Mayoral races expected to draw voters to polls

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / November 6, 2011

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Several hotly contested mayoral races are claiming the spotlight as 21 communities across the region prepare to hold municipal elections on Tuesday.

Closely watched bouts include the race in Beverly between Mayor William F. Scanlon Jr. and City Council president Michael P. Cahill, and contests to succeed outgoing mayors Thomas G. Ambrosino of Revere, Richard C. Howard of Malden, William M. Manzi III of Methuen, and Michael Bonfanti of Peabody.

In all, 14 municipalities will select mayors, with 10 having multiple candidates to choose from. In addition, voters Tuesday will be electing members of municipal councils, school committees, and other panels, including the Board of Selectmen in Saugus.

A number of communities will also take up ballot questions, including municipal charter proposals in Everett, Malden, Methuen, Newburyport, and Winthrop, and a proposed Proposition 2 1/2 debt-exclusion override, or temporary property tax increase, in Saugus to fund the city’s share of a school building project.

All Massachusetts cities and some towns hold elections every other November. Most towns hold annual elections in the spring.

Municipal clerks in several communities with high-visibility races are predicting relatively high turnouts.

In Peabody, City Clerk Timothy Spanos expects 58 percent of eligible voters will cast ballots, with the mayor’s race the primary draw.

“It’s a very competitive, active race,’’ he said of the duel between Councilor at Large Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. and Sean Fitzgerald, Bonfanti’s former chief of staff. Bonfanti, Peabody’s mayor since 2002, is retiring after this term.

In Malden, City Clerk Karen Anderson expects turnout to be about 40 percent.

Anderson said the mayoral race, in which Ward 1 City Councilor Gary Christenson and Councilor at Large Deborah Fallon are vying, got off to a slow start but “interest is definitely picking up.’’ Howard, Malden’s mayor since 1996, will begin work as Winchester’s new town manager after this term ends.

Diane Colella, Revere’s election commissioner, predicts a healthy voter turnout of 49 percent. She said the prediction is based on the nearly 48 percent turnout the city saw in 2003, when it last had a competitive mayoral race.

In this year’s race, councilors at large Daniel Rizzo and George Rotondo are competing for the seat Ambrosino has held since 2000.

“Both candidates are running very aggressive campaigns,’’ Colella said, adding that voter interest appears to have been rising the last several weeks.

The mayor’s race in Beverly has been a focus of attention for months, starting with a four-way preliminary election campaign that featured three well-known contenders: Scanlon, who is seeking his ninth term; Cahill, who is also a former state representative; and former council president Timothy P. Flaherty.

Adding extra interest to the race was Cahill’s first-place preliminary election showing, in which he outpaced Scanlon by 194 votes, 2,467 to 2,273.

City Clerk Kathleen Connolly said that given the wide coverage the race has received in the local news media, “I think it’s going to be a fairly high turnout,’’ of more than 50 percent.

The race in Methuen pits Councilor at Large Stephen N. Zanni and Al DiNuccio, who lost to Manzi two years ago. Manzi is barred from running for reelection due to term limits.

DiNuccio, who also lost a bid for state representative last year, was the top vote getter in a four-way preliminary election, collecting 1,247 votes to 1,171 for Zanni, a former School Committee member.

City Clerk Christine Touma-Conway said that the last time Methuen had an open mayor’s race, in 2005, voter turnout was 30 percent. She expects it to reach 33 to 34 percent this time, because the race features two well-known candidates and there is voter interest in the charter proposal.

In other mayor’s races, two-term Everett incumbent Carlo DeMaria is opposed by Ward 1 Common Councilor Peter Napolitano.

Amesbury’s three-term mayor, Thatcher W. Kezer III, faces a challenge from Ted Semesnyei, a Planning Board member.

Michael J. McGlynn, who is seeking his 13th term as mayor of Medford, faces political newcomer Anthony D’Antonio.

In Gloucester, two-term Mayor Carolyn Kirk has competition from first-time candidate Kenneth Sarofeen. Daniel Ruberti, who has run for mayor numerous times in the past, is running a write-in campaign.

Haverhill’s mayor, James J. Fiorentini, faces a challenge from Debra M. Campanile, a political newcomer.

Running unopposed for reelection are mayors Robert J. Dolan of Melrose, Donna D. Holaday of Newburyport, Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, and Scott D. Galvin of Woburn.

Mayors William Lantigua of Lawrence, Judith Flannery Kennedy of Lynn, and Kimberley L. Driscoll of Salem are all midway through four-year terms, so no mayoral elections are on the ballot in those cities.

Of the other communities holding elections this year, Chelsea, Saugus, and Winthrop do not have a mayor, while in Lowell, the mayor is chosen by the City Council from within its ranks.

Several of the municipal charter questions have generated interest.

The proposal in Everett calls for a new charter that would replace the existing bicameral City Council with a single 11-member council and extend the mayoral term to four years.

The Methuen proposal would revise the city’s charter to eliminate the existing term limits rule, among other changes.

The proposal in Amesbury would replace the current charter language referring to the community as “the city known as the town of Amesbury’’ with “the city of Amesbury.’’ All other references to the “town’’ would be changed to “city.’’

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