Saugus Town Meeting member Janet Leuci has been involved in the town in one way or another for nearly 40 years, and a cancer diagnosis 12 years ago hasn’t stopped her.
Leuci started off as a member of the Planning Board and 20 years ago ran for Town Meeting, a position she has held ever since.
“I did a lot of things before I ran for Town Meeting,” said Leuci. “It seems like I did it backwards.”
Leuci, who is the chairman of the Aggregate Post-Closure Committee, also served on the Affordable Housing Committee before she helped launch the Affordable Housing Trust. It’s Leuci’s work in housing that has been her main focus lately, as the Affordable Housing Trust has teamed up with Chelsea Restoration and the Attorney General’s office to repair and sell vacant and dilapidated homes around Saugus.
Leuci and the trust also helped implement inclusionary-zoning in town, which requires a developer who builds five or more units for sale or rent to set aside 10 percent as affordable.
“We’re working on so many things that will be good for the town,” she said.
This past summer a home on High Street that was vacant for 15 years was successfully rehabilitated and sold at auction thanks to the program, while a new home is being built on Wendell Street where Leuci said “a shell of a house” once stood.
“The AG’s office is interested in houses that can be rehabilitated and can serve a family,” said Leuci. “A home at 27 Wendell St. was horrendous. The neighbors for years and years couldn’t do anything about it. The Attorney General’s office sent a letter to them saying the home violates the state’s sanitary code. They got put on notice and not a new house is being built there.”
But while Leuci works hard to improve housing in Saugus, she has also been coping with a personal struggle: Leuci has stage four colon cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2001, and has to go to weekly chemotherapy sessions.
“It’s been a struggle,” Leuci said. “There’s no question about it. It’s not getting easier. I’ve had numerous surgeries. It’s been painful, but I’m doing well and am responding to treatment. As long as I can stay involved I will be involved.”
Leuci downplayed her situation and emphasized the work of her fellow board members, some of whom also deal with health issues.
“Midge Dawicki is in a wheelchair and she comes and Bob Cox is blind and he comes and contributes,” Leuci said. “They’re great people and they are really some wonderful people who really care about the town and want to help. Any successes we’ve had has been because of people joining together. You can’t do it all by yourself.”
Leuci said there are still “so many fights and so many issues” to take on in town. And even as she continues her own fight against cancer, Leuci’s focus is making sure Saugus stays an attractive place for people to live.
“You can help make the town better and improve the quality of life for people,” said Leuci. “You do things not just for the present, but for the future so people will want to live here and raise a family here. I raised four children here and it was a good place for them to grow up … Who knows what opportunities are out there that we haven’t even thought of?”
Matt Tempesta may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.