because we have folks on the ground who’ve been doing great work, and that’s going to continue.”
Driscoll’s elevation to lieutenant governor brings a promise of change for 2023. For the first time in 17 years, Salem will conduct an election knowing a new person will be called upon to lead.
“The voter will have a chance to think about who the successor is,” Driscoll said. “And there will be lots of opportunities for discussion on that as part of that process.”
The City Council took its first steps Nov. 17 to gear up for what will likely become a full year of election activity. A special election for mayor is guaranteed, and if three or more candidates make the ballot, a preliminary will first be needed to thin the field down to two, which would extend the special election process by six to eight weeks (between the preliminary and final) if the changes to city rules that were proposed clear all their hurdles.
The winner of the special election will fill the remainder of Driscoll’s four-year term, which expires in January 2026. Meanwhile, the City Council will appoint an acting mayor once Driscoll resigns.
While that all plays out, Salem will also launch its own regular process for the 2023 municipal elections next November. That process typically begins with nomination papers becoming available in March, meaning a special mayoral election could overlap with the city’s regular election season.
In the meantime, “the business of the city will continue,” Driscoll said.
“I’d never do anything that would put Salem in a position to not move forward,” she said. “There’s definitely issues we’re working on, whether it’s offshore wind or work on parks.”
With tens of millions of dollars in offshore wind work expected in Salem Harbor by 2025 and further millions going into Salem parks before the 400th anniversary in 2026, Salem’s future rests in its residents’ hands, Driscoll explained.
“Great cities don’t happen by accident. It takes intentional leadership and a shared vision,” she said. “People really do come together for a better future; and when all those voices are around the table, Salem wins.”