Salem voters pondering the best way to cast their ballots in the Tuesday, Nov. 5 city elections need only look to the last City Council meeting for guidance.
At that Oct. 24 meeting, councilors had an opportunity to take a modest step to address the city’s housing crisis. Instead, they shot down a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to create in-law apartments.
That is, five councilors shot down the plan. Six councilors voted in favor — sensibly, as such “accessory dwelling units” have been used for years in other communities as a way to make mortgages more affordable for homeowners and give cash-strapped residents — including seniors — a comfortable, affordable place to live. The measure failed because a supermajority of eight was needed for the measure to pass.
The vote should have come as no surprise. It was well in keeping with the council’s performance over the past few years, where mulishness and an unthinking, reflexive dismissal by a handful of councilors of any proposal from Mayor Kimberley Driscoll has stalled progress on a number of important initiatives.
No one wants a council that will act as a rubber stamp for the mayor. But past councils have been able to act as a partner in governance without ceding independence. Tuesday, voters will have a chance to build a council that does just that.
In the at-large race, we are recommending votes for Conrad Prosniewski, Jeff Cohen, Ty Hapworth and Alice Merkl.
Prosniewski is a retired Salem police captain, and his decades on the force have given him a first-hand view of many of the issues facing the city, from traffic to the explosive growth of the Halloween season to, of course, public safety. He would be a newcomer to the council but would bring a deep well of experience upon which to draw.
As once-rare large storms continue to batter the North Shore, and parts of the city flood for the first time in memory, it is becoming increasingly clear that climate change is a local issue. Cohen, chair of the city’s Sustainability, Energy and Resilience Committee, would be an important voice in this regard.
Hapworth and Merkl, both newcomers to city politics, also understand those challenges. Hapworth, a commercial executive at Microsoft, promises to make affordable housing a priority, and would push an inclusionary zoning ordinance that would mandate a higher percentage of affordability in all new construction. Merkl, a music teacher, has also focused on civic engagement and making the workings of the council easier for residents and businesses alike.
We are recommending that Ward 1 voters return Robert McCarthy to office. Over the past two years, he has deftly represented the varied concerns of his ward while proving to be a responsive, responsible voice on citywide issues. The same goes for Christine Madore in Ward 2. Madore has been criticized — unfairly and cynically, we say — in some circles for the daytime job she holds as vice president of real estate services at MassDevelopment, the state’s economic development agency. Voters should be welcoming, not rejecting, her experience as an urban planner. In Ward 3, we favor Patti Morsillo to replace incumbent Lisa Peterson, who is giving up her seat to run for Congress. In Ward 4, the pick is challenger Michael Cusick, a retired biomedical researcher. Megan Riccardi, a longtime city volunteer who has a clear plan for communicating with constituents, is clearly the strongest candidate in Ward 6. And in Ward 7, we endorse Andrew Varela, a co-owner of Maitland Farms. Each of the newcomers promises an opportunity for the council to move past the pettiness and divisiveness of the past several months.
Meanwhile, the Salem Public Schools have faced its own set of challenges, with the abrupt departure earlier this year of Superintendent Margarita Ruiz and a near-constant staff turnover. Meeting the needs of the district’s more than 3,700 students requires a School Committee that is engaged, forward thinking and able to communicate across the district with parents, teachers and students.
We recommend two newcomers and one holdover for the board. Beth Anne Cornell and Kristen Pangallo, both college professors, have shown a deep of understanding of the issues facing the Salem schools as well as the expertise needed to take them on, coupled with an optimism that that the district has a bright future. Longtime school principal Mary Manning, now retired, is finishing her first term on the committee. Her blend of experience and openness to new ideas and her focus on the system’s end users — the students — has earned her a second term.