BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Mayor Donna Holaday yesterday defeated Dick Sullivan Jr. in a tightly contested race for mayor, 3,384-2,796.
Holaday took all wards except Ward 5, in which Sullivan resides.
Holaday’s victory, won by a 55-45 margin, means she will be serving her third term, and in 2014 for the first time in history, it will be a four-year tenure. Just under half of the city’s registered voters turned out in the election.
“I want to give my sincere thanks for those who worked on the campaign,” said Holaday. “We had many volunteers and they worked all fall.”
Holaday also identified the Oct. 22 debate with Sullivan as a key turn in the campaign.
“I think the debate was a major event. I talked about what the administration had accomplished and I believe voters really heard that.”
Sullivan, a first-time councilor and a former member of the School Committee, said he would consider staying in local politics despite the loss.
“We talked about the issues,” said Sullivan, whose father, Dick Sullivan Sr., was a four-term mayor. “The tax bill is going to be coming, and I would remind people that I am in real estate” if they think they must sell their homes.
The new city charter holds that mayors will earn a of salary of $98,000. Current salary is $86,000.
Holaday, 57, ran on a platform of achievement, especially in the area of infrastructure.
During her term, the city has constructed a new sewage-treatment plant, replaced the clearwell (water source) and enhanced sidewalks and streets.
Also, Holaday led an initiative that resulted in successful referendums for a new Bresnahan Elementary School, a rejuvenated Nock-Molin complex and a long-awaited senior center.
Holaday championed a new $1 million roundabout at the intersection of Merrimac and Spofford streets. That project has been slow to elicit praise and has been reworked because it is difficult for large trucks to maneuver there.
But Holaday supporters note that this was state money that paid for the project, and eventually it will be a useful improvement.
Sullivan, 56, a retired Newburyport firefighter now finishing his first term as a city councilor, ran on a platform calling for more openness in City Hall and for a closer watch on rising tax bills.
Another key issue in the race was the fate of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s waterfront property. Many candidates running in this election identified it as an important litmus test with voters, the majority of whom appeared to oppose the NRA’s plans to build commercial/residential buildings on a portion of its land and create an expanded park on the rest.
Sullivan campaigned against any commercial development on the central waterfront land, and said if the NRA board did not comply he would disband it. Holaday’s position on the NRA plan was to lessen the size of the development by getting rid of the residential condos and underground parking.
Sullivan also urged more openness in local government and called for the mayor to provide details about the troubled water system on Plum Island. City officials acknowledge there is a problem there, but they say they want to keep details confidential in case the project results in litigation.
Sullivan also called for more attention to sidewalks and streets, and stated that the $440,000 recently spent to update the Green Street parking lot could have been better spent on local walkways and roads.
Sullivan, who had served on the School Committee a decade ago, called for improvements in the schools including the reintroduction of foreign language.
Holaday showed strength in Ward 2, where she resides. The vote was 597-353; in the preliminary election in September, she had actually lost that ward by a significant margin to then-challenger Greg Earls.