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Mayor John Moak campaigns at Three Corners on Saturday morning.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two stories on the campaign styles and strategies of Newburyport mayoral candidates.



NEWBURYPORT — On a recent Friday morning, Lois Honegger walked up to the mayor’s desk and told him a man he needed to meet with was available at 2:30 that afternoon. John Moak immediately shook his head, knowing he was already booked for that time.

“That doesn’t work,” he replied.

Honegger, Moak’s executive secretary, then told her boss that the man wasn’t available all the next week. That doesn’t work either, Moak said.

“I have to get going on this next week,” Moak said about the particular issue, crosswalks for schoolchildren, and the person he needed to meet with about it. “Even if it’s without him; I’ve got to get going on it.”

Before she walked out, Honegger added, “And you have to be at Ann’s office at 1 p.m.”

In his second bid for the mayor’s office, Moak said there’s one aspect of his campaign that is quite different from the first: This time around, he has much less time to knock on residents’ doors.

Two years ago, Mayor Moak was City Clerk Moak, which meant by 4:30 p.m. three to four days a week, he was out in the city’s wards, knocking on doors, introducing himself to voters and talking about issues. But this campaign is different, he said, since running the city takes up much of his time: Days are full of work; nights are full of meetings.

“This is tough,” Moak said during a recent interview in his office at City Hall, describing working early into the morning on campaign-related issues only to wake up hours later for his day job. Throughout the half-hour interview, in fact, the mayor was interrupted several times in order to make decisions about city business.

“This has been much more difficult,” he said.

Moak said he’s been able to knock on a few doors this election, and he hits the streets when possible. But what he’s been able to accomplish on that front is not close to the previous campaign, he said.

“I know that’s a disadvantage, because people like to meet with you,” he said.

But at the same time, Moak knows his current situation — running as the incumbent — provides a certain advantage, too.

He said he is confident that when voters look at his record, they will see he has the city heading in the right direction and will forgive him for not finding the time to get to the voters directly.

“My job is to make sure the city runs well, and hopefully people see that,” he said. “That’s a strategy I didn’t have last time, because I wasn’t mayor.”

Moak said he is not running a campaign that focuses on his challenger, Jim Stiles, but rather what he has been able to accomplish as mayor. He said his mailings to voters, his conversations with residents and his strategy focus on his accomplishments.

“We feel we have done good things, and we want to continue to do good things,” Moak said. “Obviously, I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to, but I feel I’ve brought on track what I said I was going to do. I’m not hiding behind any rocks, that’s for sure, and I think I’m doing well.”

If elected, Moak would be the first incumbent successfully reelected in more than a decade. That electoral record has caused many in the city to complain that Newburyport lacks consistency in the corner office, and has prompted some residents to question whether a mayor or city manager is the best for the city.

It’s a debate that seems to play well into Moak’s campaign.

“We’re looking for change in the city,” Moak said. “And that change is consistency.”

Moak said he has a core of 55 to 65 people who help to run his campaign, led by his campaign manager and wife, Jean Moak. He said those supporters are divided into two groups: those who work on activities and those who work on issues.

The mayor said the activities group is in charge of organizing sign-holding events and events, such as his Harvest Smorgasbord, scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Hope Church, which promises “home cooked food” as a fundraiser for Moak’s re-election bid.

Those in the issues group meet with Moak to go over debate strategy, how to answer political questions, what to put on informational fliers and other such issue-related aspects of the campaign.

“We sit around the dining room table, and they challenge me on everything I do,” Moak said. “They challenge me constantly.”

Moak’s campaign has sent out 3,300 mailings to active voters and plans to mail out more information this week to seniors in Newburyport. He said they will also send out more information to voters at the end of the campaign cycle before the election.

“We try to be strategic in what we mail out,” he said.

But it isn’t all strategy, sign-holding and issues in the Moak campaign — he said the campaign workers also have fun. The mayor said his group of core supporters are a crew of friends and neighbors.

They get together to make signs, and on Saturday mornings to hold signs and chat.

“I have these people who really support us, but I wouldn’t call them political junkies,” he said. “Most of them, the only other campaign they’ve worked on is mine two years ago. That is really our only institutional knowledge, ‘what worked last time?’

“The one thing we always emphasize above anything else, is we have to have fun.”

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