Mayoral rivals put focus on jobs
Opponents differ on city experience
Peabody mayoral candidates Edward A. “Ted’’ Bettencourt and Sean R. Fitzgerald both pledge to make creating jobs their focus if elected to succeed Michael J. Bonfanti, who is leaving the post he has held since 2002.
Bettencourt, a four-term councilor at large, and Fitzgerald, Bonfanti’s former chief of staff, are going head-to-head in the Nov. 8 election.
“It’s very clear that people are concerned about jobs and our ability to keep Peabody affordable during these tough times,’’ said Fitzgerald, currently town manager in Plaistow, N.H. “I’ve assured folks that my administration certainly will be focused on jobs, jobs, and jobs.’’
Similarly, Bettencourt said, “The most important thing in our city right now is the creation of jobs and bringing business in the city.’’ He said the city needs to be “aggressive and proactive,’’ noting that economic growth and jobs will “keep our tax base strong.’’
But when it comes to which of the two candidates has the experience the city needs in its new mayor, the two candidates parted company.
Fitzgerald, who has held his job in Plaistow, a town of just over 7,600, since 2008, said, “I certainly think having been a town manager . . . puts me in a very strong position to understand the issues.’’
Noting that a city councilor in Peabody is just “one of 11 voices,’’ Fitzgerald said, “I believe there is a huge difference between going to a meeting twice a month and working every day for the better part of the last 20 years managing the day-to-day business of municipal government.’’
Fitzgerald was Bonfanti’s top aide from 2002 until taking the New Hampshire post. Before that, he worked under the late mayor Peter Torigian as administrative liaison for the Essex County Advisory Board.
“Peabody is a $137 million enterprise,’’ he added. “If you come into this without the significant experience of managing a multimillion-dollar enterprise, there will be some significant challenges.’’
Responded Bettencourt, a local attorney: “I cede nothing to him on experience. I’ve been on the City Council now for eight years. I’ve been on the Finance Committee for a number of those years and finance chairman for three years, and I’ve analyzed a $140 million-plus business.’’
“There’s a big difference between the great city of Peabody and the lovely village of Plaistow, N.H.,’’ Bettencourt added. “Plaistow, New Hampshire’s budget is minuscule compared with the city of Peabody’s.’’
Experience serving as City Council president in 2005 “and being in the heart of the city the last eight years rolling up my sleeves [to address city issues] eminently qualifies me as mayor,’’ Bettencourt said.
To help bring jobs to the city, Bettencourt said he would have the city prepare a master plan, something he said Peabody has not done since 2001. He said the plan would focus on ways to attract business to the city, including through a strategy of creating a hub for the medical industry or some other downtown.
Fitzgerald said his job creation efforts would include building on his track record under Bonfanti of helping secure “millions of dollars in state and federal grants’’ for infrastructure and other needs.
He said he would also draw on his experience of working with two local chambers of commerce and state and federal officials to support economic development in Plaistow.
On another issue, Fitzgerald contrasted his support for Peabody’s participation in the planned regional vocational school with what he said was Bettencourt’s opposition.
The new school is being formed through the merger of the North Shore Regional Vocational School and the Essex Agricultural and Technical High School, and will be located on the Essex Agricultural campus in Danvers.
“This is one of the most important regional projects, which `will help us really create jobs and economic opportunities for both the city and the region,’’ Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s very important to have a leader who supports that.’’
Bettencourt voted in the minority on the council about a year ago against having Peabody join the district, and earlier this year against approving the city’s share of the funding.
He said he did so because “quite frankly, there were too many questions that have still got to be answered. I felt the information given us was insufficient to make a vote regarding such an important project.’’
Bettencourt said his concerns include that “Peabody is paying 22 percent of the cost and only getting a much smaller percentage of the seats’’ in the new school, and how the city would continue to serve its vocational students who do not attend the new school.
But Bettencourt said Peabody has made the decision to join the new school, and that as mayor “I would go forward with that’’ while trying to advocate for the city’s interests.