PEABODY — The 2019 mayor’s race is less than a year away, but it appears three-term chief executive Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. is a shoo-in. Again.
The only time the mayor faced an opponent was in his first campaign for the corner office in 2011. The former city councilor-at-large beat Sean Fitzgerald, Mayor Michael Bonfanti’s chief of staff, by a 27-percentage point margin. It’s been smooth sailing ever since.
In a wide-ranging interview in his City Hall office, Bettencourt, 45, confirmed he will seek re-election next year.
“I truly enjoy the job because I’ve had the ability to make an impact on the community I care about,” he said. “My wife and I are raising our four kids here, they attend public schools, and I’ve always believed Peabody had great potential, that we could be a leader in the region.”
In his inaugural speech in January, the mayor listed some of the accomplishments of his first six years in office and unveiled plans for the continued revitalization of the city.
The list of successes, he said, included the clean-up of Crystal Lake in West Peabody, the final phase of the Higgins Middle School project, and the recent spate of new development in and around Peabody Square.
Among his achievements this year, he said, is the improvement of the Central Street corridor from Walnut Street to Wilson Square, with nearly $10 million in state and federal funds.
The project included new road surfaces, sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic signals, landscaping and design changes to improve traffic flow, accessibility, and pedestrian safety.
And for dog owners, the Peabody Dog Park on Perkins Street opened in October offering furry friends 2,500 square feet to roam.
City Councilor-at-Large Thomas Gould, the top vote-getter in the city after the mayor, said it’s easy to see why no one will run against Bettencourt.
“There’s a lot of positive things going on in Peabody and it all stems from the corner office,” he said. “He’s very well-liked and very popular.”
Still, Dick Jarvis, co-host of “You Make The Call” on the Peabody Access TV, said the political system works better when incumbents have opponents.
“It’s worse when there’s no opposition,” he said.
On Bettencourt’s tenure as mayor, Jarvis gives him mixed reviews. He praised him for the decision to spend millions to repair the city’s water and sewer lines. The talk show host had criticized previous administrations for failing to invest in the city’s deteriorating infrastructure.
Does Bettencourt have any warts? Yes, Jarvis said.
“I’ve beat him up for raising property taxes for the last eight years,” he said. “And I have problems with his style. He’s a hands-off and non-confrontational guy. He’s a good guy. But you don’t vote for candidates because they are good guys, you support them because they can take the heat, stand up, and do the right thing.”
Still, Bettencourt’s supporters say he is a consensus builder who has had very good relations with the City Council and the city’s unions, avoiding the kind of fights seen in other communities.
But Bettencourt said he is not done yet.
Last month, he unveiled the Peabody Clean & Sustainable Water Infrastructure project, $36 million in upgrades to the city’s water delivery system. The four-phase plan, expected to be completed by 2020, promises to overhaul the city’s water and sewer lines to its nearly 19,000 households, much of it to be paid for by ratepayers. The unanimous council vote raised the average water and sewer bill to $908, up from $790, a nearly 15-percent hike.
“That project is my big priority for next year,” he said.
But that’s not all, he added.
“We must continue to invest in our schools,” he said. “We have to take a hard look at the future of the nearly 50-year-old Peabody High School and decide whether to rehab it or build new.”
In addition, the son of a retired police officer said he hopes to increase the city’s investment in public safety, and continue to make Peabody an even more desirable place to live, work, and raise a family.
Bettencourt is following the tradition of long-serving mayors. Bonfanti served for a decade before deciding not to seek a sixth term in 2011. Peter A. Torigian was first elected mayor in 1979 and served for 23 years until his retirement in 2002.
“We have been very fortunate that we’ve had good mayors who were strong financial managers,” he said. “Mayor Torigian and Bonfanti were good mayors who cared for the city.”
But not every one of them have been model citizens.
Nicholas Mavroules, mayor during the 1960s and ’70s before becoming a congressman, was sentenced to a 15-month prison term for corruption.
The biggest surprise of being mayor?
“People don’t realize it’s a 24/7 job for 52,000 residents with 1,400 employees,” Bettencourt said. “There’s a lot going on and it’s challenging. On top of that, I have a young family with a 1-, 9-, 12- and 14-year-old.”
The one person who might have considered a run against Bettencourt is City Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning Martin. She is not shy about questioning the mayor’s decisions. She was the sole vote against the mayor’s appointment of Robert Labossiere as Public Services director last summer. The mayor, who was in the City Council chamber during the vote, rolled his eyes when she voted no. Manning later told a reporter the mayor’s choice lacked the experience to run a city as large as Peabody.
Last week, she was one of three council votes to oppose the mayor’s proposed tax hike.
But Manning, a Republican, is still smarting from her defeat in the 2016 race for Essex County Sheriff. She was defeated by Lynn Police Chief Kevin Coppinger by a 16-point margin in the county.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was she lost her hometown to Coppinger by 328 votes of the 23,800 cast in the city.
Manning declined to comment.