NEWBURYPORT — Mayor-elect Sean Reardon attributed voter turnout this week to the efforts he and his team made to knock on doors, engage residents and listen to their needs.
In a major turnaround from the preliminary election, during which City Councilor at large Charlie Tontar led Reardon by more than 800 votes, Reardon won the mayoral race on Tuesday with unofficial results showing him finishing 30 votes ahead of Tontar.
Totals, which were updated following some hand counts late Tuesday, showed Reardon received 3,230 votes, followed by Tontar with 3,200. There were also 28 blanks and 20 write-ins, according to City Clerk Richard Jones.
Voter turnout was about 50%, or roughly double the turnout for the preliminary election, according to Jones.
Reardon saw success on Plum Island (Ward 1P) and in Wards 5 and 6, while Tontar led in votes in Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4.
“This was an absolute team effort from top to bottom,” said Reardon, who now sits on the School Committee.
“When you win a race this closely, it just magnifies the impact even the littlest things that my campaign had,” he said.
Though he was disappointed in voter turnout for the preliminary election, Reardon said “it was absolutely what my team needed to focus and to start really pushing out information on all issues.”
In the weeks since the preliminary election, Reardon said he had been focused on communicating well and giving residents plenty of information so they could envision the type of mayor he hoped to become.
“This wasn’t about me; this was a team of people that shared my vision for Newburyport,” Reardon said, thanking his family, volunteers and supporters for their help along the way.
“For me, it’s just really special to have grown up here,” the fifth-generation Newburyporter said. “I’m just so humbled by the outcome and the massive responsibility that comes with the job.”
He added that Tontar entering the race in June “absolutely made me a better candidate.” He thanked his opponent for running a positive campaign and for serving the community as a city councilor these past eight years.
Looking ahead, Reardon plans to reach out to all city department heads individually and to work with Mayor Donna Holaday to ensure a smooth transition into office.
As of Wednesday, Tontar had not made a decision on whether he would seek a recount.
Tontar said he was proud of the campaign he ran, saying he knew it was “gutsy” to run a campaign that was so focused on climate change and recognizing that there were more popular issues on which he could have focused.
“In my heart, I think people need to hear about it,” Tontar said. “Every mayor for the rest of century is going to have to figure out how to deal with climate change.”
The city councilor plans to finish up his term and then “mellow out for awhile” before deciding what is next.
Tontar thanked all those who supported him, saying he was sorry to anyone let down.
“I gave it my all,” he said. “We ran an honest campaign with integrity. I kept it positive. It would have been easy to be negative, but I did not want to do that.”
The School Committee race was also close.
The top three finishers, receiving four-year terms, were Sarah Hall with 3,684 votes, Juliet Walker with 2,827 and incumbent Brian Callahan with 2,249.
Not far behind was incumbent Steven Cole with 2,227 votes, followed by Daniel Blair with 1,589 and Laura Viola Maccarone with 1,409. There were 5,431 blanks and 22 write-ins.
When Reardon becomes mayor Jan. 3, he will vacate his School Committee seat, unless he decides to leave it earlier.
From the date of vacancy, the city will have 30 days to hold a joint meeting of the School Committee and City Council at which to act to fill the vacancy, per the city charter. The person elected will serve the two remaining years of the term.
All City Council races were uncontested Tuesday.
Afroz Khan led in votes for councilor at large with 4,026, followed by Ed Cameron with 3,417, Bruce Vogel with 3,072, Connie Preston with 3,011 and Mark Wright with 2,745. There were 16,020 blanks and 99 write-ins, according to the unofficial results.
Ward 1 Councilor Sharif Zeid received 876 votes against 269 blanks and 15 write-ins; Ward 2 Councilor-elect Jennie Donahue received 780 votes versus 228 blanks and 11 write-ins; Ward 3 Councilor Heather Shand received 742 votes versus the 283 blanks and 19 write-ins; Ward 4 Councilor Christine Wallace received 929 votes versus 332 blanks and 13 write-ins; Ward 5 Councilor James McCauley received 722 votes versus 234 blanks and 12 write-ins; and Ward 6 Councilor Byron Lane received 711 votes versus the 291 blanks and 11 write-ins.
The city clerk’s office did hand counts Tuesday night on any ballots that the machine did not register. This can happen if a voter puts too many responses on the ballot or marks it in a way that throws off the machine.
This especially happens when multiple seats are up for grabs. There were three open School Committee seats, for example.
If a voter marked off four or more people, instead of the maximum of three, their vote did not count for that race.
Though that part of their ballot is invalid, that doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the races on it are. That voter could have correctly marked one person for mayor, for example, and that would count. Hand counts of these ballots verify this, Jones said.
The clerk’s office does not hand count every ballot, only the ones that the machine spits out for being invalid.
Jones and his team planned to spend Wednesday verifying any provisional or challenged ballots and checking all aspects of the election process to ensure that they did their due diligence, especially with numbers so close.
“It is close and I want everyone to know that we do our absolute, tireless best to see that everything is done correctly,” Jones said.
Staff reporter Heather Alterisio can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3149. Follow her on Twitter @HeathAlt.