AMESBURY — Mayor Thatcher Kezer sailed into victory yesterday with 59 percent of the vote, earning a fourth two-year term in the mayor's office.
Kezer, 51, beat out Planning Board member Ted Semesnyei, 36, by a vote of 1,810-1,266.
Voter turnout was 28.4 percent, with 3,115 of 10,939 registered voters heading to the polls.
Kezer hugged his wife and shook hands with supporters and Semesnyei after Town Clerk Bonnijo Kitchin read the results from the six districts last night.
The mayor said his message hit home with voters because it's been the same message.
"My message this campaign was not different from my first campaign (in 2005) — only we achieved a lot of things that I talked about in the first campaign, and it's keeping them moving forward, so that over time, the finances keep getting stronger, our improvements in infrastructure accelerate," Kezer said. "We do all the things that residents of Amesbury expect us to do."
The mayor headed to the Barking Dog restaurant for his victory party, where supporters gathered. Kezer's victory also set a landmark in the town's political landscape: He is now the longest-serving mayor in the 16 years that Amesbury has had a city form of government.
With a fourth term, Kezer will be in office eight years in 2013, a long stretch that provides results for cities and towns, he said.
"Municipalities that have been successful are the ones that had consistency over a number of years, taken the challenges they face and work through those challenges," the mayor said. "That's what I tried to bring to Amesbury: consistency."
Semesnyei took the results in stride. As the results were announced district by district, Semesnyei grimaced slightly after Kezer had more voters than he did in each district.
"The results are in. The results were loud and clear," Semesnyei said. "Clearly the people of Amesbury voted for the mayor, and considering what we've been doing, I've got no one to blame but myself. Obviously, I didn't have a strong enough message."
Despite losing, Semesnyei was optimistic and upbeat.
He knew it would be a challenge taking on a three-term mayor who has won by a strong margin in the three previous municipal elections. This election was Kezer's lowest margin of victory.
His populist message of bringing more citizens into the decision-making process struck a chord with voters.
"I think we could use a change. I just like his ideas of involving more people in the process," said Ken Soucy, a 35-year resident, after voting.
Semesnyei advocated against the charter ballot question, which passed.
He also ran on a platform critical of the town's high tax rate, which he said is forcing residents out and hurting jobs.
Kezer was complimentary of his challenger.
The two shook hands after the results were announced and early yesterday morning when both arrived on Friend Street before the polls opened.
"I think we've got to respect each other. We're both doing this for the best interest of Amesbury ,and we'll see what the voters have to say at the end of the day," Semesnyei said earlier in the day. "But whatever happens, I certainly want to have a good relationship with the mayor."
"He put a really good effort," Kezer said of his opponent. "He worked hard, and I appreciate the fact of somebody stepping up. Let's have the discussion and opportunity to put the issues out there and let the residents make a decision."
Moving forward, Kezer said the way to lower the town's tax rate is to grow the town's commercial and industrial tax base.
Kezer said he wants to keep people informed of what's going on in Amesbury, "especially the good stuff."
"In the sense of challenges facing municipal government, the challenges we're facing in Amesbury is not unique to Amesbury. We're doing a good job in Amesbury of meeting those challenges," Kezer said.
Dev Dwight, who came to the polls with her daughter, Zanthia, 14, said she voted for the mayor because she's happy with his work.
"I like the way he's helping the town develop," Dwight said. "Not too fast, but keeping things on board."