, Newburyport, MA

September 16, 2013

In Newburyport, anonymous election flyer tactic draws outrage

Unsigned mailer decried by candidates, COW

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Hours before voters go to the polls in tomorrow’s preliminary election, the three mayoral candidates are expected to meet this afternoon at City Hall to denounce an anonymous citywide mailing critical of Mayor Donna Holaday that sparked widespread outrage among voters over the weekend.

The mailing, with a Boston postmark and a misspelling on its address page, implores residents not to vote for Holaday, stating she will not protect the waterfront from commercial development, a flip-flop from four years ago when, as a city councilor running for mayor, she campaigned for an “open” waterfront. Holaday recently acknowledged her position regarding waterfront development has evolved since then.

But in the hours that followed the flier’s arrival in mailboxes across the city, candidates Gregory Earls and Dick Sullivan Jr., along with members of Citizens for an Open Waterfront (COW), scrambled to deny responsibility for it. Both Earls and Sullivan have stated their opposition to private development on the 4.2 acres owned by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority.

Yesterday, while speaking to voters and picking up a few items at the downtown farmers market, Holaday bashed the mailing, saying it misrepresented her stance and featured an out-of-date image of a development proposal no longer on the table.

Around the same time, Earls and Sullivan both criticized the mailing, with Earls going as far as calling it “unfortunate” and an affront to the way politics are conducted within the city.

“It’s very unfortunate, it certainly doesn’t help me,” Earls said, adding he would never send out an anonymous mailing.

Earls said he also visited the farmers market yesterday and spent considerable time campaigning in strategic areas in the city.

Sullivan, a retired firefighter, said while he believed Holaday’s change of heart regarding waterfront development was a worthy topic of debate, he has kept his campaign positive, upbeat and focused on the issues.

“To me it looks like someone’s forum, making a political statement. I just don’t understand why people are so charged up about it,” Sullivan said, adding he spent some of yesterday knocking on doors.

Elizabeth Heath, president of COW, yesterday vehemently denied her group’s involvement, saying the non-political group always puts its name on distributed materials.

“I’m concerned it’s going to tarnish our reputation because these are not the tactics we would ever use,” Heath said.

Concerning to resident Susan Crawford is the effort made to masquerade the mailing as an official correspondence from the city.

While Crawford called the flier’s message debatable, she said the flier could cause considerable disruption to voters who may have been thrown into thinking it was a change in voting location or some other crucial piece of information. However, a quick glance at the address page shows the word “notice” spelled incorrectly.

The flier became a heavy topic of conversation on the Facebook page of “The Newburyport Blog,” drawing comments from City Councilors Ed Cameron and Ari Herzog.

It was pointed out during the Facebook discussion that, according to Massachusetts General Law Chapter 55, any political group, individual, association or committee spending more than $250 to mail political materials after the 10th day, but more than 24 hours, before the date of any election, shall file a preliminary report within 24 hours of making the independent expenditure. The report would include the name and address of the person or persons responsible for the mailing. Failure to do so could result in jail time and a hefty fine.