There are some in Salem who have expressed interest in seeing some change of personalities in the City Council chambers. This is reflected in the sudden plethora of declared candidates.
Is this a good news or a bad news scenario?
I look at it as both good news and bad news.
This is a very good development for Salem. Some of those seeking signatures are young, some are fairly new to Salem, and some are affiliated with the business community. They all have expressed an interest and concern for the present and the future of this community. They have stepped up and put their names on the ballot. You and I should commend them for that act alone.
A city council, like any deliberative political body, depends on ideas, intellectual ability, and a willingness to be pragmatic. The successful political bodies in American history have always pragmatically looked at compromise as the key to progress.
Compromise is key to any successful politician or political program. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, F.D.R., Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan were all successful presidents because they learned to work with the opposition to one degree or another.
If change is to be achieved, compromise must be considered. Those who have chosen to declare for an at-large position, while sure in their reasoning and intentions, have failed to be pragmatic.
When our current municipal government system was set up, Salem and its demographics were not at all what they are today. Back then, when electricity was still developing, trolleys still ran, and the Red Sox were our only professional sports team, wards were truly separate political entities.
That is no longer the case. Ward councilors and at-large councilors are interchangeable except at election time. Ideas are proposed, developed, and enacted at the committee level. Each councilor has an equal say whether they stood for election city-wide or at the ward level.
Those six newcomers who have chosen to run at-large, including two who initially pulled papers at the ward level, are being short-sighted and, in effect, are short-changing the voters by depriving them of a chance to vote in more new councilors.
With six challengers running at-large, and possibly another planning on running, what will happen is the anti-incumbent vote will split six or seven ways. This is good news for Joan Lovely, Arthur Sargent, Thomas Furey, and Steven Pinto. Kevin Carr, while not an incumbent, as a sitting school committee member may be excepted from this. It could be bad news for Teasie Goggin who finished fifth two years ago. Odds are, with this large field, all of the incumbents will again prevail.
The best chance to create change, if that is what the announced candidates truly desire, is to run at the ward level. All ward councilors are vulnerable in every election. They only appear strong when no opponents step into the arena. An energetic candidate, willing to attend public forums, wear out shoe leather, and actually discuss their thoughts and desires for Salem, can and will win.
Two candidates, who had initially filed at ward level, have already changed their minds and re-filed at-large. The other four have bypassed that option altogether. While I understand their reasons for choosing to pursue the at-large seats, I question whether or not they have chosen the best way to win. In order to spur change, a candidate must first win.
A good and strong city thrives on political debate and produces challengers to the status quo.
A successful city makes it a point to sometimes give the challengers a voice.
I wish them all, incumbents and challengers, the best.