The candidates for Salem Ward 4 Councilor met the Gallows Hill/Witchcraft Heights community at the AOH Hall on Boston St. in a candidate forum sponsored by the Ward 4 Neighborhood Assn. on Oct 17. The candidates present were Timothy Flynn, of 42 Sable Road in Witchcraft Heights, Robert A. McCarthy of 68 Valley St. in Witchcraft Heights, both ballot candidates, and write-in candidate Ana Campos of 17 Orleans Ave. also in Witchcraft Heights.
Unsurprisingly, the main issue was traffic congestion on roads through and neighboring Ward 4. Has there ever been a ward meeting anytime, in Salem or any other North Shore municipality, where concerns about traffic congestion was not preeminent? All three candidates pressed for traffic solutions, but for Mr. Flynn it was the be all and end all, mentioned even in response to questions not immediately pertinent to traffic.
Bellowing about traffic is not going to do anything to ease traffic. Traffic is a regional problem. There is little a single city can do without cooperation from neighboring cities, except nibble at the edges of the problem. This is especially so for Ward 4, because the route that so infuriates Ward 4 residents, Swampscott Road to Highland Ave briefly then across to Marlborough Road, is no more than a “Pass-through”, routing vehicles from Lynn and Swampscott south of Salem up to Peabody and the malls and highways beyond north of Salem. It is likely that among the drivers ensnared in the backups at the Swampscott Road and Marlborough Road traffic lights few are Salem residents. However, those few Salem residents are most likely Ward 4 residents.
Mr. Flynn offered no concrete suggestions to alleviate traffic, nor did Mr McCarthy. Only Ms. Campos in the seconds allotted to answer brought up several of the innovative approaches now on the minds of city planners in Salem and elsewhere. Intra-city shuttle buses to and from shopping centers to downtown, improved pedestrian and bicycle accessibility, and transit-centered development are but few of the actions that work. None by itself can alleviate traffic. Only in the aggregate can imaginative and innovative actions, and possibly upcoming technological innovations, improve traffic.
The second most registered complaint was that taxes are too high. Really, has there ever been a ward meeting or campaign event where it was accepted that taxes were just right? And again, there was lots of bellowing that taxes need to be reduced, or at least tax increases abated. And again, apart from Ana Campos, none of the candidates offered knowledgeable and creditable solutions to the problem.
A standard statement made by many an ill-informed candidate, in Salem and elsewhere, is that “once I’m in office I’ll find wasteful items in the budget to remove”. Fat chance. The City of Salem budget is a public document, hundreds of pages long, prepared by dozens, closely examined by hundreds. The Salem budget has even received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award multiple times. If there were substantial cuts to be found they would have been found.
When Steve Jobs took over floundering Apple Corp in the mid-90’s the advice he received was to save money by making massive cuts to the corporation budget. Jobs refused, stating that “we’re not going to get out of this by slashing expenses. We’re going to get out of this only by upping revenue”. Jobs implemented an enormous, and expensive, new research effort, which reached fruition with release of iPod, iPhone, and all the other products which have made Apple one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.
Transferring the Jobs lesson to the municipal venue, taxes will not be reduced by cutting spending (↓); taxes will only be reduced by increasing revenue (↑). That means more taxable property has to be built, in all areas of the city. There is no magic pill to do so. Pushing for smart development, reducing zoning restrictions, taking measures so that people can get around without cars meaning parking consumes less valuable real estate, somehow increasing housing affordability – these and more are all part of the mix. Only Ana Campos was knowledgeable about these, and made a commitment to constantly learn more. The other two candidates just railed without raising realistic proposals.
The last issue, development in Ward 4, encompasses both traffic and taxes, and cannot be considered apart from them. The knee-jerk reaction is to condemn all new development, professing to like Salem “just the way it was when I grew up, open and uncrowded.” Many seem to forget just how dire the landscape was even 20 years ago. It was open and uncrowded, fer shure, but only because businesses were closing, store windows vacant, homes abandoned. It’s hard to grasp just how far Salem has come recently, even if, like this blog reporter, you were here for it all.
Today, thousands want to move to dynamic, rising Salem, but there’s not enough homes of any type for them, so prices get horribly inflated, and only those with the greatest assets can afford to move here. That is a problem, a problem not healed by grandstanding against any and all development. To their credit all three candidates understood, in one way or another, that new development is needed, but Ana Campos went further in describing the kind of smart development – pedestrian friendly, transit-accessible, environmentally safe – needed to address the problem. The proposed cineplex complex on Highland Ave near Swampscott Road does NOT meet those criteria. In posts on her campaign Facebook page Ana Campos has gone much further in her analysis of what makes smart development.
This post has endeavored to explain why Write-in candidate Ana Campos is by far the best choice for Ward 4 / Gallows Hill. She thinks, she learns, she’s open to new ideas, she’s dedicated to making the Gallows Hill neighborhood a better place to live for all. Please write in her name on your ballot on November 7.
It was finally arrived at why Robert A. McCarthy is a phantom candidate – no social media presence, no neighborhood canvassing, no campaign appearances. Before drawing papers for candidacy he suffered a severe accident which rendered him able to walk and stand only with great difficulty. Still he drew papers, giving wonder to his purpose. Some purpose may be discerned in his consistent remarks at the Forum about wanting to improve Salem schools. If sincere, perhaps his better move would have been to run for a position on the Salem School Committee. The City Council has negligible influence on education policy. It approves the school budget yes, but does not draft the budget nor appoint personnel nor determine curriculum nor anything. That Mr. McCarthy might be seriously confused about what he is running for was given substantiation by his honest acknowledgement that not only had he never attended a meeting of the Ward 4 Neighborhood Association, but until the Candidate Forum did not even know the association existed.