NEWBURYPORT — Voters will go to the polls today in a preliminary election for mayor, but the final days of campaigning have been disrupted by an unidentified partisan distributing fliers and robocalls in opposition to Mayor Donna Holaday.
Polls in Newburyport are open until 8 p.m.; voters citywide will winnow the field of three mayoral candidates to two, and voters in wards 2 and 4 have a contested race for City Council.
Holaday said the city has contacted the state Office of Campaigns and Political Finance to investigate the fliers and robocalls, on grounds that they break state laws requiring disclosure of the parties paying for the distribution. She also made a statement from the front steps of City Hall yesterday afternoon condemning the anonymous attacks, joined by mayoral candidate Richard Sullivan Jr. and a dozen or so Holaday supporters.
The tactics used against Holaday in recent days have been unusual and far more sophisticated than those seen in past Newburyport elections. Fliers, using Newburyport school colors of maroon and gold, arrived in mailboxes all across the city on Saturday. Yesterday, robocalls were delivered to landlines and cellphones.
Both the flier and robocalls focus on a key issue in the race, the central waterfront. The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority owns 4.2 acres now used for parking lots, and its plan to encourage commercial development there has created controversy.
Earls and Sullivan are against development. Holaday has stated she is for a “limited” amount of commercial growth.
A key message on the flier was “Don’t let the mayor commercialize our waterfront.”
The robocall yesterday, received by some phones at 4:03 p.m., was as follows:
“Hello this is Michael your neighbor in Newburyprt. I’ve lived in this community for over 50 years. Newburyport is the best community in Massachusetts. And one of the best communities of America. So I wonder why it is the mayor wants to change the character of our community by commercial building on our waterfront. That’s exactly what will happen ... ”