Monday night was the start of a new era in Peabody. There was excitement in the air as the crowd packing Wiggin Auditorium at heartily celebrated the installation of Ted Bettencourt as Peabody’s next mayor, right from the moment he was escorted into the room by his wife and three young daughters.
Bettencourt, with his family watching proudly from their seats, said he was “deeply honored,” “humbled” and “thrilled” to be able to serve as the city’s next leader. More so, however, that he has never been prouder of his hometown than in the past week.
A moment of silence was observed at the start of the ceremony for fallen Firefighter James Rice and Bettencourt again directed attention to the tragic loss in his inaugural address after being sworn into office by Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett. Bettencourt had said last week that he tore up his prepared speech and started anew.
On Monday, Bettencourt praised all those who rallied to support Rice’s family and the families who were left homeless in the wake of the just two days before Christmas.
“I witnessed the best of Peabody on display for all to see, and that spirit of community filled my heart with immense pride. This week, I have never been prouder to say that ‘I am from Peabody,’” he said to loud applause from the audience.
He likewise praised the fire and police departments for their duty and care for the Rice family, and Amy Rice herself.
“I witnessed the strength of Amy Rice who stood like a rock for her family and friends through unimaginable grief. A truly amazing woman,” Bettencourt said, again to loud applause.
While focusing mainly on the fire, he also noted the city has suffered other “serious blows, discouraging setbacks and tragic events,” such as the , the death of a local woman who was while crossing Main Street, a while on detail and a major employer in the city selling out to an overseas corporation and destabilizing local workers.
But despite the negatives inherent in all those events, the city has not faltered, Bettencourt said.
“During the campaign, I spoke often about ‘Peabody Pride’ and my belief that there is no obstacle our city can’t overcome if we work together as a community. I am more convinced of that than ever before,” he said.
‘The problems are real’
Bettencourt sounded much the same note his predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bonfanti has in recent years, describing the dire economic straits the city still has to operate within for the foreseeable future.
“State aid cuts may continue while health insurance costs to the city will increase. A number of painful budget cuts will likely be needed to keep our city fiscally sound. The problems are real,” said Bettencourt.
Nevertheless, he is prepared to push forward on revitalizing the downtown, remaking Peabody Square into a destination and bringing renewed life to Centennial Industrial Park as well.
“Threats to our city’s future economic strength and the stability of our tax base demands action,” he said.
Bettencourt is also prepared to tackle the educational challenges, particularly at the Higgins – the largest middle school in the state – which “is a source of embarrassment and in desperate need of attention,” he said.
Bettencourt said many of the city’s school buildings are rapidly deteriorating, in addition to the , and he sees that as due to “old age and inadequate planning.”
“Peabody is ready to turn a new page, and I am ready to harness the strength, resilience, determination and community spirit that exists across our city to create some good news and positive changes for our city,” he said.
Laying out the priorities
Bettencourt briefly outlined eight specific objectives he has for his first term in office.
- Establish a Business and Economic Development Council of local business leaders, city officials and residents to improve the business and job climates along with encouraging new strategies for development. He said attracting new industries could re-establish Peabody as the economic engine for the region. The committee members will be announced soon and the group will meet later this month.
- Conduct a complete audit of all city departments. Bettencourt said every department budget and job will be reviewed to see if there are duplicated efforts throughout city government and what possible cost savings there may be, essentially following up on a report this past summer that . He pledged to enact changes to make city operations more efficient and cost-effective.
- Draft a new Master Plan for the city. The existing planning document is now 10-years-old and Bettencourt says it’s high time for a new one to set a timelier and realistic direction for Peabody based on current prospects for the economy and the city.
- Knock on legislators’ doors for state and federal aid. Bettencourt said he has spoken with all of Peabody’s legislative representatives , and has made it clear to each of them that he will actively seek their help on getting any and all outside aid available to Peabody for its schools, flood mitigation, housing or economic development.
- A Peabody Square to be proud of. Bettencourt said he will work with the and downtown residents and property owners to make the square more pedestrian-friendly, safer and more attractive.
- Explore regional initiatives. Bettencourt plans to work with other North Shore municipal leaders to explore opportunities for regional consolidation and cooperation.
- Move to build a new middle school. Bettencourt said that with the , it makes more sense to build a new school than try to fix up the old one.
- Require community service for Peabody grads. Bettencourt noted that other high schools now require students to perform local community service hours in order to graduate, and Peabody should be no different. He said the work enriches students’ experiences, promotes pride in the community and can benefit local organizations as well.
Bettencourt departed from his prepared remarks briefly to thank his family for their support during and after the election season, as well as to acknowledge Congressman John Tierney and his wife Patrice, DA Blodgett, state Reps. Joyce Spiliotis and Ted Speliotis and state Sen. Fred Berry.
“I’m very lucky to have [Berry] for one year of my service,” Bettencourt said, noting after this year. The elder Peabody native received a standing ovation himself from the crowd.
Bettencourt ended his remarks, once again asking everyone to work together to move the city forward.
“Peabody pride is alive. Together we can make it soar,” he said.