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Voters say change is foremost on minds

Mass. attitude benefits Patrick

Alicia Kelley is frustrated. A 28-year-old surgical technician and nursing student from South Boston, she strains under the costly burden of student loans, a mortgage, rising property taxes, and private-school tuition for her 8-year-old daughter.

With all the money that is paid in taxes, Kelley wonders: "Where's it going? The Big Dig?"

But the tone of the campaign for governor also troubles her. The ads by Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, a Republican, are overly focused on the past advocacy of Democrat Deval Patrick on behalf of criminals, she said.

"She just keeps pushing about one subject," Kelley said.

Nine days from today, voters across Massachusetts will elect a new governor. Like Kelley, many are considering a vote for Patrick because they are upset by the Big Dig, the high cost of living, and the negative tone of the Healey campaign .

For some, the wandering ambitions of Mitt Romney, the governor Healey hopes to succeed, also are troubling.

As a result, change is foremost on many voters' minds. In more than three-dozen interviews, many voters in and around Boston expressed a desire to shake up the status quo. That is dragging down Healey, who had to overcome the odds of being a Republican in a Democratic state. It also seems to be lifting Patrick, who is making his first run for public office.

Moreover, the mood threatens to trump the GOP's usual ace in the hole -- the party's contention that a Republican governor provides critical ballast to a free-spending Democratic Legislature.

The parties' roles were reversed 16 years ago. In 1990, an explosion of voter anger ended the Democrats' 16-year hold on the governor's office in Massachusetts. Now, a Republican reign of equal duration is in jeopardy. A majority of voters recently told pollsters they feel the state is headed in the wrong direction.

The November vote may be the last ballot Jim Thompson casts in Massachusetts. A retired small-business owner and registered Republican who will vote for Healey, he is about to join the exodus out of state and move to North Carolina. He said his property taxes will be a fraction of what he pays in increasingly pricey Westborough.

"I can't see paying these taxes here and not getting anything for it," Thompson said.

There's one problem. Thompson is having trouble selling his home. As of last week, he said, it had been on the market 157 days, even after he dropped the asking price by $50,000.

Tom Kirk, a 58-year-old construction executive, is on the other side of the migration and home-buyer equation. A Texas native and registered Democrat, Kirk chose to move here. "I like it here," he said. He and his wife moved to the affluent suburb of Winchester because of the quality of its schools. "But I can't afford to buy a house there, and I make good money," Kirk said. He said he will vote for Patrick, whom he described as "a change from where the state has been."

Raymond Neslusan , an independent from Oxford in southern Worcester County, also is ready for change. "I want to shake it up," the retired computer programmer said. "People are tired. We spend way too much money on foolish things," he said, citing the Big Dig. A Romney voter four years ago, he said he will vote for Patrick but vowed that if the Democrat raises taxes, "he's out the next time."

Edny Pascal , a 43-year-old registered nurse from Marlborough, is a Democrat who is solidly behind Patrick, but he has heard all the talk from Healey that the Democrat will raise taxes. "I hope he doesn't. I pay too much already," Pascal said. He also criticized Healey's attacks on Patrick's support of driver's licenses and in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants as "racist."

Pascal, a Haitian native and naturalized citizen, said, "If immigrants have the opportunity to make progress, they will be a big plus for society."

Makeda Solomon , 40, of Framingham, also has lived the immigrant success story and doesn't consider the illegal immigrant issue to be important.

As a young child, she came with her parents from Ethiopia, went to the University of Massachusetts, and is now a self-employed medical employment recruiter. She works out of her home so she can be with her 10-year-old son, who has diabetes. Because of his illness, stem cell research (supported by Healey and Patrick), with its potential to find a cure, is a key issue for her. So is health insurance, which she said costs her $10,000 a year.

Solomon is undecided, in part because "there's too much negative campaigning, and I'm kind of tuning out."

Many who said they were leaning toward or would vote for Patrick expressed reservations about the Democrat or his positions, but said they were willing to give him a chance. A few criticized Patrick as a free spender and ultra liberal for supporting benefits for undocumented immigrants.

Mary Bucci , 81 and a lifelong Democrat who lives in Natick, said she has concerns about Patrick's support of benefits for illegal immigrants, but will support him anyway. "I don't think there's much choice," she said. "[Healey's] not talking the truth . . . When you get to be my age, it's hard to accept change, but you do the best you can."

Two voters who were interviewed said they were impressed by Christy Mihos , an independent who has sought to capitalize on the hunger for change. But neither thinks he can win and only one said he would vote for him. Grace Ross of the Green-Rainbow Party did not register any support among those interviewed about the governor's race.

Linda Bertrand , a 52-year-old independent from Northborough, considered voting for Healey, but has all but settled on Patrick. "Enough is enough. More than voting for Deval Patrick, I'd be voting against Kerry Healey," said Bertrand, a pet store owner and grandmother of four. "I don't believe her and don't like the way she is running her campaign. She should be answering the question: What are you going to do for us?"

"I'll vote for change," she said. "But who knows? If he doesn't do a good job, we'll vote him out in the next election."

Maura Hunter , 39, of Ashland, is an executive with a large financial services company, mother of a 1-year-old, and concerned about government waste, the Big Dig, the quality of public schools, and the cost of healthcare. Taxes wouldn't bother her "if I knew they were being spent wisely and being used well instead of rebuilding that tunnel," she said.

But Hunter is turned off by the campaign. "It's very, very negative, particularly Kerry Healey," Hunter said. "Her ads are totally negative . . . If she had things to stand on, she wouldn't have to do these ads."

An independent who voted for Republican Mitt Romney four years ago, Hunter said she is leaning toward Patrick, yet offered faint praise. His ads are "a little better" than Healey's, she said.

For Christine Armstrong of South Boston, a 43-year-old mother of two school-aged children, Healey's ads have been troubling, the entire campaign "nasty." But the registered Democrat who often votes Republican said she will cast a ballot for the Republican because of the lieutenant governor's experience in office. In addition, she said, Patrick's advocacy on behalf of convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer bothers her.

Healey has an enthusiastic backer, however, in Jim Ball , 44, a self-employed financial planner and lifelong Westborough resident. Citing an improving economy and abundant opportunity in the booming Interstate 495 crescent, Ball said: "I just don't want government to get in the way too much." A self-described "social Democrat/fiscal Republican," Ball said keeping the GOP in power is important. "I like two parties in office and a good set of checks and balances," he said.

The Romney factor came up in a number of interviews.

Citing Romney's "disappearing act, the wanderings," Richie D. Santana , a 44-year-old security consultant from Boston's South End, said, "Anybody who's with his ticket is definitely the opposite of where I'm going."

A registered Democrat who said he isn't happy with either party, Santana said his admiration for Healey waned after watching her act the part of Romney's silent partner. "I don't like followers," he said.

Nancy Lovejoy, 47 , a self-employed personal chef from Westborough, complained about Healey's "really dirty" campaign and Romney's political wanderlust. Without health insurance for the past decade, she still gives Romney little credit for the compulsory health insurance program he worked to enact.

"He did it for political gain . . . to help his presidential candidacy," said Lovejoy, an independent who votes despite a dislike of politics.

Vincent Kleponis, a 90-year-old retired factory worker from South Boston, said he likes Mihos because "he seems down to earth," but probably will vote for Healey.

Kleponis, who is not enrolled in either party, is irked by Patrick's refusal to embrace the income tax rollback approved by voters in 2000.

"Who is Deval Patrick to say the will of the people should not be accepted?" Kleponis said.

Steve Sherman, 61, a probusiness independent who lives in Boston's North End, is concerned about young people leaving the state.

A business development consultant specializing in environmentally friendly enterprises, Sherman thinks Healey has credentials but has failed to connect with voters.

He likes Mihos and the entrepreneurial experience of the convenience store chain owner, and said he probably will vote for him even though he doubts he can win.

Ultimately, Sherman said, Romney has "been in the business of wanting to be president . . . I don't know where that leaves Massachusetts."

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