BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Defeated mayoral candidate Greg Earls yesterday said he is withholding a possible endorsement for mayor until he gets the opportunity to speak to both candidates running for the office: incumbent Donna Holaday and City Councilor Dick Sullivan Jr.
Earls was edged out Tuesday in an energetically contested preliminary. The veteran city councilor drew 1,302 votes, while Sullivan had 1,355 and Holaday topped the field with 1,496.
City officials said about 32 percent of the city’s 13,200 registered voters went to the polls.
Earls said yesterday he is undecided about which of his former opponents he will support in November. That support will prove important for either mayoral candidate as Earls won slightly more than half the votes in Ward 2, the highest margin of victory any of the candidates won in any ward. The ward includes Newburyport’s downtown and part of the South End. He edged out Holaday by a slight margin in Ward 1, which runs through the South End, Plum Island and the Joppa neighborhood
“I am undecided about my future plans and will wait to speak with each candidate personally before announcing anything,” Earls said yesterday. “They have both said they would like to have a conversation.
“Regarding my campaign, I had some wonderful and dedicated people who I can’t possibly thank enough,” he added. “I am convinced that the people have spoken regarding the desire for a non-privatized waterfront.”
Earls said he will also keep looking for answers as to who sent out anonymous mailers and robocalls against Holaday in the days leading up to the preliminary.
“I will be asking for a complete and comprehensive investigation as to the author, creator and/or funder of the anonymous flier and robocalls,” Earls said. “This was an unfortunate distraction and, I believe, managed to affect the results of the [preliminary] election.”
Sullivan, a first-time councilor who is a retired firefighter, said he will be campaigning vigorously until the general election.
“To put it quite simply,” said Sullivan yesterday, “I have been ready to go since March and I was right back out campaigning on Wednesday morning. My challenges are to speak to as many voters as I possibly can before Nov. 5.”
Asked to assess where his political strengths lie, he said, “I guess we’ll find out where I am strong when the votes are counted.”
The mayor is also prepared to move full steam ahead.
Holaday said that, in coming weeks, she will stress her accomplishments that include addressing “long overdue capital and infrastructure needs while keeping our finances solid and our tax rate in the median range for communities in Essex County.”
She added, “I have established strong working relationships with our state and federal legislators ... receiving over $50 million in project funding.”
Holaday said that during her campaigning she will seek common ground concerning possible development of the central waterfront.
“I believe getting it right starts with a modification of the existing revised NRA concept to eliminate the private condos and underground parking and to retain the property via lease rather than sale.”
Council races start to heat up
One of the surprises of Tuesday’s election was Charlie Tontar’s emergence in Ward 4. He polled 412 votes, compared to 223 for incumbent Tom Jones and 187 for newcomer Sean McDonald.
“I didn’t know what the result would be,” said Tontar, a Merrimack College professor who is running for office for the first time. “But I have a great team working for me, and seeing them put in the effort made me all the more ready to walk the streets and keep meeting people. I talked with many.
“As a candidate to be a ward councilor, you hear the concerns of neighborhood residents, such as speeding on the streets or the poor condition of sidewalks,” he added. “It was educational and I am going to keep at it this fall.”
Jones, a veteran councilor who is in the building business, said his work schedule kept him from the campaign trail leading up to the preliminary, but that will change this fall.
“I worked a lot this summer (on construction projects) and didn’t have much time for campaigning,” Jones said. “My opponent had many signs; I had none. I feel fortunate that I came in second, and will be working hard this fall to connect to the people and hear their thoughts. I will have more time to campaign.”
In Ward 2, lawyers Chris Welch and Jared Eigerman moved forward for a showdown in November. First-time candidate Paula Chambers came in third.
In November, 10 candidates will be running for five at-large seats.
Also, there will be two candidates for each of five ward seats. Council President Tom O’Brien is unopposed in Ward 6. Five candidates will be running for three seats on the School Committee.