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 all that was crowded out by more scandalous allegations that Kannan launched against Perry in the final weeks of the campaign. During a televised forum in October, Perry described the difficulty he experienced when his now-ex-wife filed a restraining order against him about two decades ago. Perry cast his experience as an example of overcoming hardship, and claimed that within less than two weeks, the restraining order had been overturned, and he obtained full custody of their three children.

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.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

“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.