Mayor Kim Driscoll
The second of four daughters of a native of Trinidad and a Navy officer, Kim Driscoll came to Salem as a college student in 1986. Kim was a political science major, but also a stand-out athlete on the women’s basketball team.
An internship in Salem’s Planning Department opened her eyes to the way in which local government could have a profound and positive impact on people’s daily lives. Like so many Salem State College students, Kim fell in love with Salem and made it her home after graduation, pursuing a career in municipal government, while also marrying her college sweetheart and raising a family of three (and a lovable golden retriever) and becoming a proud Salem public schools’ parent.
After college, Kim took a position as Beverly’s Community Development Director and went on to earn her law degree from the Massachusetts School of Law. After a few years in private practice, in 1998, Kim was tapped by the new City Manager in Chelsea to serve as the city’s Chief Legal Counsel. Chelsea, at the time, was just emerging from state receivership and a legacy of scandals in local government. Kim was an integral part of a team of new public administrators that worked to turn the city around by professionalizing and opening up how City Hall worked for the people.
Kim was elevated to the position of Deputy City Manager in Chelsea and then in 1999 Kim ran for and won a seat on the Salem City Council representing Ward 5. As a Ward Councillor Kim was a responsive and hardworking representative for her South Salem neighbors. She brought the same work ethic and commitment to professionalism that she had in her work in Chelsea to the Salem City Council.
In 2003, frustrated by the extent of petty political games that characterized Salem city government, Kim made the decision to step down from the City Council and run for Mayor. She campaigned in 2005 on a platform of professional, inclusive, and transparent government. Though considered an underdog, Kim topped the ticket in a three-way preliminary election against a sitting City Councillor-at-Large and the incumbent Mayor, and then went on to win the final election by a large margin, becoming Salem’s first woman Mayor.
Kim took office at a time when Salem was in tough shape. There were record deficits, poor financial management, and a bond rating that tied the city’s hands. The city had to borrow money just to pay salaries for cops and teachers. Downtown Salem was characterized by empty storefronts and neighborhood parks and playgrounds were in desperate need of maintenance and care.
Using professional and sound practices, Kim managed to turn those deficits into record reserve funds and saved taxpayers’ money through the use of technology and finding efficiencies through regionalization, reforming municipal health insurance, and bidding public contracts.
The over-spending local retirement system was reformed, stabilizing its finances and protecting workers’ and retiree’s savings. Salem’s bond rating moved up to its highest levels in the city’s history. Politics was taken out of service delivery and replaced with professionalism. Hiring became about what you knew, not who.
Investments were made in schools, roads, and open spaces, and a new commitment was put in place to revitalize the downtown and Salem’s historic harbor and waterfront.
All spending was reflected transparently in a budget document that earned accolades from national government finance watchdog groups, a new website was launched that earned recognition from Common Cause, and new citizen boards such as the Neighborhood Improvement Advisory Council and the Salem State University Neighborhood Advisory Committee were formed.
Working collaboratively with other officials and local partners, the city was able to secure sizable private investments, including a new MBTA train station and a state courts complex.
The city has pursued responsible growth opportunities to address the growing need for housing – not just for those who want to move to Salem and share in this great city, but for those who grew up here and want to remain. Growth has also meant a vibrant small business community and local economy, with both larger employers and small companies thriving and contributing to the city’s resurgence.
Balanced growth, coupled with the city’s aggressive pursuit of grant opportunities – over $150 million since Kim took office – means that Salem taxpayers haven’t seen the same types of tax increases that other North Shore communities have. Over the last decade Salem has had the second lowest increase in the average single-family tax bill and its taxes have gone up 15% less than the state-wide average.
Salem has been forward-looking under Kim’s administration. With a commitment to quality of life and safe neighborhoods, both police and fire ranks have been bolstered, with new equipment and tools. An opioids task force, new addiction intervention program, and a specialized curriculum in the middle school grades are all working to combat the scourge of opioids.
The city adopted a climate change mitigation plan and took steps to lower its own carbon footprint – steps that also helped the city and residents save on their electric bills. A proud parent of Salem Public School children, Kim has also chaired the Salem School Committee in her position as Mayor, and helped push for collaborations and strategies to improve Salem’s schools and for added investments to support teachers and students.
From one of the first non-discrimination ordinances in Massachusetts and a 100% score on the Municipal Equality Index, to major investments in veterans’ benefits, to the first age-friendly action plan certified in Massachusetts and the long fought-for new senior center, Salem under Mayor Driscoll has been – first and foremost – about including and welcoming everyone.
Kim’s leadership has helped transform Salem into what Boston Magazine called in 2013 one of Massachusetts “Best Places to Live.” In 2017 Kim was elected to her fourth term as Salem’s Mayor and she remains just as optimistic and hopeful about Salem’s future, and just as committed to leading this great city forward.