BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Richard E. Sullivan Jr., an at-large city councilor whose father and brother both served as mayor here, yesterday took out papers to run for the mayor’s office himself.
The 56-year-old candidate, known as Dick Sullivan Jr., retired from the city’s fire department two years ago after 32 years of city service.
If Mayor Donna Holaday runs for re-election, as she has said she will, the pair would confront each other in the fall elections — possibly as early as the Sept. 17 preliminary election if more candidates for mayor emerge. The general election is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Candidates for mayor, School Committee and City Council have until Aug. 6 to submit nomination papers for the upcoming municipal election.
For the first time in the city’s history, the mayor’s term will be four years and will pay a historic high of $98,000 per year. Currently the mayor serves two-year terms, and the pay is $85,000 per year.
“I think we can do a lot better than we’re doing as a city,” said Sullivan, whose municipal experience includes four years on the School Committee (2001-2005) and leadership positions with the firefighters’ union.
“Our education program needs improvement — we’ve lost courses on languages and science and math students need to be challenged. Plus we are losing top education leaders, including Deidre Farrell who was a crackerjack on the financial side, and (Superintendent) Marc Kerble (who is retiring).”
Sullivan added that many streets and sidewalks are in poor shape, and that water and sewer bills are rising so high that some people are having trouble paying them.
He indicated better management is needed so that long-time residents can afford to live here.
On the subject of development of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s central waterfront land, Sullivan said he has an “open mind.”
“I am not in favor of too much building, but I will study plans that talk about some development there,” he said. “I would like to see something done in that area (of 4.2 acres, now used primarily for parking.)”
Holaday could not be reached for comment.
Sullivan has spent most of his adult life working for the city. Before he joined the fire department, he served in the Navy from 1976 to 1980. He is a graduate of Newburyport High School (’75), and took courses at Northern Essex Community College.
He currently works as a real estate salesman at Richard Sullivan Real Estate, started by his father, and also at Home Depot.
His father, Richard E. Sullivan, 78, was mayor from 1978 to 1985. His brother, Chris, was a city councilor and was named mayor by fellow councilors in late 1997 to 1998 after Mayor Lisa Mead resigned office to take another job. His brother, Joe, was also a city councilor.
His grandfather, James E. Sullivan, was city marshal through the ’50s and ’60s until his untimely death at City Hall. Dick Sullivan once said, “He took his last breath on the floor of the City Council chambers” while arguing a matter of municipal pay.
Dick Sullivan Jr., the oldest of eight, resides at 6 Lt. Leary Drive. He has two daughters in the school system.
The candidate said he “talked with other city councilors all weekend” before making the decision to take out papers. He also discussed the matter with his partner of 10 years, Penny Stauffer.
Regarding his early entry into the race, Sullivan said he was stimulated in part by a remark that he said Holaday made at a recent council meeting when “she talked down to me.”
Sullivan recalled that he had been asking questions about the composition of a school superintendent’s search committee that Holaday had announced. Sullivan said he had asked a question about eligibility and possible payment for committee work. “And the mayor said, ‘If you had done your ethics training, you would know the answer to that question.’”
City officials recently held a seminar on ethics at City Hall. Sullivan did not attend but said he has taken two such programs in the past.
Sullivan suggested that Holaday doesn’t deal well with those who ask questions or those who question her authority.
The candidate said that the notion of serving as mayor is one with which he is comfortable.
“I grew up with the work of the mayor’s office,” Sullivan said. “My father worked with (mayors) George Lawler, Byron Matthews and other officials and there were always conversations about city business.”
He noted that if he loses the mayor’s race, he will no longer be on the City Council.
“I enjoy my work on the City Council, so I have something at stake here by running,” he said.