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.