By: Chris Gilmore/TRT Reporter—
SALEM, Mass.—On November 7, Salem residents will decide the fate of City Hall’s highest office as they cast their vote for incumbent and touted LGBTQ champ Mayor Kim Driscoll or former City Councilor and openly gay resident Paul Prevey.
“Salem is a welcoming community and I’m proud that we have accomplished so much to demonstrate as much over the last decade,” said Driscoll. “Whether it was our landmark non-discrimination ordinance, which we’ve actually enforced, the positive advocacy of our No Place for Hate Committee, or the establishment of the North Shore Pride Parade and Festival, we’ve worked hard to make sure Salem is a city that welcomes everyone and excludes none. I’m proud that we have consistently earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index for our city’s LGBTQ-inclusive polices and practices.”
Like Driscoll, Prevey said he recognizes the importance of addressing issues affecting disenfranchised communities.
“I will ensure that city hall works closely with local, state and federal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies to vigorously pursue any violence, threats of violence or hateful acts against individuals, groups or classes of people,” Prevey said. “Everyone in Salem will know that they will be protected and their civil and personal rights upheld. City hall will take steps to make sure that everyone, regardless of their ethnicity or religious affiliation, live without fear, intimidation or discrimination.”
Salem’s No Place for Hate Committee
Under the Driscoll administration, Salem created its own No Place for Hate Committee (NPFH) “dedicated to promoting acceptance of diversity and combating discrimination,” according to its mission statement found on the city’s website. “We are dedicated to mobilizing citizens to challenge bigotry and to promote a prejudice-free community in which all people are respected, understood, and appreciated for their differences. …We seek to protect the promise of equal justice and civil rights for all members of our community.”
No Place for Hate has tackled issues such as racism, LGBTQ discrimination, sexism, ageism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism amongst other marginalized struggles as they arise in the community, said committee officials.
Praising in his comments regarding No Place for Hate, Prevey also said he would like to see all residents feel a part of it.
“The Salem No Place for Hate Committee has done a great job of raising awareness regarding issues of discrimination, bigotry and exclusion,” he said. “If elected, I would like to see the Committee expand its focus … When change happens and communities start to change in various demographic ways, it’s important to take an inclusive approach with all residents so Salem is a united community. It’s important to recognize that, as part of that conversation, we are going to have divergent and differing viewpoints on how we reach that goal. Those opinions and conversations should be encouraged in a respectful manner.”
NPFH Chair, Jeff Cohen believes the committee is inclusive of all Salem residents and represents everyone equally.
“Our mission is universal in who we serve—and we believe that talking about all prejudice and discrimination brings us closer together,” said Cohen who is also a candidate for City Councilor-at-Large. “We serve all residents, particularly those who need it most.”
The Rainbow Times reached out to the Prevey campaign for clarification on which communities are allegedly being excluded from NPFH, but a reply was not received prior to publication.
As an openly gay man, Prevey said he “knows” and has “personally experienced discrimination.”
“I know first- hand the damaging effects that discrimination can have on an individual, the person’s family and the community as a whole,” Prevey said. “LGBTQ residents should know that they can feel safe and supported within Salem. All city departments will work collaboratively with local partners to ensure that residents are protected, defended and their rights safeguarded. In instances where there is abuse, harassment and discrimination, the City and its resources will be made available to address it immediately.”
Under Driscoll’s leadership, the city has taken several steps to protect the LGBTQ community locally.
“I’m proud to have designated the first LGBTQ Liaisons in City Hall and the Police Department back in 2013, positions that are still filled today, and who provide resources and support for the LGBTQ community when there are incidents of hate or discrimination,” she said. “As important as resources, however, is our action to stand symbolically and literally with those who are attacked because of who they are, who they love, how or if they worship, or how they identify. Following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016 and the vandalism of The Rainbow Times newspaper box that August, I was proud that Salem rallied so powerfully and so vocally, in unity, with the entire LGBTQ community. Salem is a compassionate city and when we see strife, injustice, or inhumanity—locally or elsewhere—I am proud that we are a community that feels compelled to act.”
Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance & Question 1
Arguably, one of the most obvious social divides between the Driscoll and Prevey campaign lies in support of the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance, which codifies city policies and practices into municipal law, with a focus on the immigrant community and public safety.
“I support the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance and believe it is consistent with our community’s values and will make Salem safer, because it codifies into law our existing policy of providing city services to all residents regardless of one’s country of origin,” explained Driscoll who also helped to spearhead the ordinance effort. “Now, more than ever, hardworking, law abiding members of our immigrant community have expressed fear about reaching out to local officials, as a result of more active deportation efforts. It’s important that all individuals feel secure in calling the Salem Police or Fire to report a crime, fire, or medical emergency. This ordinance helps to ensure that all people know they can rely on local services without fear of deportation, regardless of their immigration status.”
Prevey, a vocal opponent of the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance, expresses a different view.
“Prior to the enactment of the ordinance, there was no issue with city officials (police, fire, schools) denying services or questioning people regarding their eligibility of services based upon their status,” Prevey said. “As such, the ordinance was unnecessary and viewed by many as being unnecessary. Having it on the ballot allows each voter to weigh in …”
Police Chief Mary Butler said the ordinance does not restrict the police department in any way and adds to the overall safety of Salem residents.
“Any person who is violating the Massachusetts Criminal Laws or ordinances of our City could be placing the community at risk,” Chief Butler said. “These individuals will be arrested and appropriate action taken to ensure they do not risk the safety of anyone. The ordinance does not restrict the ability of the Police Department to take appropriate action when necessary, nor does it provide benefits or rights to immigrants that are not already provided by law.”
Driscoll pointed out that the ordinance does not “violate federal law, jeopardize federal funding or prevent public safety officials from sharing information with other law enforcement agencies. That’s why our current Police Chief Mary Butler and former Police Chief and current State Representative Paul Tucker are both strong supporters of the Ordinance.”
Opponents of the Ordinance have publicly argued that supporting the approved measure welcomes criminal activity. Facts, however, indicate otherwise. A quick analysis by the Salem Police Department (SPD), according to Butler, shows that “White/non-Hispanic persons account for approximately 70-75 percent of the arrests in the City.”
“In reality, it is in the best interest for public safety that all persons who are being victimized or threatened within our community feel safe enough to come forward to report the criminal violators so that appropriate action is taken to ensure for the safety our entire community,” she explained. “Without their reports we would be without the benefit of knowing who could be placing our community at risk.”
Continuity of the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance will be on the ballot this November where the voters will decide its fate. A “Yes” vote on Question 1 upholds the Ordinance that was passed by the City Council and approved by the mayor to codify city policy and practices into local laws.
“Yes on Question 1 presents us with a moral reckoning,” said Ana Nuncio, President of Salem’s Latino Leadership Coalition (LLC) and School Committee Candidate. “It challenges us to see ourselves in the newcomer among us. It asks us to use our free will and our right to vote yes on a measure that will strengthen our social fabric against the hateful impulses stirring in our society.”
Taxes & Fiscal Responsibility
Prevey adds that he is opposed to large increases in taxes and the expansion of the city budget.
“I differ with the Mayor on large increases in taxes, the growth of the city budget, management and corrective action within the school department, delivery of city services, and the engagement of neighborhood groups in the decision-making process,” the mayoral hopeful said.
However, Driscoll states that Prevey is “disingenuous” for misleading the public on his voting record as a former city councilor.
“Ultimately, the City’s budget and tax rate are set by both branches of government—the Mayor and the City Council,” she said. “While Paul Prevey was on the City Council, close to $1 billion in city budgets came before him and he only proposed cutting $26,000 in all, and he voted in favor of the tax rate for five years in a row. It’s disingenuous for him to suggest he’s going to cut the budget—now that he’s running for Mayor—while he failed to do so on the City Council and has failed to offer any specific places where he would actually make cuts.”
Prevey acknowledges that city government consists of checks and balances with the Mayor and City Council sharing responsibility for running the City. He reminds voters he is running for Mayor because he believes that Salem needs “representative government returned to City Hall.”
“Many people throughout the city do not feel that their voices are being heard and taken into account when important decisions are made” he said. “After 12 years, many residents believe that a change is needed to restore residents’ confidence and trust in city government.”
During the Driscoll administration, Salem has seen the second lowest increase in the average single-family tax bill on the North Shore, well under the state average.
“While no one likes paying taxes, we have managed to secure over $150 million in state and federal grants and leveraged our record high bond rating—as well as our record tax base growth—to offset the tax burden on homeowners as much as possible,” Driscoll added. “The increases in Salem’s budget over the last twelve years have largely been increased investments in schools and teachers, police, fire, and our parks and streets.
“The City’s budget, which has routinely won awards for transparency from the leading government finance watch-dog organization, has consistently delivered on those obligations in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Development, Housing & Livability
With an influx of residents moving into the city from places like Boston, largely due to gentrification and rising costs, keeping Salem affordable has been a focus of the candidates.
“Salem is a very diverse community and has become more so over the last few years,” said Prevey. “Many people are drawn to Salem for its history, walkability as a city, attractions, downtown environment, and by comparison to other communities, it’s potential to be affordable.”
Over the past years in the current administration, Salem’s vitality has increased as a result of modernization and state-of-the-art commodities. But, Driscoll said there is always a to-do list in local government and revitalization is an ongoing effort that will benefit all city residents.
“We hope to continue promoting the City as a great place to live, work and visit and leverage our strong hospitality industry to enhance offerings in our central business district downtown,” she explained. “We believe improving transit options—both internally and externally—will boost the quality of life for residents and enhance new job growth in Salem. I am very proud of our work revitalizing our waterfront with both ferry and water shuttle services. The rebirth of our waterfront, in particular the 45 acres of space abutting the power plant, presents a transformational opportunity for our city to develop a destination port for cruise ships and visiting vessels, enhance public access to the waterfront and create new mixed use opportunities consistent with the character of the abutting historic neighborhood. We still have work to do in our public schools, though we have seen some remarkable gains over the last few years and feel poised for continued success. Our new, state-of-the-art Community Life Center is under construction and will afford all Salem seniors an improved space for an array of programs—from social services to wellness—aimed at ensuring that we are an age-friendly community where our seniors are supported and engaged.”
Prevey stresses the importance of meeting resident and business needs when developing the surrounding area.
“Development is crucial to our growth and future,” he said. “We have such a unique history, which permeates every aspect of living in Salem. Our development must address our current needs of our residential and business community, while simultaneously, ensuring that development fits within the character of the neighborhoods and the City overall. Development should also enhance existing architectural landscapes and neighborhoods while avoiding any negative impacts such as undue traffic, parking problems and strain on city infrastructure.”
According to Driscoll, redevelopment expands the tax base and thereby reduces tax burden.
“We are excited about the new activity taking place in our community,” the Mayor said. “Most of the development in our city is actually redevelopment of old, vacant, contaminated former factory sites that are not currently contributing positively to our community. Reinvestment in these properties expands our tax base, which reduces the tax burden on homeowners. It also creates housing that can help reduce costs and rents by increasing supply and meeting that demand.”
The mayor specifically addresses affordable housing and the city’s socio-economic impact.
“Part of being a welcoming and inclusive community means having housing that is affordable for all income levels and all abilities,” Driscoll said. “While some of our housing challenges can be addressed by improving supply, thereby reducing prices and rents, we can be even more thoughtful and intentional in making sure the available housing in our city truly reflects the diversity of our community and the desire of others to move here and call Salem their home.”
Since Driscoll took office, 700 new local jobs have been created and unemployment is the lowest it’s been since 2002, she said.
“We can not simply stand still as a community,” Driscoll said. “As the costs to provide essential city services increase and the costs that families and workers confront every day continue to rise, we need to keep expanding our tax and economic base in order to meet future challenges. That doesn’t mean, however, that we say ‘yes’ to everything that comes through our way.”
Prevey alleges that the people of Salem have been unrepresented by City Hall and stresses the importance of “giving Salem back to the residents and small businesses, and to “put an end to deaf leadership and over development,” as noted on the campaign’s website.
Driscoll added that such processes are already in place.
“We have active neighborhood groups and city boards and commissions comprised of exceptionally bright and dedicated individuals,” Driscoll said. “When a private developer proposes a new project, they are required to proceed through a rigorous public process that almost always results in a better project, reflective of neighbors’ concerns and the input of the professionals on our boards. Balanced, thoughtful, and sensible growth is possible and, indeed, essential to our city.”
Prevey zoned in on enhanced community participation.
“The Mayor has a lot of executive authority and is responsible for the daily operation and management of the City,” Prevey explained. “The Mayor plays a very important and unique role in setting the tone and pace for how the city operates and functions. Residents and businesses who feel empowered by the City, and can point to tangible examples of how their government is working for them are more engaged and involved in the City.”
A Glimpse of the Past
“When I first took office as Mayor, Salem was facing a $3.5 million budget deficit and a local economy in decline,” Driscoll recalls. “Many of our downtown storefronts were vacant, while dormant lots and deserted buildings riddled our neighborhoods. We were forced to borrow money just to pay our daily bills, our bond rating was on a downward track, and our rainy day funds were nonexistent. Our infrastructure was failing and our schools, police, and fire saw deepening cuts in funding. There was no refurbished MBTA station and garage, no power plant redevelopment, no new courthouse, no Blaney Wharf or ferry to Boston. At that time, I made a commitment to be a strong mayor for positive change—and today I’m so proud of the progress we’ve made. Working together, Salem has become the hip, historic hub of the North Shore and a model community in Massachusetts and beyond.”
Driscoll explains how the city has gotten to its current state.
“We’ve replaced the petty political games of the past with a local government based on professionalism and transparency,” she said. “Our economy is thriving, our downtown is booming, our schools are excelling, and our quality of life is on the rise. Our bond rating is the highest it’s been in the city’s history, our rainy day funds have been rebuilt, and our finances exceed national standards. Our investments in police and fire, streets and sidewalks, and parks and playgrounds have made our community safer and stronger than ever before. Our seniors will soon enjoy the well-deserved and long-awaited state-of-the-art senior center, now under construction on Bridge Street. Today, Salem is greener, cleaner, and more sustainable, saving taxpayers money and reducing our impact on global climate change. Today, we are a city that welcomes everyone, and excludes no one. There are still plenty of challenges we face and improvements to make, but never before has there been more promise and more optimism in these eight square miles. We’ve accomplished so much in Salem over the last 12 years, but I believe that we’re just getting started.”
Full Steam Ahead
Both candidates have plans for the city. Driscoll’s strategy seeks to advance the city through 2026.
“As we plan and prepare for the City’s 400th anniversary in 2026, we will need to continue the important work of advancing our public schools, addressing our aging infrastructure and tending to important housing and transportation needs,” the Mayor explained. “We are on a positive trajectory, but more will be required to position Salem for continued success for generations to come.
“In particular, our opportunities to transform our waterfront hearken back to Salem’s Great Age of Sail era. The development of Salem Wharf and the rebirth of the power plant site will open up large expanses of waterfront land. It is critical that we get this next phase of activity right by thoughtfully planning for the reuse of the 45 acres along the waterfront, which sits adjacent to both the new power plant and within a historic neighborhood. In addition to the completion of our new senior center in the year ahead, we’ll implement our age-friendly plan, ‘Salem For All Ages’, aimed at providing assistance to our growing population of age 60+ residents. Finally, our efforts to professionalize city government and improve operational efficiencies must continue.”
Prevey, likewise, shared his thoughts on what could become of Salem under his administration.
“My vision for Salem is that it grows as a community with a lot of civic engagement, both on a city-wide and neighborhood level,” he said. “Our history, historical structures, parks, neighborhoods, educational and legal institutions depend on our continued positive growth. Salem’s history, past and recent, should be a road map to where we should be moving as we continue to maintain a progressive approach to some of the various challenges we face. Salem’s greatest strength lies in the untapped potential of all residents who are willing to make the City one where we are the envy of the nation. Affordability, sustainability and growth are all key aspects we must continue to focus on in order to make Salem realize its full potential.”
Driscoll seeks another term to continue her legacy moving forward.
“I am running for re-election because I care deeply about the city and making a positive difference in the daily lives of the people I am so honored to represent,” Driscoll said. “Salem is my adopted hometown and I have tremendous pride in our community. As a public school parent of three teenagers, I want to continue working on improvements in our schools, in the way we deliver city services, and on projects that will bring Salem continued progress and success. I am passionate about Salem’s future, excited to keep working as Mayor, and hope the residents of this city will give me the privilege of working with, for, and alongside them for another term.”
Salem’s municipal election takes place on November 7. For more information about Mayor Kim Driscoll or Paul Prevey, visit their websites at http://votekimdriscoll.com and www.preveyforsalemmayor.com, respectively. To learn more about the Sanctuary for Peace Ordinance, visit www.salem.com/sanctuary.