NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 10, 2014

Teenage chief of staff spurs criticism in Amesbury

AMESBURY — In office for barely a week, Mayor Ken Gray has begun to draw criticism from political opponents in town, particularly regarding his decision to tap a 19-year-old college sophomore as his interim chief of staff.

Earlier this week, Gray named Evan Kenney of Wakefield to his staff following the abrupt departure of Mayor Thatcher Kezer’s chief of staff, Eric Gregoire. Faced with the prospect of taking office with no staff support, Gray said he reached out to Kenney and asked if he could come aboard on short notice.

“I needed to get someone in here quickly,” Gray said Monday. “Evan was available, he’s qualified and competent, so I’m going to give him a whack at this thing.”

Kenney is a rising and somewhat controversial star in the state Republican party. In 2012, he became a central player in a brouhaha that erupted over the nomination of Mitt Romney at the GOP convention. His efforts to buck the party’s establishment won him significant attention, culminating in a lengthy interview on the nationally televised “Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC.

The decision to hire him has raised eyebrows, particularly among those who were opponents of Gray during the election. They took to Facebook to criticize Gray’s decision, and Kenney in particular for his age and for his conservative political views — among them a provocative statement Kenney released after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings advocating for arming teachers.

Phil Cronin, an Amesbury resident and Democratic political consultant, posted an essay written by Kenney in the days following the Newtown tragedy on the Support Amesbury Schools, Support Amesbury Kids! Facebook group, which was a popular gathering place for Kezer supporters during this past election.

In his essay, Kenney advocated for teachers to be empowered to carry concealed firearms in schools in order to deter future school shootings and to protect students in case a gunman does appear. The essay prompted an outcry from critics who criticized Kenney’s line of reasoning and wondered aloud whether Gray feels the same.

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