New Methuen mayor has tall task
After bitter campaign, divisive police contract awaits
IT WAS the most explosive Massachusetts mayoral election north of the Taunton River.
In Methuen, political newcomer Neil Perry trounced City Council Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan to take over a city still reeling from a decision made years ago under a previous mayor.
Consternation over a police contract that would have given astronomic raises to superior officers is on pace to outlast the tenure of Mayor James Jajuga. Jajuga was on the city council when the contract was negotiated by his predecessor, Stephen Zanni. Like pretty much everyone else in the Merrimack Valley city, Jajuga tried to wash his hands of it. Jajuga’s son is a police captain so he has had to steer clear of contract talks, and the matter, which has roiled the cash-strapped city, is scheduled to go to arbitration in the next couple months.
Kannan, whose son is a patrolman, was tainted by voting for the contract, though she has subsequently claimed that the Zanni administration fooled her by presenting a different version of the police contract than the one that had actually been negotiated. Zanni, for his part, blamed the city auditor, claiming he didn’t disclose how much the contracts would cost – a charge the auditor denies.
But Kannan pounced on the odd opening that Perry had provided, digging up his divorce paperwork and disputing his version of events, claiming there was a second restraining order. Then Kannan aired rumors she heard from women who worked with Perry at Raytheon, called on him to release his personnel records, and compared him to the notorious alleged sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.
Perry countered by calling Kannan’s move a “desperate” political attack, and his children scolded Kannan for distorting the incident to portray Perry in a bad light.
The drama has been covered by the Eagle-Tribune, which reported that the dispute about Perry’s character “trumped conversations about city issues leading up to election day.”
If Methuen voters decided who to support based on that episode, Kannan’s plan backfired. Perry, a political newcomer who hadn’t previously voted in a city election since 2001, mopped up more than twice as many votes as Kannan.“I hope he works with the council and does good things,” Kannan said Tuesday night.
Perry doesn’t have much of a political record outside of his successful campaign for mayor. Many people will be watching him now – not least of all the city workers whose jobs could be threatened if Methuen runs into worse financial trouble. They will want to see if he can turn the ship around.