, Newburyport, MA

Election Connection

September 17, 2013

Controversy on eve of mayoral election


The message added that “tomorrow is primary day” and “I’m taking a holiday from Mayor Holaday.”

The robocall came from a Newburyport-based landline, 255-9700. That number would not receive incoming calls, and a directory check revealed that neither the owner of the number nor the address is publicly available.

The flier received over the weekend contained similar language: “Why change the character of our community when we can change the mayor?”

The instigator did not sign the flier, nor did the robocaller identify himself other than “Michael.”

City officials, including Holaday, took offense at the election tactic. In addition, they alleged a violation of state law, which requires those who finance political initiatives of more than $100 to file a statement and identify themselves.

It’s not clear how much was spent on the robocall and the flier. Robocalls are fairly inexpensive — a city the size of Newburyport, with about 8,000 or so phones, can cost less than $200 to robocall.

The fliers would be far more expensive — each had a 46-cent stamp, a customized envelope and a color flier enclosed. Costs were estimated at $3,000 or more, assuming every home in the city was reached.

The state Office of Campaigns and Political Finance would not discuss the incidents per department policy, but did say it investigates all such requests. City officials, however, did not express confidence that a probe could produce results before the municipal election on Nov. 5.

Holaday yesterday afternoon called a press conference on the steps of City Hall to express her distaste for such tactics and concern about the illegality of using unsigned fliers and anonymous phone calls.

Holaday said she had reached out to her two competitors, City Councilors Greg Earls and Sullivan in an effort to show a united front against the tactic.

Earls called ahead to say he could not make the 4:45 p.m. event, because he was busy at work. Earls posted several times on Facebook that he objected to such tactics.

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