In Salem, the mayor’s office is like many high-ranking offices in that it’s decorated with portraits of men. Some of the men stand regally; some pose by the water, their hair blowing in the wind. But under Salem’s first female leader, Kimberley Driscoll, the office has taken on a new air, and it’s not just because she’s a woman.
Attorney Neil Chayet eloquently appraised Driscoll when introducing her to the Salem Historical Society in 2009 by saying, “It’s rare when you get well-administered [local government] and vision.”
In 2006, Driscoll ran for and was first elected mayor during a major fiscal crisis. Now, in 2010, Salem is the recipient of one of four 2010 Government Finance Officers Association’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Awards and is one of 20 Massachusetts towns recognized for excellence in financial reporting. Driscoll consolidated services, arranged shared purchasing, building inspection, and made a successful Green Communities bid with Swampscott, as well as attracted millions in investment through the Seaport Advisory Council and federal grants for the ferry and planned Salem Wharf project—”our Route 128,” she explains.
The future of Salem, says Driscoll, is reflected in its past. Managing growth when “manufacturing is gone” can be found in waterfront opportunities, she says. Salem Harbor represents “our ability to bring back riches and wealth.”
Under Driscoll, Salem now has a capital improvement plan, a five-year forecast, and, having started near zero, a reserve fund of $2.5 million. Her administration has repaved 50-plus streets, reconstructed playgrounds, and restarted projects like the Old Salem Jail and Courthouse Complex. “We have a responsibility to leave Salem better than we found it,” she says.
On top of professional management, Driscoll communicates and initiates feedback expertly. She engineered the e-newsletter “FYI Salem” and a number of public surveys, has thousands of Facebook friends, and actively posts city news. It helps with “consensus building,” she says.
Driscoll claims to have been unknown in 2006. “I had the least in the bank…But I was showing up and talking to anyone who would basically put on a pot of coffee.”