South Campus dominates Ward 7 issues in council race – The Salem News

SALEM — The future use of Salem State University’s South Campus will define political life in Ward 7 for the next two years, something both candidates running for the ward’s City Council seat agree on.

Voters on Tuesday will be tasked with electing either Francis “Fran” Riggieri, a Lafayette Street resident, or Andy Varela, a Cedarcrest Avenue resident.

Both are known names in the ward, with Riggieri, 70, half of the beloved former “Fran & Diane” restaurant namesake, and Varela, 36, co-owner of Maitland Mountain Farm and active participant in the Mack Park Food Farm. Varela also ran in 2019 against Ward 7 Councilor Steve Dibble, who has left the seat open this year to challenge Mayor Kim Driscoll.

Both candidates also see the future of South Campus as the main issue in Ward 7.

“I’ve done my door-to-door, and the message I’m getting from the voters I want to carry forward … is they want a quiet development in there,” Riggieri said. “They don’t want the high-end condominiums, the mixed-use. (They want) no commercial space at all, and more of a senior village approach. That’s one of the reasons I’m running — because Salem needs a place for its seniors going forward.”

It’s far from clear what may happen with the redevelopment of the property, something that has Riggieri eager to watch the process play out, he explained. As a councilor, he’d attend every possible meeting on the project, which is “a basic foundation to be able to participate and bring some leadership to the subject of that development.”

At the same time, the City Council needs “to understand the need for senior housing,” he said.

“The approach that we’ve currently been taking on housing in general is a failed path,” Riggieri said. “That’s the No. 1 reason why we don’t need to go down that path in that space and development of South Campus.”

Varela, meanwhile, said a lot of unknowns remain on the project currently, but the true impact of the proposal is bigger than Ward 7.

That comes down to “polling not only Ward 7, but also other wards to think about… ‘how could this benefit our ward and possibly make our city more of a walkable city,’ where you’re less dependent on transportation via car,” Varela said. “We have an opportunity — especially when it comes to SSU’s South Campus — to do something that’ll benefit all residents, not just a few if it just comes down to senior housing or general housing, if that.”

Varela said he also sees traffic as a huge issue in the ward, given the throughways that connect downtown Salem to Marblehead and Swampscott.

“Where Ward 7 is unique in our eight square miles here in Salem is it’s mostly a quick way to get around to the highway. Loring and Lafayette are very fast roads, and they can be dangerous,” Varela said. “That’s a hesitation with a lot of residents in Ward 7 — getting out of their cars and utilizing by bike or walking, it can be a hazard in Ward 7.”

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or Follow him at or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.