Today is preliminary election day in Newburyport and Amesbury, and both cities have contested elections for mayor on the ballot. That’s something that hasn’t happened in years.
This year’s election has generated more candidates than we have seen in nearly a decade. Newburyport in particular is seeing a resurgence in people interested in running for office.
That’s good news. Voters are excited, interested and engaged. Candidates are being challenged on their positions on local issues. There is much at stake in both cities, and for the first time in several years, one can sense that the election has really captured the public’s attention and passion.
Newburyport hasn’t had a contested preliminary election for mayor since 2007, when five candidates ran for an open seat. This year, three candidates are on the ballot — incumbent Mayor Donna Holaday and challengers Greg Earls and Richard Sullivan Jr. It’s been a good campaign so far, focusing on issues that are important to Newburyporters. If there’s been one blotch on the election, it was the mass mailing this past weekend of a flier attacking Holaday. The anonymous flier’s author has yet to step forward, and yesterday the three candidates for mayor unanimously condemned it.
No single issue has generated more talk, more positioning and more intrigue than the fate of the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority’s property along the downtown waterfront. The NRA has advanced a plan to build three buildings, greatly expand the existing park and reduce parking spaces on its land. Whether you love it, hate it or fall somewhere in between, everyone has an opinion on it.
It’s entirely appropriate for this discussion to take place during a mayoral election. The mayor appoints four of the five NRA members, and so the mayor has a good deal of influence over the direction that the NRA takes. Like the Local Historic District debate of two years ago, many voters want to have a direct say in what happens, and the mayoral race is as close as they can get to doing that.
The three candidates have divergent views on the NRA plans, and we expect that today’s election results will give us a sense of where the public’s sentiments lie on the NRA.
The NRA plan is, of course, not the only thing going on in Newburyport these days. The state of the city’s schools, its parks, ongoing construction projects, new developments planned for the downtown area and beyond, the state of the sewer treatment plant’s reconstruction, impacts from the Interstate 95 widening, accessibility to the mayor — these are some of the issues on people’s minds. And for the first time, Newburyporters will be electing a mayor who will hold office for four years, twice the length of the current term of office.
Newburyport voters in wards 2 and 4 will also be narrowing the field of City Council candidates to two in each race.
In Amesbury, there has been a preliminary election for mayor on a regular basis — the incumbent Mayor Thatcher Kezer has faced challenger Jim Thivierge and one other candidate in each election since 2007. Kezer has won by comfortable margins in the past, but never have we seen so many lawn signs supporting a challenger as have appeared this year. Ken Gray, a political newcomer to Amesbury, has clearly won the battle of the lawn signs. The results of today’s election will tell us whether he’s also managed to win the votes of Amesbury citizens as well.
Polls are open until 8 p.m. in both cities. We hope that everyone gets an opportunity to vote.