Students Quiz Mayoral Contenders at Library [PHOTOS]

High school and middle school students posed their own questions for mayoral candidates Ted Bettencourt and Sean Fitzgerald at the Peabody Institute Library on Tuesday.

Although many of them aren't even old enough to vote, that didn't stop a group of Peabody students from quizzing the city's two candidates for mayor on Tuesday.

About 40 people -- parents and city officials -- filled the Sutton Room at the Tuesday evening for a with Sean Fitzgerald and Ted Bettencourt. Twenty students were in the audience and eight of them stood up to ask questions of the candidates, ranging from flooding in the downtown programs to fixing potholes.

Forum moderator Lejla Huskic, a 2011 Peabody grad and freshman at Boston University who is studying international relations, gave each candidate two minutes to answer a question.

Christina Zoldak asked: "What will you do to keep funding rates high enough for the library to support different programs?"

Fitzgerald said Peabody needs more community art and maybe even a theater or cultural center. "The library does a wonderful job of celebrating Peabody's history," he added.

Bettencourt said he wants to build on the success of the library, which his children use as well quite often.

"The library will be a priority to me, and it is something that I am proud of," he said.

A topic on all drivers' minds young and old, Andrew Aenotis asked the candidates about how to deal with potholes -- Peabody has plenty, drawing a laugh from the audience.

"A great deal of money comes in every year for sidewalks and streets," said Bettencourt. "I will work with my wonderful state representatives as a team to let residents know work's being done. There's no easy answer. I wish we had more money, but I will schedule a plan."

Fitzgerald said he understands potholes are a safety hazard and will use his experience in municipal government to address that.

"It's important to hear from residents," he said. "Media outlets and social media networks will help us know sooner so we can repair them. But the weather has a lot to do with it."

Fielding a question from Evan Gilman on flooding, Fitzgerald talked about his experience as a town manager, securing grants and working with governors and congressmen on public infrastructure projects, including flood mitigation for downtown Peabody. He added that with the downtown relatively dry once the work is completed, more of those arts and culture initiatives can be brought forth.

Bettencourt said his own firm on Main Street is directly affected when the downtown floods.

"It's been on the table for a number of years," he said, referring to the flood plans. "We have big pipes, but with so much water coming so quickly, it's not able to collect it. Fox News showed people fishing in boats. I don't believe in the word 'I,' I believe in 'we' and 'us.' We're going to get more grant money."

Going back to education, Karen Ejiofor asked each candidate's perspective on the city's schools.

Fitzgerald mentioned his time served on the School Building Committee, working multiple construction projects.

"You can't promise everyone everything," he said. "I helped write the grant application to spend $30 million [to] improve [the] Higgins. Other schools need more repairs and programs, but it depends on the quality of teachers, too. We spent over $22 million on the high school [renovations]."

Fitzgerald said all those things are signs of a "good school district."

Bettencourt pointed to class size and his goal is to reduce it. His daughter's kindergarten class had 16 students, where she was able to receive valuable individual attention, but her first grade class had 25 students, which is much less personal.

"Education is important to me, and children should have a safe, suitable environment in which to learn," Bettencourt said. "We [are] renovating the infrastructure of the Higgins. You only get one bite of the apple. We're waiting to see how that turns out."

"School buildlings will be a major priority to me," he said.

In their respective closing statements, both Peabody sons touched on their respective backgrounds.

Bettencourt noted he went to College of the Holy Cross where he studied politics and religion, went to Suffolk Law School and now runs a small firm on Main Street.

"I became involved in politics eight years ago when I served as the City Council's finance committee chairman. I believe in teamwork. I grew up in a sports family; I am a fighter and a cheerleader," he said.

Fitzgerald focused on family: his parents, his wife and their 2-1/2-year-old son Myles.

"Peabody is one of the most extraordinary cities in America, especially with philanthropist George Peabody's legacy. It has a powerful sense of pride. I'll not only be a fighter and cheerleader, but I've led a community ten days without power. I believe in people," said Fitzgerald.

Both men will be squaring off in a debate Thursday night at , co-sponsored by the Salem News and . The debate starts at 7 p.m.

Anne Manning-Martin October 20, 2011 at 10:29 AM
Lejla Huskic, a 2011 Peabody grad and freshman at Boston University who is studying international relations, moderated this event and ran it fairly with the skill of a seasoned professional. I can't tell you how impressed I am with her commitment to Peabody as she has been a volunteer at the Peabody Institute Library since THE 6th GRADE!! Now that is dedication! You should hear how she talks about our city, she can't wait to graduate and focus on making Peabody an even better place to live. Peabody is lucky to have such a fine young woman in our midst. Lejla, thank you for all you have done for our city at such a young age. You are truly an inspiration!
Walter October 20, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Did the students ask Fitzgerald if it's alright to plagiarize?
Tara Vocino October 20, 2011 at 08:52 PM
Lejla did a great job moderating the event!


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