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SOMERVILLE

Curtatone passes Lafuente to succeed ousted mayor

SOMERVILLE -- After ousting the city's two-term mayor, Dorothy Kelly Gay, in the preliminary election in September, voters yesterday selected political ally Joseph A. Curtatone to succeed her.

Curtatone, who has served eight years on the Board of Aldermen, defeated Tony Lafuente, a businessman who has never held public office. In official results released late last night, Curtatone received 7,636 votes, and Lafuente received 6,974.

Their campaign was highlighted by a disagreement over the development of Assembly Square, Somerville's last open swath of urban real estate. Lafuente criticized the project, but Curtatone was generally supportive.

Curtatone, a lifelong Somerville resident who is the son of Italian immigrants, inherits a city plagued by gang violence and grappling with deep state aid cuts that forced Kelly Gay to fire 200 municipal workers. Voters had blamed Kelly Gay for a perceived decline in public services and reversal in the city's economic growth.

After Kelly Gay's startling defeat on Sept. 23, Lafuente sharply criticized Curtatone, who he said helped squander city reserves that could have saved the jobs of police officers and firefighters.

Curtatone tried to distance himself from Kelly Gay throughout the campaign. Last night, he said voters recognized his new agenda.

"The voters have spoken for change," he said. "They want to get Somerville moving in the right direction."

Voters who supported Curtatone said they believed his governing experience would help him guide the city through its economic crisis.

"I would hate to see the city regress," said Nikhil Raj, 32, who said Curtatone would clean up the streets and attract urban professionals to Somerville.

Raj, a management consultant who voted at Somerville High School, was part of a wave of new residents who fled Cambridge's high-priced real estate after rent control ended in 1994.

"Some people feel Curtatone is entrenched," he said. "But he seems to listen."

Curtatone, 37, had finished first in the preliminary election. Yesterday, his 66-year-old mother, Maria, spent 12 hours waving a placard on Highland Avenue, while former Somerville High School classmates of the alderman-at-large filed into voting booths.

"Lafuente is attractive because he's a businessman and there's a sense he can get things done," said Nick Maynard, 32, an architect who left a one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge to buy a house in Somerville in 2000.

"But politics are local," he said, standing beside his pregnant wife.

Curtatone won endorsements from State Senator Jarrett Barrios, former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, and the Board of Aldermen president, Sean T. O'Donovan.

But many voters dismissed Curtatone's detailed policy proposals, saying his administration would merely prolong Kelly Gay's errors. They hoped Lafuente would usher in a new era of city politics.

"There isn't the sense of pride I used to see in the city," said Helene Rodar, 51, who has lived in Somerville for 15 years. She voted for Lafuente at the Lincoln Park Community School.

"It's Slumerville again," said another Lafuente supporter, 52-year-old Pamela Ryan, who hoped a Lafuente victory would end the reign of career politicians. "They're not making any changes," she said.

Benjamin Gedan can be reached at gedan@globe.com.

Patricia Ryan Patricia Ryan showed up at 7:30 yesterday morning to vote at the William E. Channing School in Hyde Park. She was accompanied by her son and two daughters. (Globe Staff Photo / George Rizer)
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