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Peabody’s new boss down to business

Tax base, flood problems in focus

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / November 13, 2011

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After campaigning on a pledge to help strengthen the city’s economy, Peabody mayor-elect Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. plans to waste no time in tackling that task.

“The focus on Day One will be business development,’’ Bettencourt, fresh from his victory in Tuesday’s mayoral election, said of his agenda when he takes office in January.

“The city needs to make a commitment to our industrial park and to the downtown - to bring more business to that area,’’ he said. “Trying to expand the commercial tax base will be my focus upon taking office.’’ He added that continuing with flood mitigation work will go hand-in-hand with downtown revitalization.

Bettencourt, 38, earned the city’s top job with a convincing win over Sean R. Fitzgerald in the race to succeed retiring five-term Mayor Michael J. Bonfanti. A four-term councilor at large and local lawyer, Bettencourt collected 8,703 votes to 4,980 for Fitzgerald, who is former chief of staff to Bonfanti and current town manager in Plaistow, N.H.

With the race behind him, Bettencourt said he planned to take some time off with his family to rejuvenate and then start actively planning for his upcoming administration.

“I’ll be putting together some of the advisers I had during the campaign to work on my transition to mayor,’’ he said.

High on his priority list, in addition to promoting business growth, is to participate in the School Committee’s search for a new schools superintendent, said Bettencourt, who as mayor will serve as chairman of the committee.

“I want to be actively involved in that selection. I think it’s a crucial decision’’ affecting the future of the city, he said.

In addition to his eight years as a councilor and 12 years as an attorney practicing in Peabody, Bettencourt is known from his days as an athlete at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, where he was captain of the basketball team. In 2002, he was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

He also comes from a well-known local extended family. His father, Edward Bettencourt, is a retired Peabody police lieutenant, while his cousin, Richard Bettencourt, is a retired Peabody police captain. Another cousin, Mark Bettencourt, is a former Peabody patrol officer.

A graduate of Holy Cross College and Suffolk University Law School, Bettencourt and his wife, Angela, have three daughters.

The mayor’s race attracted considerable interest as a battle between two well-known contenders in a city that had seen only one other open mayoral contest in more than three decades.

The race grew increasingly heated in its final weeks, but both Bettencourt and Fitzgerald say they are prepared to leave the acrimony behind.

“We were two competitive people who believed strongly we were the right candidates for the job,’’ said Bettencourt. “Sometimes during an election, we do mix things up a bit. But I always felt during the election that Sean and I were friends before the campaign and I believe we’ll have a friendship after.’’ Fitzgerald, he added, is “a talented, classy guy.’’

Echoed Fitzgerald, “I’m looking forward to putting this election behind me and sitting down with Ted and just getting back to the friendship we’ve had and enjoyed over many years.’’

Reflecting on his win, Bettencourt credits the work of his campaign organization. “I think people recognize I do care deeply for the city and that I work hard and believe in the city’s potential,’’ he said. “I think I generated a great deal of trust over the years serving on the City Council.’’

Bettencourt said two key endorsements - from Senate majority leader Frederick E. Berry, a Peabody Democrat, and Jackie Torigian, widow of the late mayor Peter Torigian - were also of tremendous value to his campaign.

While the Peabody mayor’s race came to a decisive close, the outcome of Methuen’s mayoral contest remains less clear.

Three-term Councilor at Large Stephen N. Zanni outpaced Al DiNuccio in Tuesday’s election to succeed three-term Mayor William M. Manzi III, who was barred from running again due to term limits. But the margin of victory was just 28 votes, and DiNuccio said he planned to seek a recount.

“I think he ran a good race. I think we ran a good race. I don’t think it’s over,’’ said DiNuccio, a local businessman who had topped the ticket in the preliminary.

While he called the recount effort DiNuccio’s prerogative, Zanni said, “I’m confident we will come out victorious when the recount is completed.’’

Zanni, who has also served on the School Committee, is a retired teacher and administrator from the Hudson, N.H. school district.