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October 23, 2013

Newburyport mayoral candidates debate waterfront, city issues

NEWBURYPORT — The mayoral campaign’s primary meeting between Mayor Donna Holaday and City Councilor Dick Sullivan Jr. was expected to bring out sharp disagreement on the central waterfront, and it did.

But few would have predicted it would be so brief.

The pair last night shared the stage in the high school auditorium and it ended in little more than an hour, well under the allotted time. A key reason was that Sullivan passed up several opportunities to rebut Holaday or challenge her assertions.

Indeed, when the format gave him the opportunity to query the mayor on any issue that he chose, he opted not to ask a question.

Holaday, who appeared surprised, initially countered by saying she would withhold questions if Sullivan was refraining.

But many at the well-attended event raised their voices in opposition — as if to say they wanted to hear more — and Holaday proceeded with a query and spoke a bit longer.

Sparks that were expected from the two competitive public figures never ignited.

If brevity was an unexpected characteristic of the forum, discussion of the central waterfront got a full airing.

Sullivan repeated his position that he is against any commercial development on the 4.2 acres owned by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority.

He added that if elected, he would attempt to convince the five volunteer NRA members to resign. If they don’t, he said, “This is a four-year term and the new mayor will be able to change the makeup of the NRA board” because the terms of members will start to expire.

Sullivan, a retired firefighter and owner of a real estate agency, indicated that he would consider ending the NRA’s term himself.

When Holaday was asked about her position, she said the NRA, MassDevelopment and Union Studio had come up with a tentative plan that she does not fully support.

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