By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Two years ago, Jennifer Kannan earned over 5,000 votes and another term on the City Council. She not only topped the ticket among 14 council candidates, but also outpaced both mayoral candidates.
Kannan, 48, a realtor, is hoping for a similar outcome Nov. 5 when voters elect their next mayor.
"People seem to like the work I'm doing," said Kannan from her Broadway campaign headquarters. "I know that this is my path. Personally, professionally and politically, this is my time to give back to the city in a higher capacity."
Kannan is incumbent Mayor Stephen Zanni's only challenger this fall. Kannan earned 5,033 votes in 2011 while Zanni required a recount in the mayor's race to edge Al DiNuccio, 4,450 votes to 4,416.
Kannan was a political rookie when she first ran for councilor-at-large in 2007. She is now in her sixth and final year on the council, due to term limits, having served as vice-chairwoman in 2009 and chairwoman in 2012.
Touting that experience as she campaigns, Kannan said voters are telling her she is more approachable than Zanni.
"We're running on positive energy — we feel good," said Kannan. "We're getting the support of the community. The main thing is they want to be heard. They want to have someone they can have faith in and they can speak to."
Kannan said the biggest difference between herself and Zanni is her ability to communicate and build consensus.
"I think that's a key element for a mayor in any community," said Kannan. "(Voters) want to be able to approach their leader and have a conversation with their leader. I think communication plays a big role in being mayor."
If elected, Kannan said she will beautify Methuen by cleaning up graffiti and roadside weeds. She said she will provide firm leadership, keep an open door to residents and business owners alike, and conduct reviews of each city department.
Like voters, Kannan said city employees want an accessible leader. She said department heads will respond to her.
"They want to work with someone they can talk to," said Kannan. "I'm a motivator."
From her perspective on the council, Kannan said Zanni "can't separate personal versus professional." As a result, Kannan said the mayor has stunted progress in situations where councilors disagree with him.
"He thought he was the teacher and we were the students," said Kannan, describing Zanni's first two-year term in the mayor's office. "He shouldn't be speaking at us. He should be speaking to us."
Among the issues Kannan and Zanni haven't seen eye-to-eye on are the mayor's failed bids to privatize the municipal Information Technology department and the council's decision to drastically cut funding for the Health Division.
Kannan said she does not support IT privatization. In general, she has taken a more cautious approach to outsourcing than the mayor. Regarding the health issue, which left the city without a health director and prompted the state to pull back $214,000 in regional grant money, Kannan said she stands by her vote to cut the Health Division budget.
"I think the department has been running effectively since," said Kannan. "I've seen no change."
Throughout the campaign, Zanni and others have called to attention Kannan's family ties to the city payroll and questioned whether, as mayor, she will be able to negotiate union contracts without violating conflict-of-interest and ethics laws.
Kannan's brother, Richard Aziz Jr., is a lieutenant with the Methuen Fire Department. Her son, Billy Kannan Jr., joined the police department as a full-time patrolman in 2012 after serving for several years as a reserve officer. Kannan’s daughter, Brittney Kannan, is a teacher’s aide at Marsh Grammar School. Kannan’s sister-in-law, Maria Becotte, works as a teacher at the Marsh. Her father is also a retired Methuen fire lieutenant.
If elected, Kannan has said she will abide by all ethics and conflict-of-interest guidelines and use a negotiating team much like the ones Zanni used to negotiate union contracts during his first term in office.
When asked about her relatives on the city payroll at a recent debate, Kannan called out to them in the audience by name.
"I'm proud of it," said Kannan. "I want to give back to my community as my family did."