Salem Mayor Debate: Harrington, Pangallo Clash On Traffic, Experience

SALEM, MA — A clash of perspectives on experience and the best ways to determine the course of action as Salem’s next chief executive were the key areas of contrast in the Chamber of Commerce debate between mayoral special election candidates Neil Harrington and Dominick Pangallo Wednesday night at the Hawthorne Hotel.

While Harrington and Pangallo shared many of the same supportive views on the offshore wind project, climate change mitigation, increased school funding, permanent outdoor dining and embracing equity and diversity, LGBTQ+ rights and immigrants in the city, the differences were clear when it came to who thought he had the proper type of experience to run the city and how they would go about making decisions.

“It’s a choice between someone with more than 25 years of direct, hands-on municipal management experience and a person who had never held elected office,” said Harrington, who was Salem’s mayor for eight years in the 1990s and has been the Salisbury town administrator for the past two decades. “Between a person who has spent years listening to the concerns of residents and who is used to being held accountable to the people who have elected him, and a person who has only been accountable, and has had to take direction, from one person.”

Find out what's happening in Salemwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Pangallo, who was former Salem Mayor and current Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll’s chief of staff for the final 10 years of her administration, embraced his role as a career government administrator and pledged to keep the Witch City on the path of the Driscoll administration’s 17 years.

“Do we continue to move forward as a city or do we push pause and rewind?” Pangallo asked. “To me, that’s not a choice. Salem didn’t become the place it is today — the place I love, the place I’ve chosen to raise my family — by settling for middling mediocrity.

Find out what's happening in Salemwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

“The idea that you have to be a politician to manage this city is, frankly, exactly what’s wrong with politics these days.”

Those contrasts were shown in practical terms during a question on the city’s traffic issues where Pangallo cited the “evidence” of traffic-calming measures and dedicated bike lanes on safety with Harrington’s reliance on anecdotal evidence about how he said residents have told him they feel the traffic policies are practically ineffective and have actually made them feel less safe.

“I know my opponent is not a fan of evidence,” Pangallo said, “but I will suggest that (North Street) is safer. Before the project was done, North Street was averaging four crashes a month. After the project was done, it is averaging .75 crashes per month.”

He added that as a North Salem resident, he would not allow his daughter to bike on the street before it had protected bike lanes or let his 9-year-old daughter walk to the Bates School before the crosswalks were redesigned and the data showed the relative increase in safety.

“We have a moral responsibility that we’re striving for zero crashes and zero fatalities,” he added. “I don’t think that’s idealistic, I think that’s our responsibility to do.”
Click Here: welsh rugby jerseys

But Harrington said the measures were “clearly not working” and relying only on studies and focus groups to make decisions is a “recipe for disaster.”

“What my opponent calls evidence-based planning is a concept that works great in theory but does not work in the real world,” Harrington said. “It does not work on North Street. It’s not going to work on Loring Avenue. It’s not going to work on Broad Street and it’s not going to work on Washington Street.

“I can tell you that because I’ve walked up and down North Street. I’ve talked to the businesses that have lost 72 parking spaces. I’ve talked with the people in the neighborhoods who can’t get out of their driveways because of those little white stanchions sticking up. I’ve talked with the police and fire departments who have difficulty doing their jobs and responding in a timely fashion because of a very poorly designed solution to a problem that never existed.”

While Harrington said the solution to the city’s affordable housing problem cannot be “build, build, build,” Pangallo said more inventory is required to meet the needs of the city’s workforce.

On the question of a new high school, Harrington said that while he allows renovations are needed that he isn’t sure the city can afford a whole new school given low state reimbursements — he advocated allocating some of the millionaire’s tax toward building schools — while Pangallo said: “The question is not whether we can afford to build a new high school, it’s can we afford not to?”

Harrington softened his previous stance that Halloween in Salem was “out of control” but added that the city has to take a more active role in managing the holiday crowds while protecting the quality of life for residents and making sure downtown areas like Salem Common do not get trampled.

Pangallo advocated for a visitor’s economy that better funds Haunted Happenings — including the possibility of increasing downtown parking rates during October when they are more often used by out-of-towners than residents — but concluded that officials have to be creative on how they manage the crowds instead of simply deterring them or pretending they don’t exist, as he said was done in the past.

The full debate can be seen here on Salem Access Television.

The special election to fill out the final three years of what would have been Driscoll’s fifth term is on May 16.

(Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Twitter: @Scott_Souza.)

Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.