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Peabody mayor promises more police, heightened awareness to drug abuse
By Jamie Jamieson
Staff writer

PEABODY — Calling drug abuse a great a danger as terrorism, Mayor Michael Bonfanti called on residents of Peabody yesterday to join with him and other officials in combating the crisis.

"We as a nation ... must act," Bonfanti said in his midterm address to the City Council, adding in an interview later that, "It's got to be more than Mike Bonfanti or (District Attorney) Jon Blodgett putting on a couple of programs."

Bonfanti referred to the "recent high-profile newspaper and magazine articles" detailing drug use by former Peabody High athletes Jeff Allison, Joel Levine and Brad Nizwantowski.

"Although disturbing and unflattering, these articles have forced us as a community to pay attention and to act on the drug problem," the mayor said.

Bonfanti pledged to hire more police officers, filling positions left vacant by budget cuts over the last couple of years.

"We need to put a few more policemen on the street and a few more in our schools, if possible," he said in an interview after his speech.

School officials, he said, are working on "educational awareness programs." The mayor called on parents and others to attend a drug awareness program sponsored by the city and the Essex County District Attorney's Office on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers.

Bonfanti applauded just-elected City Council President Edward "Ted" Bettencourt for setting up an ad hoc Committee on Drugs, to be chaired by Councilor Michael Garabedian.

Garabedian, who is chairman of the council's Municipal Safety Committee, recently held committee hearings on drug abuse in Peabody, calling in Superintendent Nadine Binkley to brief councilors on the situation at the high school. Now, Bettencourt wants to expand those efforts.

The mayor's call for action came in the middle of an 11-page speech on his administration's progress over the past year and on goals for the coming year.

Bonfanti pointed to six successes in business development, including the opening of a medical building at 4 Centennial Drive, a $1 million renovation at 10 Centennial Drive, a $6 million addition at Analogic and the opening of North Shore Orthopedics after an $11 million redevelopment of an office building next to the Northshore Mall. He also noted the development of almost 2,000 apartments and condominiums, many of them on cleaned-up former industrial sites, and almost all of them including some affordable housing.

"One of the biggest problems in the United States today is affordable housing," Bonfanti said. "The city of Peabody is doing it."

Although the city has invested substantial money in new schools and renovations, academic achievement has lagged, Bonfanti said.

"I am not pleased with the academic achievement in our school district," he said.

Like the drug problem, low MCAS and SAT scores must be addressed by "all of us," he said.

While calling for academic improvement, the mayor cautioned against too much change after a year when most of the district's administrators are new.

"It is natural to both fear and resist change. One cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs," he said. "Although I believe many of these changes were necessary, I believe it is now time to pause and evaluate the results."
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