At last, Worcester has winner in Durant

House seat decided after a 6-month tie

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / May 11, 2011

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After six months, an improbable tie, and a court-ordered do-over in an election marked by charges of voter intimidation, the race for the Sixth Worcester District House seat was finally settled yesterday.

As state and federal officials, Tea Party-affiliated groups, and Latino activists looked on, Republican challenger Peter J. Durant, a Spencer selectman, sealed his victory over incumbent Democrat Geraldo Alicea to become the new state representative.

Yesterday’s special election vote broke a tie in November between Alicea and Durant. Peter J. Boria, a Charlton selectman, and Robert J. Cirba, a Spencer-East Brookfield School Committee member, were also on the ballot yesterday in the special election.

Alicea conceded the race last night after the unofficial total had Durant with 3,325 votes to Alicea’s 3,269. Boria took in 1,275, and Cirba received 71 votes.

But if yesterday’s 56-vote margin seemed close, it was nothing compared with what happened in November.

In the original race, the polls closed with Durant holding a four-vote lead over Alicea, 6,587 votes to 6,583. Alicea called for a recount, which added three votes to his tally. Durant declared victory with his one-vote lead, but Alicea argued that an absentee ballot checked for him was improperly tossed out because the voter marked two choices for the governor’s race on the ballot. A court later declared the race a tie.

“It’s been a long time coming,’’ said Durant, who met with supporters at Zorba’s Pizzeria & Tavern in Charlton last night. “We’re happy, and we’re happy that it’s over. We’re just excited to get to work.’’

The district includes Southbridge, Charlton, East Brookfield, and parts of Spencer and Oxford in Central Massachusetts.

Last month, during the Democratic primary campaign leading up to yesterday’s election, two groups with reported ties to the Tea Party sponsored a billboard in a Latino neighborhood of Southbridge telling voters to show identification papers when they vote.

The move drew angry backlash from Latino advocacy groups, who said the billboard was an attempt by the conservative organizations to intimidate newly registered immigrant voters, who tend to vote Democrat.

The groups, “Empower Massachusetts’’ and “Show ID to Vote,’’ also sent people into the polls in Southbridge to watch those who checked in to vote. Democrats said minority voters, particularly in Southbridge, were inappropriately challenged when they cast their ballots during the Democratic primary between Alicea and Joanne Powell, both of Charlton.

Massachusetts voters are not required to show an ID at the polls.

“You don’t have to show ID to vote if you’re on the list, and you can’t just challenge anyone who votes for the sake of challenging them,’’ Alejandra St. Guillen, executive director of the Latino activist group ¿Oíste? said in an interview yesterday. “It was a tough moment for us a month ago, particularly for the Latino community. It just seemed like another anti-immigration sentiment we had to deal with.’’

At Southbridge’s request, the US Department of Justice and the Massachusetts secretary of state’s office sent observers to the Worcester area yesterday to monitor the special election, according to Secretary of State William F. Galvin.

Galvin, who sent a lawyer from his Election Division to Southbridge and other workers to each of the towns, said no similar voter challenge incidents took place yesterday.

St. Guillen agreed. “Everything looked great,’’ she said.

“As you can see by the close numbers, this was a horse race,’’ said Karen Sharma, a spokeswoman for Alicea. “It was a tough race, and if you look at special elections, they tend to favor Republicans, so this continues that tradition.’’

Durant, who called Alicea “a perfect gentleman’’ in defeat, said he would reach out to Southbridge’s Latino community.

“We do plan on reaching out to the Latino community as well as all the community groups,’’ he said.

“As a representative, my goal is to represent everyone in the district — every town and everyone, even those that didn’t vote for me.’’

Frank Phillips and Michael Levenson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Material from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette was used in this story. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at