Mayoral race shaping up to be historic

By Robert Preer
Globe Correspondent / October 29, 2009

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BROCKTON - In next Tuesday’s election, City Councilor Linda M. Balzotti hopes to make history by becoming the first woman elected Brockton mayor. Incumbent James E. Harrington would like to make some history, too, with perhaps the biggest comeback ever in a Brockton mayor’s race.

Balzotti scored a strong win in the Sept. 15 preliminary voting, capturing 57 percent to Harrington’s 35 percent. Two lesser-known candidates accounted for 8 percent and were eliminated from the Nov. 3 runoff.

Harrington said he is counting on a much bigger turnout in the final election. Only about 14 percent of registered voters went to the polls in September. John McGarry, executive director of the Brockton Elections Commission, predicts a turnout of between 30 and 35 percent in the final.

Balzotti, a six-term councilor, is one of only a handful of female politicians to have ever run for mayor in Brockton. While women have served in Brockton’s legislative delegation and on the City Council and School Committee, a woman has never held the city’s chief executive post.

“I think it would be groundbreaking,’’ said state Representative Christine Canavan, a Brockton Democrat who is not publicly supporting either mayoral candidate. “She would be preparing the way for the women who will follow her.’’

Two years ago in his first reelection bid, Harrington overcame a lackluster showing in the preliminary election to finish strong in November. In September 2007, Harrington won 44 percent of the vote, one percentage point ahead of challenger Jass Stewart, who had not held elective office. That November, Harrington won 52 percent to Stewart’s 47 percent.

This year, Harrington is trying to overcome a gap of 22 percentage points, or 1,312 votes, against an established politician.

The last time a second-place finisher in a Brockton preliminary race was able to win the final was in 1987, when incumbent Carl D. Pitaro defeated Robert A. Medeiros after finishing second in the preliminary.

Pitaro and Medeiros were separated by 234 votes in the preliminary.

History could also be made in Brockton’s City Council election, where a nonwhite candidate could be elected for the first time. In the preliminary balloting, Stewart, who is African-American, finished fourth in a race for four at-large council seats. The fifth-place finisher, Marc Lucas, also is African-American.

With the election now days away, the mayoral candidates are making last-ditch appeals to voters, blanketing neighborhoods with fliers and knocking on doors.

“We’re working very hard,’’ said Harrington. “We’ll be doing a full get-out-the-vote effort.’’

Balzotti said: “We’re reaching out and meeting people and going door-to-door. We’ve kept going as hard as we were before the preliminary election.’’

In the mayoral race, Harrington, 61, contends that his experience makes him the candidate best able to guide the city through difficult financial times. A city councilor for 16 years, Harrington ran his own financial advisory business and insurance agency before becoming mayor four years ago.

“In this kind of a storm, this is no time for changing the captain of the ship,’’ Harrington said.

Balzotti, 48, who was Ward 4 councilor for eight years and councilor at large for four, said she will be a mayor who is close to the people.

“People want to feel they have someone who will represent them and stand up for them,’’ she said. “They want someone who will listen to them.’’

Balzotti served for six years on the appointed Planning Board. She is on unpaid leave from her job as an information officer for Bridgewater State College.

On matters of city finance, Balzotti said she will scrutinize every line item in the budget to keep spending down.

While a woman has never been elected Brockton mayor, women from the city have held important political posts. In 1922 Sylvia M. Donaldson, a Brockton Republican, was elected state representative, joining a Jamaica Plain woman as the first female legislators in Massachusetts. In 1973 Anna P. Buckley of Brockton became the first female state senator from Plymouth County. Today state Representative Geraldine Creedon has been in the Legislature for 15 years, and Canavan has served for 17.

Balzotti said she understands the historical importance of her candidacy but said, “I want people to vote for me because they believe I can do the job.’’

Robert Preer can be reached at