NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 30, 2013

No clear indication of which way voters are leaning

Amesbury City Notebook
Mac Cerullo

---- — Over the course of this long and eventful campaign season, two distinct political factions have emerged to battle it out for the city’s future, with each boasting a strong candidate for mayor and a wide slate of candidates vying for a spot on the City Council.

On one side, you have Mayor Thatcher Kezer and the majority of the council incumbents, who have joined forces under the banner of the “I Am Pro Amesbury” political action committee that has primarily advertised itself as a community organization.

If elected, these candidates would maintain the direction Amesbury is moving in and continue to emphasize building the commercial/industrial tax base through initiatives like the Lower Millyard.

On the other side, you have a group of challengers — led by mayoral candidate Ken Gray — whose main goal is to address Amesbury’s high tax rate and reduce the tax burden on homeowners who have seen their property values fall as their taxes increase.

While this group hasn’t branded themselves as distinctly as the Pro Amesbury PAC candidates have, they have been vocally supportive of one another on the campaign trail, and efforts to organize an effective challenge to the incumbent candidates have been ongoing since January.

There is clearly a lot of interest on both sides, but without any polls to refer to, there’s no way to tell just how much support each candidate really has.

The one statistically based metric we do have, however, is the results of the Sept. 17 mayoral preliminary. While it’s obviously impossible to be certain how a higher turnout will affect next week’s elections, the preliminary results do shed light on some trends that could indicate in what direction voters are leaning.

In the preliminary, Kezer and Gray each captured three of the city’s six districts. They also split Districts 3 and 4, which have uncontested races for district council, with Kezer taking District 3 by a 52 to 45 percent margin, and Gray taking District 4 by a 52 to 40 percent margin. How the two mayoral candidates perform in those districts shouldn’t have any impact on those council races.

In the districts with contested council races, it’s a completely different story. Districts 1 and 5 each voted heavily in Gray’s favor, with both districts supporting Gray by a 59 to 37 percent margin. If these results are duplicated next Tuesday, it would likely be good news for challengers Paul Sickorez in District 1 and Erin Butt in District 5, who are aligned with Gray and are more likely to garner support from residents who vote for him.

The two races aren’t exactly apples to apples comparisons though, because while District 1 incumbent Bob Gilday has vocally aligned himself with Kezer and the Pro Amesbury PAC, District 5 incumbent Joseph McMilleon has not and is instead casting himself as more of an independent.

The geography of District 1 may play a role in the race too. If you drive down by the Merrimack River in District 1, you will see a much higher concentration of Sickorez signs posted in yards. By contrast, if you drive up Elm Street and through those neighborhoods in the district, you will see mostly signs for Gilday.

In Districts 2 and 6, turnout will likely make all the difference. Both districts supported Kezer in the preliminary by only six votes.

Complicating matters in District 2 is the fact that the only candidate on the ballot, incumbent Christian Scorzoni, will not be eligible to retain his seat next term because his family is moving out of district.

Two write-in candidates have emerged to challenge for his seat, but many voters will presumably still vote for Scorzoni, so how that race plays out likely won’t be known until until deep into election night.

Districts 2 and 6 are also unique in that while neither race has an incumbent seeking re-election, both feature former councilors who are attempting to regain their old seats. Jonathan Sherwood previously represented District 6 from 2007 to 2009 before stepping down, while Mary Chatigny represented District 2 from 2007 to 2011 before she was ousted by Scorzoni.

Sherwood and Chatigny are both strongly aligned with Kezer and the Pro Amesbury PAC, while their opponents, David Haraske in District 6 and Mary Louise Bartley in District 2, are aligned with Gray.

In the councilor at-large field, the only thing that can be said for certain is that with five candidates vying for three seats, one of the three incumbents will win re-election. Voter turnout will likely decide the rest, given that incumbents Anne Ferguson, Allen Neale and Jim Kelcourse are all aligned with Kezer and the Pro Amesbury PAC, while District 3 Councilor Donna McClure and challenger Eric Bezanson are each aligned with Gray.

As for the mayor’s race itself, it’s important to note that while Gray won by a 52 to 44 percent margin, he and his supporters also campaigned heavily in the months leading up the election, while Kezer didn’t kick off his campaign until about a week before. Since that loss, Kezer has kicked his campaign efforts into high gear, and if his supporters were surprised by Gray’s performance before, they won’t be this time.

Gray’s supporters know that too, and they aren’t going to take their foot off the gas pedal now either.

The good news is that after months of campaigning, Amesbury voters will get their say one week from today.

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The following meetings are scheduled this week and are open to the public:

Tonight

School Committee, 7 p.m., Amesbury High School library

Thursday

Retirement Board, 1:30 p.m., Cultural Center, 37 Millyard Park

Monday

Conservation Commission, 6:30 p.m., City Hall auditorium

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Mac Cerullo covers Amesbury for The Daily News. He can be reached at 978-462-6666, ext. 3238 or by email at mcerullo@newburyportnews.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.