Salem Mayoral Forum Sept 27 2017

It’s been more than a week since this event, held at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Washington Square along the Salem Common. Incumbent Kim Driscoll and challenger Paul Prevey squared off again. Both candidates were energetic and appealing, yet still only now can this blogger get up the gumption to review the 2nd Mayoral Forum of the election season.

It was much the same set of questions as at the earlier Mayoral Forum, and again many of the issues radiate well beyond the confines of a small city. The growing homeless population, infuriating traffic congestion, the opioid crisis, increasing affordable housing, even improving local schools – all these require more resources and attention than Salem can bear on the matter. Both candidates at one time or another acknowledged that regional approaches, collaboration with neighboring localities, guidance from the state, national leadership (scratch that) will be needed, though that did not stop either candidate from suggesting that they alone could properly address the problems. The discouragement of this blogger makes sense.

The sanctuary issue divides the two candidates the most, with Driscoll being adamantly in favor of the Sanctuary for Peace ordinance, and Prevey against it, though to this listener he seems to have modulated his resistance, stating that he does not wish to have anyone hurt. A day or two later racist graffiti appeared on the Salem State University ball field, emphasizing again why Sanctuary for Peace is so needed, even if its effect is more symbolic than substantive. Speaking out matters.

There were a handful of Salem-specific questions. How to handle a problem called Halloween? Prevey wanted Halloween out, or at least muted, but that ship has long sailed and is not returning. Driscoll opined that it is the active citizenry reflected in Halloween celebrations and so much else that make Salem great. What to do about strained town-gown relations with Salem State University, whose students have a propensity for getting loudly drunk on weekend night, tearing up gardens and lawns of neighboring homes? When both candidates answer that better communication with SSU is needed you realize that the problem will fester. Neither thought to get ideas from nearby cities with large student populations, Cambridge, hint, hint. Once cold weather sets in the problem rights itself – jackasses don’t like freezing their asses when indulging in jackassery.

Prevey had a tic of recommending a new Comprehensive Study to investigate any complex issue that cannot be handled instantly and forthrightly, that is, all problems Salem now faces. Four times by one estimate (traffic, property taxes, rental housing, opioid crisis). Next forum the number of times he exercises this tic will be carefully counted.