The early 1970's were a critical time in the history of modern Salem.
Sam Zoll and Dick Guy faced off in the 1969 mayoral election. They were looking to succeed Francis X. Collins who had occupied the corner office at City Hall for twenty years. It was a true north Salem versus south Salem contest. When the smoke cleared Zoll stood as the winner.
Zoll completed a two year term and stood for re-election in 1972 where he defeated a marginal candidate by the name of Morin. My memory of Morin presents a bear of a man with a bushy beard who would paddle from the beach at Derby's Wharf to Marblehead on a large truck tire inner tube. His bicycle would rest on his lap as he paddled. Once he hit Marblehead he would tie the inner tube to his bike and pedal back to Salem.
Early in Zoll's second term Governor Francis Sargent nominated him to be a Massachusetts District Court Judge. He went on to become the Chief Justice Of the Massachusetts District Court system until he reached the mandatory retirement age in 2004.
That judicial appointment set off one of the historic political scrums in Salem history.
Joe Ingemi, a ward councilor and S. Steve Salvo, an at-large councilor both had their eyes set on the mayoral seat. Each thought themselves deserving and qualified. In fact, they both probably were qualified. They each had a passion for their city and experience in navigating the occasionally treacherous political waters.
As is always the case word of the upcoming appointment had slipped out early, but not too early. Behind the scenes activity began as both Ingemi and Salvo worked to position themselves with the other councilors and with the public.
The political waters began to run deeper and faster.
As time went on, factions developed and lines were drawn in the sand. Each of the two adversaries tried to breach the other's defensive positions. Discussions became circular and neither one of them could gain an advantage.
Stalemate became the order of the day.
The night of the special meeting arrived and the balloting began. This meeting is historic because it is still the only time a sitting Salem council had to choose a Mayor. It is even more interesting today because Joseph A. O'Keefe, the current Councilor Emeritus was a sitting member.
After 80 or so ballots no decision had been reached. The councilors looked around and realized this could not continue. Both Ingemi and Salvo realized further struggle was futile.
A rescue had to be effected before the council sank into the angry sea it had created.
Various names were tossed about as a possible compromise. Most were seen as threats in a fall election.The two electoral combatants wanted someone who would pose no real threat to them. They looked around the room and settled on Ward 5 councilor Jean Levesque. He was new to the council and there had never been a Franco-American Mayor in Salem. It seemed that he would not threaten their aspirations.
On the 87th ballot Jean Levesque became the Mayor of Salem.
The rumor was that Levesque had promised not to run for a full term. My father, who was friends with Sam Zoll told me that in a private meeting afterwards, Zoll advised Levesque that "if you like the job and want to keep it, you owe those guys nothing and should pursue a full term".
Only Jean Levesque and Sam Zoll ever knew what was actually said in that meeting.
Jean Levesque remained Mayor of Salem until Anthony Salvo unseated him ten years later.
That my friends is a little official, and unofficial Salem City Council Special Meeting history.