City councils primarily deal with traffic and parking, parking and traffic, in that order. As such city council elections are frequently somnolent affairs, few candidates running, incumbents unchallenged for years on end. Not in Salem. Not this year. So many candidates have filed for election for both Ward and At Large councilor positions that a special preliminary election is needed to prune the candidate list. Candidate forums months before the November election are packed with spirited attendees.
What explains the excitement?
Two issues: the Salem Sanctuary for Peace ordinance and the pace of growth and development. They may seem like two vastly different issues, but as will be argued they are one issue. Two sides of the same coin.
Salem Sanctuary for Peace
It is not the place of this blog to cover the ups and downs of the Salem Sanctuary issue. The Salem News has a long running series on the changeable fates of the sanctuary proposal. As both opponents and proponents agree, Salem had for years a sanctuary affirmation on record. The Sanctuary for Peace ordinance, voted upon twice and approved twice by the same 7-4 margin, would have merely publicized and particularized existing policy. Dissatisfied with the outcome of representative democracy, opponents managed to gather enough signatures to place the matter of Salem sanctuary on the ballot in November.
That something so innocuous would have riled up so much contention speaks of the temperament of the nation, not only of Salem. But after Charlottesville, how could anybody with a heart not support the Salem Sanctuary? Even Miss Texas Margana Wood affirms so: “…a statement should’ve [been] made earlier addressing [Charlottesville], and in making sure all Americans feel safe in this country. That is the number one issue right now.” In the nation and in Salem too.
The arguments of the opponents are specious. That such a matter should be “decided by popular vote” and not City Council upends the very essence of representative democracy. To see what could go wrong see Popular Vote, Brexit. That the ordinance places a “target on backs of undocumented immigrants” is meaningless. There is already a target on their backs. The whole point of the ordinance is to shrink those targets. That the ordinance feeds lawlessness – c’mon that’s just unmitigated racism and has no place in today’s Salem. Shame.
That the ordinance would “result in loss of federal funding” again has no substantiation. Teams of lawyers have concluded that “No provision of the Ordinance violates Federal or State law and, therefore, the measure does not impact federal funding for Salem.” (City of Salem web site). Ward 4 Councilor David Eppley was more adamant: “Let me be very clear about this: the ordinance that we passed does not violate federal law. It does not violate state law. It does not endanger a single dollar of federal funding.”
Threats made by the president’s administration to take away funding for sanctuary cities are Not Even Close to Constitutional. If all municipalities stand together to resist arrant lawlessness and unconstitutionality the administration will back down. See Travel Ban, Muslim. Stiffen your spines, you weak-willed wussies.
The only argument less than specious is that the sanctuary ordinance “dragged Salem into a national debate.” And what is wrong with that? Salem has for centuries [love writing that; hyperbole anywhere else but truth in Salem] considered itself part of the national debate. Consider this passage from native son Nathaniel Hawthorne:
“It would make you laugh to see how the game of politics…is here played in miniature. Burning Ambition finds its fuel here; here Patriotism speaks boldly in the people’s behalf … here the Aldermen range their senatorial dignity around the Mayor’s chair of state, and the Common Council feel that they have liberty in charge. In short, human weakness and strength, passion and policy, Man’s tendencies, his aims and modes of pursuing them, his individual character and his character in the mass, may be studied almost as well here as on the theatre of the nations.” — The Sister Years (1838)
The burning issue in Salem in the time of Hawthorne was abolitionism. It’s disappointing that nearly two centuries later [again “for centuries”] still Salem is debating the intrinsic worth and dignity of all individuals.
Unable to withstand any longer a debate that should not be debated, many candidates for councilor jumped in deliberately to square off against incumbent councilors that did not support the Salem Sanctuary ordinance (Jeff Cohen, Liz Bradt, Brendan Peltier, and most especially David Eppley who led the charge for the ordinance from the beginning). Thankfully and not surprisingly, several recent immigrants, feeling their family and friends threatened by the disheartening opposition, have entered the Councilor races (Christine Madore in Ward 2, Ana Campos in Ward 4, Domingo Dominquez for At Large). Voices are being raised.
There you have it, a synopsis of the Salem Sanctuary issue. There will be more in later posts on this blog, with this is enough for now with the Special Preliminary Election on tap.
New Development in Salem
Many of the proposed developments in Salem fall along the vast swaths of land left empty by post-industrial decay, once-thriving tanneries and mills long since closed. None has drawn more antipathy in the last year than the proposal by F.W. Webb, a plumbing supply company at 295 Bridge St in Blubber Hollow, to expand into the empty space next door at 297-305 Bridge St, now a hardly-used parking lot for the T Station up the street and once the contaminated Universal Steel site.
It is not the point of this blog to cover in this post the
ups and downs of the Webb proposal. Salem News again has provided admirable coverage. The McIntire Privilege series of this blog will eventually get to the matter in all its writhing detail. For now, let it be acknowledged that after unending, vehement and inconsiderate opposition by McIntire District neighbors, more precisely the Federal Street Neighborhood Association, the original proposal has been withdrawn, and the modified plan, greatly reduced, is “on pause”.
Looking into the downturned faces of Webb management as they and their company were demeaned and impugned by resident after resident in the interminable City Council hearings, it is the expressed opinion of this blog writer that F.W. Webb and Salem are not long for each other. Another leftover of Salem’s industrial age will be abandoned.
It may seem like an isolated case, but it’s not. Over the last few decades ANY AND ALL development within eyesight of the McIntire District has been vigorously opposed. A short list would include the Salem Suede site on Flint St, the Salem Courthouse expansion on upper Federal St, planned repurposing of the old District Court on Washington St, the apartments on the Parker Brothers site on Bridge St. now Bell Apartments, even the proposal to place the Salem Senior Center on the land vacated by St. Joseph’s Church across town in The Point neighborhood. All have been rebuked, several permanently.
The argument tendered is that opponents are not anti-development, but that development has to be “appropriate”. But really, to this crowd nothing has been, or ever will be, appropriate. A query of development that has been favored by the neighborhood would return the null set. Even news coverage of the groundbreaking last week for the new Salem Senior Center on the former Sylvania site briefly noted long-standing opposition to the development of the site by the neighborhood.
Salem aches for new development. Salem needs more affordable housing, Salem needs more middle class housing, Salem needs more small businesses of all types, Salem needs additions to its tax base. No serious candidate for City Council would deny this. Yet when a development proposal comes along, of any type, more often than not it is consigned to oblivion.
The antipathy expressed around the F.W. Webb hearings is the true yet unspoken reason why Ward 2 Councilor Heather Famico is not standing for reelection. The bullying she endured during the Webb hearings was more than any elected official should have to withstand.
Famico, the Ward 2 councilor, described a pattern of unacceptable neighborhood bullying. “A self-appointed ringleader in this neighborhood has attempted to bully me since before I was elected,” Famico wrote, adding that included things said face-to-face with neighbors, delivering letters door-to-door and sending around memos that were the definition of bullying.
Her withdrawal from the Salem City Council is perfectly reasonable. The enduring antipathy goes a long way to explaining why there are now four candidates to replace Famico, to be pruned to two candidates by the special election Sept. 12.
Another argument tendered often is that development is too much, too fast. Are you fecking serious!? Alpine glaciers advance with greater alacrity than Salem development. The first serious proposal for the Sylvania site was 25 years ago. The Flynn Tan plant burned down in the early 70’s and only this year has construction started on new apartments. Nearly all of former tannery sites in central Blubber Hollow are still undeveloped decades after closings. The block along Church St bulldozed by a misbegotten urban renewal plan nearly 50 years ago is still a parking lot, development plans for the site long turned into dust. As noted, the former Universal Steel site is going nowhere.
Antipathy to Salem Sanctuary ≈ Antipathy to Development
The opposition to the Salem Sanctuary for Peace is being driven by, let’s face it, fear of the other, xenophobia for the more literate among us. And the arguments against development – protecting property values, attracting the right kinds of residents – are merely a mask for, let’s face it, fear of the other. No wonder that councilors who voted against the diversity embraced by the Sanctuary initiative are often the same set that repeatedly vote against the diversity engendered by new development.
It is indeed time for fresh faces, for fresh initiatives, for fresh hope. In that light, endorsements to follow in the next post.
“What a cruel, sour place is today’s America” Helen O’Rahilly, Irish television executive.