, Newburyport, MA

November 14, 2013

Recent election marked first change since 1920

As I See It
Joe Callahan

---- — By the time you read this article, the election in Newburyport will be over. It will have marked the first major change in the format of the city government since 1920. This change, of course, will be the first four-year term of office for the position of mayor rather than the two-year term used for 93 years.

Prior to 1920 all elected terms were for one year. Besides the mayor, there was a seven-member Board of Alderman, one at-large and one from each ward. There was also an 18-member Common Council, three from each ward. Two members of the 12-member School Committee were elected from each ward.

Just think of how many signs would line the streets if that format were still in use today.

I have compiled a few statistics about the mayors and council members since 1920.

First, anyone having aspirations of becoming mayor would be smart to first become a member of the council.

Records show that about 75 percent of the mayors served in the council first.

Seventeen men and four women have served the longest, six terms. Prior to serving as mayor, eight served as councilor at-large: Gayden Morrill, George H. Lawler Jr., Edward G. Molin, Lisa L. Mead, Christopher R. Sullivan, Mary Carrier, Alan Lavender and Donna D. Holaday.

Another three served as ward councilors: John M. Kelleher, Ward 6; Albert Zabriskie and Byron Matthews, Ward 5. Richard E. Sullivan, Ward 4 and Peter J. Mathhews, Ward 1, served as both ward and councilors at-large. Three served in the pre-1920 form of government; David Page served as an alderman and Oscar Nelson and James Carens Jr. both served on the Common Council.

Five mayors never served on the City Council: Michael Cashman, Andrew “Bossy” Gillis, Henry Graf Jr., Mary Anne Clancy and John Moak.

George H. Lawler Jr. and Edward G. Molin served as councilor at-large before and after serving as mayor and Mr. Molin was elected to the School Committee after his mayoral stint. Mary Clancy served eight years as a member of the School Committee before being elected mayor.

Henry Graf Jr. was appointed to the School Committee in 1960 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Donald Page.

Some members of the council achieved considerable longevity in years of service. Councilor at-large Edward G. Perkins served the longest, 34 consecutive years, 1920 to 1953.

The following represented their ward longer than anyone:

Theodore “Whistle” Stanwood, Ward 1, 25 consecutive years. He served as a ward councilor longer than anyone else. Patrick J. Welch served as Ward 2 councilor for 14 years. Conelius “Red” Foley served Ward 3 for 17 years. Arthur W. Southwell and Erford Fowler each served 14 years as Ward 4 councilor. Albert H. Zabriskie was Ward 5 councilor for 11 consecutive years. Harold Harnch was Ward 6 councilor for 15 consecutive years.

Until the present time 25 men and one woman (Brenda Swartz 1998-00) have served as president of the City Council. Edward G. Perkins held the position longer than anyone else, 15 years.

Five of the mayors served as president of the council: Albert H. Zabriskie, George H. Lawler Jr., Byron J. Matthews, Richard E. Sullivan and Christopher R. Sullivan.

In 1952 Annie Sayball became the first woman to serve as councilor at-large and Patricia Connolly became the first woman ward councilor as she represented Ward 5, in 1972-73. Up until now (October 2013) Wards 2 and 4 have never elected a woman to the council.


Joe Callahan is a former fire chief of Salisbury who is interested in historical accounts of the area.