Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not much going on, right?

It's been pretty quiet in town since election day, right? OK, maybe not so much.

The biggest news to rock Salem is the state declaring Bentley Elementary School to be a level 4 school. Level 4 schools are those deemed by the state to have performed poorly on the MCAS in both math and English language arts for a period of 4 years, with no signs of substantial improvement. Basically the state is telling us, something's broken, and you better fix it. They also make resources available, and also loosen several rules to allow reforms in level 4 schools.

The hope is to get the school turned around (not to mention the other several in danger of reaching level 4) before the state imposes level 5 status on the Salem School District, which would effectively mean state takeover. It's currently happening for the first time up in Lawrence. Might we be second? One difference is that Slick Willie Lantigua, in the ultimate failure to lead, actually asked the state to take over his school system. I can't imagine Kim Driscoll doing such a thing. If we reach level 5, the state appoints a receiver, who usurps all of the power held by the school committee and superintendent.

Anyone still miss Dr. Cameron? Still say we should have sued him for breach of contract, to cover the difference in his salary and Dr. Russell's.

A note to those out there jumping up and down screaming that they had no idea our schools were like this. Just stop. You're making yourself look ignorant. The state publishes MCAS data every year. It's your job to go read it. To those saying it was kept secret until after the election, same message. The state published Bentley's results a full 40 days or so before the election. Several school committee candidates, notably Francis Vigeant, brought up the specter of possible level 4 status. Across the board, Bentley's performance levels are twice worse than the state averages. In grade 3 math, 66 percent of students are proficient or better. At Bentley one third of students make the grade. For reading, the state average is 62 percent proficient. At Bentley that number is 30%. This isn't a sudden new trend. It's been going on for years.

So what do we do to fix this? First, when Carr steps down, which he should do soon, we should appoint Francis Vigeant to his seat on the school committee. Why him? He was only sixth on the ballot? Well, look at what the electorate has brought us. A school committee that oversaw the mess we're in now. Vigeant has proven experience in developing curriculum that help students learn better, and test better. Clearly that's a huge part of what we need. Simply put, no other candidate can make that claim.

What else do we need? Well, we probably need to balance our schools a little better. Bentley has the poorest, least English speaking population amongst Salem's elementary schools. That provides them with more challenges, none of which are being addressed with innovation programs like at Carlton, or extended day/year programs like at Saltonstall. I can't even believe I'm suggesting this, but maybe we also need to let some of those non-English speakers start out in some Spanish language classes. I'm a firm believer that not forcing them to learn English drastically limits their economic potential later in life, but I can't imagine trying to learn math in Spanish, or science or any other subject. Why not a transition model where you're teaching English in English, and other subjects in Spanish, at least until the learning foundation is there in these kids? Teaching native language classes is one of the benefits of level 4 schools. Normally it's prohibited, but at level 4 the door is open for that.

If this news had become widespread prior to the election, it may well have had some impact. In the council race, Carr and Barcikowski were separated by less than 100 votes. Might those votes have swung if voters had known that the Bentley School was about to be downgraded to level 4 status? Maybe, especially with Carr telling everyone he needed a new challenge. Was he really successful in his last one? He's clearly the winner that the news hadn't broken. I guess that makes Barcikowski, and Pinto to a lesser extent, the big loser.

Other winners were Nate Bryant and Jim Fleming. There might have been a push for a new slate if the news had come out. Maybe Bryant knew the news was coming when he said the below comment at the end of the school committee candidates forum.


One thing I left out of my election analysis and discussion of the changing Salem. Joan Lovely, yet again, was the only candidate named on more than half of the ballots. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

There's talk she'll run for Fred Berry's seat. I'd vote for her, I guess, but I hope she doesn't run. She can have a much bigger influence on Salem leading the city council as president, and waiting for Kim to vacate the corner office, than she would as a junior state senator in a body of 40. I'm betting that deep down she knows that, too.


New ward and precinct maps are out. Salem Patch has a copy here. There is no longer any downtown component to Ward 3, as Ward 2, and to a lesser extent, Ward 5, have taken it over. Let me be the first to encourage Mike Blatty to run for Ward 2 councilor next go around. You'd still represent Chestnut St, Mike, as that has made the move with you. Thrilled, I'm sure. The most odd changes are people who transferred from ward 2 to ward 6. Ward 2 grew quite a bit, but two little pieces of bridge street were tossed across the river to  ward 6. The first is the downtown side of March Street, but only once you cross over the railroad tracks. Basically, once you cross over that funny graffiti art on the bypass road, if you are on the inbound side, you're in ward 6. The other part is the downtown side of Northey Street, through the Jefferson Station apartments. They can probably see the Ward 2 polling station, but they'll all have to treck over to Mack Park to vote now. If they want to meet their councilor, they'll have to cross the water and head to North Salem. Geographically it just makes no sense. They could have grown 2 a little less to the southwest, and kept those two geographically sensical parts. If 6 needs to grow, have it head more towards 4, and have 4 pick up some of what 3 gave to 2. Confused yet? I know, who cares? I'm not sure more downtown residents helps Mike Sosnowski. Then again, he tends to be unopposed.

Justin Mattera, who was originally a candidate for Ward 3 councilor, wouldn't still be in ward 3 if he had won, as Ward 5 now stretches all the way down the needle park side of Lafayette St to Derby. Speaking of, when is the ward 5 councilor going to get needle park cleaned up? Congrats to Josh Turiel on his new acquisition? I know Mattera asked several times about redistricting and was told it wouldn't be a problem. I'd have liked to have seen how that would have worked.


Jayson Fallis is alleged to be the kind of asshole who rips off some of the neediest. I'm glad he was captured today. Fallis head.


I'm off to welcome Santa tonight. Let's hope his arrival goes better than it did at this Florida mall appearance.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Election done, what did we learn?

Well that was fun. Election 2011 has come to an end, with at least a few surprises. Strong victories by Josh Turiel in Ward 5, and Todd Siegel in Ward 3 signaled that residents in those two wards were ready for some change. Incumbents John Ronan and Jean Pelletier were soundly defeated in each of their precincts. Ward 5 voters were also quite intensely interested in the ward race. It featured easily the lowest number of write-ins (2) or blanks (18) of any of the ward races. I'm thrilled for Josh, and think he'll be a great councilor. He definitely ran a hyper-focused, targeted campaign. He owes his victory, at least in part, to the work that Matt Veno put in. Matt put his name on the line, penning a letter to 600 likely voters in the ward, strongly endorsing Josh. They saved it for the final week to limit the opportunity to respond. It generated more buzz than anything else the campaign produced. I don't know Siegel at all. I can tell you what was on his website, and what he told Salem Patch. I'll be interested to see what kind of councilor he'll be. I'm reserving judgment.

I'm convinced Josh Turiel will be an excellent councilor in Ward 5. He has the common sense, problem solver approach that I saw in Darek Barcikowski, as well. I think he'll play it pretty down the middle, as well. You won't be able to assume his vote is with the administration, or against it. Exactly as I'd prefer it. One note, John Ronan saw Josh outside of one of the polling stations just after the polling station results had been posted inside. He went out of his way to very graciously approach Josh, shake his hand, and congratulate him on his victory. Very classy (with a C) of him.
When it came to the at-large race, ward 3 was much less cohesive, but rather, was a tale of two precincts. The downtown precinct was very much in favor of change, with Darek Barcikowski placing second. The Swampscott road end of the ward seemed to be about two things. Status quo, and the transfer station. There, Barcikowski finished seventh, behind everyone but the Matts. (Yes, even Teasie nipped him by 3 votes.) Sargent and Pinto, who've both expressed reservations or opposition to the transfer station, finished second and third, behind Joan Lovely, who finished first everywhere except for in 6-1, where Kevin Carr carried his home precinct by 9 votes. Nice job by him. Tom Furey placed 4th, indicating that 3-2 wanted all of the at large councilors back.

Ward 4 cost Darek Barcikowski a seat. It also voted more old school than other wards. The order of finish in 4 was Lovely: 500 votes, Pinto: 390, Sargent: 388, Furey: 367, Carr: 339, Barcikowski:196, Riley-Goggin 187. The difference between Carr and Barcikowski here was more than the difference in the election. Darek needs to focus on getting the ward 4 numbers up if he hopes to be elected city-wide down the road. Teasie even beat him in ward 4-1 by 10. I'm sure the transfer station played a huge role in this ward as well. He bested her everywhere else, including her own neighborhood. 4-1, further from the transfer station, had Pinto 4th. 4-2, near the transfer station had Pinto, a solid no vote, second. Darek said after the election that he had probably spent the smallest portion of his campaigning time in ward 4. Lesson learned. I'm sure we will see plenty more from him. Best campaign I've seen in Salem.

Kevin Carr joins the city council, and I'm not sure what to make of him, either. The fellowship of the miserable (Salemweb, Patch, Salem News commenters) have labeled him as a toady for the mayor. The school committee doesn't seem like it covers an awful lot of controversial stuff for him to throw down with her about. I watched plenty of school committee. I didn't really see anything that made him stick out, positive or negative. Like Siegel, I'll wait and see. He ran very strong in 6 and 7. The 78 votes that separated 4th and 5th could have flipped any number of places. Really, every vote mattered. I don't understand why 5399 blank votes were cast. Steve Pinto goes home. I'm absolutely shocked after his strong primary showing. I guess his supporters were rabid, but not big enough in numbers.

So that's what happened, of interest. What do we learn from it? What are the implications?

I think this election eventually goes down as either a blip, or the beginning of a shift in Salem voting patterns, where ideas matter more than lineage. New school starts to compete with old school. A lot of the "old guard" was at least winged in this one. Jim Fleming expects to top the ballot (doesn't he always), but finished 3rd, behind Deb Amaral (first time candidate tops the ticket) and Nate Bryant. Primary results tell us that Fleming and Pinto have plenty of die-hard support, and that they mobilized well. Their widespread support is dwindling. I can't imagine Deb Amaral being the choice of the crusty old Salem voter, yet she topped the ticket. Bryant doesn't seem that type either, and he was right on her heels. "Newcomer" Josh Turiel (only 19 years) beats a candidate whose father's father was born in Salem. A Siegel beats a Pelletier. A two-year resident gets more votes than another "born and raised" incumbent. I hope it's not a blip. If it's not, candidates, especially after they are elected, will really have to practice more self-reflection than some of the current crop has displayed. One now deposed candidate actually threatened me outside the polls yesterday. (Guess the world's worst-kept secret finally reached him.) I wish I could take credit for his demise, but he definitely owns it himself. He must be even madder now that the results are in. They were his actions of course, and not anything I wrote, that led to him losing his seat. If not for those actions, I'd have never written about him at all. If only I had the kind of influence necessary to change elections. (Someday ... dare to dream ...) It was just another example of his lack of self-reflection. Clearly this couldn't be his fault. Must find someone to blame.

Teasie Riley-Goggin's ship has sailed. Fifth last time, seventh this time. Officially irrelevant as a candidate. Seventh in her own precinct. Not a threat to a mediocre candidate. I assume we'll see her at council tonight. Isn't there something we can find to let her contribute to the city? A board seat or something? She clearly wants to serve. Let's put her to work.

Matt Fraser and Matt Richard could have mattered in Wards 2 and 1.

The mayor's office on the ballot really must matter. Turnout, with a truly blah field, was 27% in 2009, with a much more interesting race, it was 21% this time. That said, I think I favor a 4 year term for the mayor's office. I'd rather not have a mayor who is constantly in campaign mode.

Will any of this matter much? Probably not.

We also learn that the mayor is still wildly popular, and the Salem News matters a lot more than the fellowship of the miserable would have you believe. They endorsed change in support of the mayor's agenda (really blatantly), and they definitely got some. The two whipping boys of Benton and the News are gone. (I'm not saying I was easy on them.) Ronan lost half of his support from his first election. She lost one of her own in JP, but I'd bet she's pleased today. Two other city officials I happened to see last night were clearly pleased with the results. Also, we learn that the fellowship of the miserable (including me) aren't a good indication of public sentiment. (Though it was a hoot to see Patch's/Salemweb's "Windpower" out campaigning yesterday. Ahoy!) This election didn't really go the way they seemed sure it would.

I got a few of my predictions right. Lovely topping the ticket, winning by at least 500 votes (actually almost 1000), turnout being far below the city clerk's hopes of 32%, and landing at 21, right in the range I predicted. I was right that at least 3 at-large councilors would return. I was wrong about which one wouldn't. I had Pinto second, he ended up sixth. I was right that Prevey would win in a rout, that McCarthy wouldn't be unanimous, and Big Metal Box did in fact get some votes.

I was far off base on ward 3 and 5, where I clearly gave too much respect to the incumbents, especially in 5. They also weren't close, as I had predicted. I also predicted Jim Fleming to finish first, not a distant third. He wasn't in danger of losing his seat, just his bragging rights. Times are changing in Salem?

A few consequences: Siegel's election likely dooms any chance of a transfer station deal. We're also unlikely to see any potentially controversial proposals from the administration before the new council is sworn in come January. I assume they'll hold as much as they can until the changeover, and take their chances with the new lot. Kevin Carr's election means that the council and school committee will have to meet to appoint a new member to the school committee. His vote totals don't support it, but his resume does, they should appoint Francis Vigeant to the seat. He seems like a quiet guy, and I'm sure campaigning came very hard to him, but seriously, he's completely qualified. Finally, it was expected, so I'm told, that Steve Pinto would assume the council presidency in January. Who takes it now? It has to be Joan Lovely, right? How painful would an O'Keefe or Furey presidency be? Sargent is quiet, I can't imagine him volunteering. Don't think it would be fun to watch, either. McCarthy and Prevey have done it recently. I can't picture Sosnowski wanting it, but maybe. You aren't going to make a newbie do it, right? Gotta be Lovely. She hasn't done it in quite a while, and the newbs will need the guidance.

Final note: Salem Patch has had great coverage of this election. Yesterday was the perfect example of the new kid absolutely wiping the floor with the traditional news guys. It was what Patch should always strive to be. Quick, agile, broad, and first. The Salem News was getting its at large totals off of my calculator before results were handed out. If I ever go again I'll do a spreadsheet ahead of time and save myself the math. It was chaos while they were trying to calculate who made it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On the eve of election day

The city of Salem votes tomorrow. Well, a small percentage of it does, anyway. Hopefully more than the 8% who voted in the primary. You'd think that local elections, which count for at least as much as the big ones, and probably influence our day to day lives more, would draw more attention, but the opposite is proved over and over again. 8% in a loaded primary. Just sad. Prediction 1: No way do we reach the 32% turnout the city clerk hopes for. My guess is we end up between 20 and 25%. Last election we had 27%, and the mayor's office was on the ballot. I hope Salem proves me wrong. It's been an interesting election season, if you're paying attention.

Salemweb down, but not out.

I was shocked this morning when I went to Salemweb to find that the site was gone, replaced with one of those crappy ad sites. Apparently the domain registration expired. I'm glad to report that I emailed Barbara Wuertz, and she responded promptly that it has been taken care of, and Salemweb should be back in action soon.

I'd have been really sad to see it go.

From: Barbara Wuertz


Seems there was a glitch in renewing the domain name yesterday.  I thought it had worked but, obviously not.  So I just renewed it this morning and it will take a few hours for the DNS to propagate the update.  Hope it happens sooner rather than later!

It would be wonderful if you could post a note about it on your blog.  Thank you so much.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sosnowski catches a break ... and you pay

Mike Sosnowski must have heard the footsteps. He has succeeded in getting his number one election opponent removed from the ward. Ward 2-ers should still write in our metal friend.

Big Metal Box with brand new sidewalk

Submitted by a reader

Paul Plecinoga tweeted this morning: Looks like Councilor Sosnowski can rejoice, the big metal box on the corner of Bridge & Planter st is gone, replaced by barrels & wires.

I only have one question. When this came up, the state was very clear that it wasn't footing the bill for any changes. So I gotta ask, how much is this personal preference going to cost the city taxpayers for replacing the box and redoing the sidewalk in that spot?