Editor’s Note: For this week’s column, we sat down with Town Moderator Stephen N. Doherty to ask him what makes Precinct 4 so special and what he sees as the top issues in the Saugus neighborhoods he represents. Doherty, 64, is an Everett native. He is a 1977 graduate of Pope John XIII High School in Everett. He attended Northeast Broadcasting School in Boston for communications. Doherty has worked for the United States Postal Service for 28 years, starting off as a letter carrier. He is currently in corporate communications, working as the spokesperson for the Post Office in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. His wife, Theresa, is also an Everett High School graduate. They have been married since 1981 and will celebrate their 42-year anniversary in June. The couple has two sons: Brian of Saugus (wife Lea) and Patrick of Peabody (wife Jennifer). Doherty and his family moved to Saugus in 2009. Two years later, he ran for a seat on Town Meeting and was elected to a two-year term. He has been reelected ever since. He is serving his 12th year on Town Meeting. When Town Moderator Bob Long stepped down in 2013, Doherty was elected Town Moderator, a leadership position he has held for five terms. He has been a member of the Saugus-Everett Elks Club Lodge #642 for 37 years. He is past exalted ruler of the Saugus-Everett Elks. The two clubs merged in 2008, a year before he moved to Saugus. His son, Brian, is a member of the Finance Committee.
Doherty plans to attend the fourth in a series of “Saugus Over Coffee” forums set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 25) in the Community Room of the Saugus Public Library. He is interested in meeting residents of Precinct 4 and encourages them to attend the forum, which is cosponsored by the Saugus Advocate and the Saugus Public Library.
Highlights of this week’s interview follow.
Q: Steve, please tell me a little bit about Precinct 4 and what makes it special.
A: Precinct 4 … one of the things that makes it special in Saugus is its geography. If you think about it, it goes all the way from the Revere line on Route 1 or the Malden line on lower Broadway, all the way up to the Melrose line on the Lynn Fells Parkway. It covers a lot of territory and stretches across the middle of town, and it abuts more precincts than most.
Q: How many precincts?
A: I’m not sure, but it touches every corner of town, basically, in some way, shape or form.
Q: I guess another thing that’s interesting is that of the five members that represent Precinct 4, four of them live on Essex Street.
A: Yes. When I first moved up here in 2009, Al DiNardo lived directly across the street from me and was on Town Meeting, and we have a couple that live right down the street from me, Mr. Davis, only a few houses down, and a little further down is Maureen Whitcomb. Most of our representation [for Precinct 4] on Town Meeting is huddled in that one small neighborhood.
Q: Anything else besides the geography that makes it special? Like landmarks?
A: We’ve got lower Broadway, which encompasses the mall, which obviously is a big part of it – Hammersmith – that whole development down there, and up behind the VFW. Unlike some precincts where you have one large neighborhood, ours is made up of a number of different subdivisions. We have a lot of different small communities tied together by the precinct boundaries.
Q: And are there any landmarks within the precinct? Or interesting characters of Saugus’ past history that lived within the precinct?
A: We’ve got some businesses in the precinct that date back quite aways. We got the dinosaur from the Route 1 golf course that used to be where that development is now. There are some blasts from the past there. But in terms of historic landmarks, I think of things like Appleton’s Pulpit or the Boardman house, those are outside the Precinct 4 boundaries. I don’t think we have anything that dates back that far.
Q: So, Essex Landing is part of the precinct.
A: Yes, and you have the dinosaur there.
Q: And the new Kane’s Doughnuts.
A: Yes, Kane’s and that new development. We once had the Blue Star and some popular businesses that were on Route 1 years ago.
Q: Anything you want to share about the precinct you represent?
A: Speaking with the constituents and the needs that I’m hearing, I think the biggest issue is the west side fire station. A lot of people want to see that. When you consider that the precinct on Main Street down past the Oaklandvale School and down Lynn Fells Parkway all the way down to the Melrose line – it covers a good part on the other side of town – and that’s something people are really pushing for. That’s something people have been talking about in Saugus now for years. But the more and more development you see over there, the more there is really a need for it. I know – where I live – one time they were talking about possibly doing away with the Essex Street Fire Station. And while I am sure they could make it to my house from the station on Hamilton Street in fairly short order, the people in my area sleep a little better at night knowing that there’s a fire station just two blocks down the street. So, I’m sure the people who live on the west side of the highway would feel a lot more comfortable knowing that they could get a quick response – whether it’s for a fire or just a medical emergency – if we had a fire station located on that side of the highway.
Q: Is the Essex Street Fire Station located within the precinct?
A: No, that’s actually in Precinct 2, I believe. It’s just beyond Precinct 4 by a matter of two blocks.
Q: So, a good part of the precinct is located on the west side of Route 1, so they would appreciate a new fire station on the West End.
A: Yes. But it’s still a quick response from the Essex Street Fire Station to the Hammersmith and some of the other developments. But once you get up on the Lynn Fells Parkway and the other side of Main Street, it’s a little bit of a hike. So, I get where the need is over there, and I understand why it’s an important issue – not just for Precinct 4, but for the other precincts on the west side of town.
Q: Does your precinct extend the farthest of any of them?
A: I believe it does in terms of one end to the other, for the stretch.
Q: What percentage of your precinct is on the west side of town?
A: The majority of it. Actually, the only part of Precinct 4 that is on the east side of Route 1 is Essex Street and the south side of Essex Street going towards Boston. The rest of the precinct is on the west side of town.
Q: Regardless of where you are located, a west side fire station would be a big issue for people in your precinct?
A: Oh, absolutely. The fire station could be located in another precinct, but just having it in Saugus on the west side of town – it would service that end of Precinct 4 much more quickly than something on this end.
Q: So what do you hear – the location where people would like to see it?
A: I haven’t heard much about that. One of my first thoughts is actually the Oaklandvale School after they closed that down because of its access to the Fellsway and Route 1. But I don’t think that’s something they’re looking at. They are probably looking at something more closer to Breakheart [Reservation] or Target…in that area. But again, from the perspective of Precinct 4 residents on that side of the highway, just having anything on the west side would give quicker access to their home than having to come from Essex Street or Hamilton Street. It’s something that they would welcome.
Q: What are some of the other issues that people are talking about in Precinct 4?
A: Playgrounds. They’ve done some great work on playgrounds in other parts of Saugus, like Bristow Street Playground or at the Veterans School and some of the other ones. But at the Oaklandvale and some of the other parts of town just outside of Precinct 4, they need some work.
Q: The reuse of Oaklandvale would be a big issue for the people in your precinct?
A: Oh yes. What’s going to happen with that property? What’s the town going to do with it? Those are concerns. And the playground, there is an existing playground there that definitely needs some upgrading to make it usable for the kids in the neighborhood.
Q: We don’t really know what lies ahead for the old Oaklandvale School.
A: No. There haven’t been any kind of hearings on how to reutilize that building. I’m sure that’s forthcoming.
Q: Do you have any other vacant buildings in the precinct?
A: I don’t believe so – as far as vacant schools – no. There are no others within the boundaries of Precinct 4.
Q: What are some other Precinct 4-related issues?
A: Cliftondale Square is a big issue for the people on my side of town even though Cliftondale is not within our precinct boundaries. It’s in Precinct 2, but it’s only a few blocks down the street within walking distance. A fellow Town Meeting member in Precinct 2 has done a tremendous amount of work down there on a rezoning proposal.
Q: Joe Vecchione. He’s been hard at work on the Cliftondale Revitalization issue.
A: The town has purchased some buildings and properties down there. There has been a lot of work done on Cliftondale revitalization. I’m really looking forward to how that’s going to shape up in the short term and the long term down the road.
Q: Cliftondale is just a stone’s throw from your house.
A: Yes. I remember going into that neighborhood when I was little. It was more of a square. It was more of a vital neighborhood. Now, it’s just kind of a drive through to get to Lynn.
I would like to see that area come back. The things I heard, people would like to see a walk-in-type restaurant or something to bring a little nightlife to the neighborhood. And it’s difficult. You think to yourself, “Why would I open a restaurant on Route 1 when there are so many restaurants down there?” You look at Cliftondale – there’s a need for it – and I think it would do well. It boils down to “What do we have to do as a town to attract that kind of business to Cliftondale?” But I think we’re taking steps in that direction.
Q: Have you done any analysis on how the redistricting configuration is going to affect the boundaries of Precinct 4?
A: In terms of the elected officials?
A: No. Part of it – you have to see who runs. If he decides to run again, Bob Long – the moderator who decided to step down in 2013 before I decided to run – would be in Precinct 4 this year. Bennett Avenue, where Bob lives, is now a part of Precinct 4 after being in Precinct 9.
I would love to see candidates come forward. To be honest with you, I much rather be in a race than have an election without opposition.
Q: Yes; two years ago, there was no competition for Town Meeting seats in half of the 10 precincts (1, 2, 3, 6 and 7). What’s interesting about Precinct 4 is most of the representation is on the east side of Route 1 while most of the people live on the west side of Route 1. You have four people who live on Essex Street.
A: Yes. And Bill Leuci lives just off of Essex Street (on Wilbur Avenue).
Q: So, you would hope there would be more interest on the west side of the precinct.
A: Yes. Hopefully, we will have some people from the western part of Precinct 4 who will step up and take an interest in local politics.
Q: But since you’ve lived here, it really hasn’t been the case, though, has it?
A: No, it hasn’t. Most of the population is on the west side of the precinct. But most of the interest in running for Town Meeting seems to be on the east side of the highway.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share about your precinct?
A: No. I think we have some good representation now. But a race always makes an election more interesting. You hate to see people walk into an office without opposition. But a good election only happens when you have people stepping up. So, we’ll see what happens with the election coming up.
I think we’re fortunate across the board, with the Board of Selectmen, the School Committee and the Town Meeting – with few exceptions – we’ve got some really dedicated people. We’ve got some good people serving with the best interests of the town and trying to get us to move in the right direction. Hopefully, that will continue going forward.