What a difference two years makes

On July 12, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Sean J. Fitzgerald

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)

In 2015, there was a dearth of electoral activity. Yet again, there was an uncontested Mayor’s race, just one Ward Alderman race, a couple of sleepy School Committee races, and myself being the only challenger to the four incumbent At Large Aldermen. Believe it or not, only 6,546 people voted. With over 46,000 registered Somerville voters, that equates to barely 14% of the eligible voters who actually took the time and went to the polls on Election Day to cast their ballot. In a modern democracy, that’s just unacceptable.

Then the tumultuous Presidential election of 2016 happened, and the questionable election of Donald Trump-and its aftermath-was forever seared into our nation’s consciousness-and Somerville’s too. The change movement has been with us for some time now-Cambridge and Somerville have long been viewed and admired as the vanguard of progressive change. But with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, this was clearly a game-changer. The whole change the status quo movement just exploded. The effects are still being felt today. This year, electoral participation is the now the watchword.

For the first time since 2003, there’s a primary for Mayor. We have four hot Ward Alderman contests, and three challengers for the At Large race. Now that’s more like it! After working successfully in politics and government for over 20 years as a campaign operative, Communications Director for the City of Somerville, Chief of Staff for Senator Charlie Shannon, and Representative Jay Kaufman, I made my first attempt at political office, running for an At Large seat in 2011. Like this year, there were seven of us running for four seats. There were a couple of ward fights, but with no Mayor’s race, turnout was still very low, under 25%.

The incumbents were happy, three people to divide the protest vote means they’re comfortably re-elected. I came in fifth, trailing 4th place finisher Bruce Desmond by 400 votes. Although I lost, I took some measure in the fact that I topped the ticket in my home Ward 7, heard from many voters enthusiastic about my message, received solid support from quarters all across the city, and ran a positive, issue-based campaign. I was optimistic about the future, and immediately made plans to run again in two years.

In 2013, Bruce chose not to seek re-election. Finally, I now had a very strong chance to win, or so I thought. Again, seven candidates lined up to run, but now this time there was an open seat. Wow, when was the last time that happened, other than a special election? This electoral cycle, I poured my heart and soul into the race, campaigning all over the city and knocking on almost 10,000 doors. I was endorsed by The Somerville Journal, The Somerville News (now The Times) Progressive Democrats of Somerville (PDS), the Sierra Club, and SEIU.

Running from the outside gave me the freedom to stand for what I believe in; most notably, responsive open government, transparency, accessible public transportation, (think GLX) affordable housing, union rights, and smart commercial development in Assembly, Union, and elsewhere. Regrettably, the inside view prevailed yet again, I finished in 5th place. It was so bittersweet, now losing by only 200+ votes, out of a total of 10, 241 cast!

In 2015, I ran again, this time being the only challenger. Unfortunately, family health issues prevented me from campaigning all out like I did in 2013. Turnout was no help, as I mentioned before. But when you boil it all down, there was simply no compelling issue or reason to get anyone beyond the core voter to come out to the polls. That’s sad, but Somerville is not alone. Other than presidential elections, we do not have the voter participation that other countries practice. Maybe we should vote on Saturday, like many regularly do.

That being said, after careful consideration, I have decided not to run in this year’s race for At-Large Alderman. With the field now solidified, I felt it best to take a pass this year. If I ran, there’d be 8 candidates in the race, 1 more challenger to divide the protest vote even further. There are two first time challengers in the At Large race, as well as a qualified former Alderman, and their energy and excitement is refreshing to say the least! I hope they stay encouraged, as there’s but a handful who really understand just how difficult it is to run-and win-at large.

First off, I would like to thank my wife Rachael, Samantha, and Ronan, couldn’t have done it without you guys! Hats off to TAC, who logged so many countless door knocking adventures from minute one, in every subsequent election; thanks Terry! I was fortunate enough to have a small, but truly dedicated campaign volunteer organization, (that’s you LM & TH, among many others!) Of course, I’m most thankful for the people who ever voted for me, thank you very much!

I certainly wish all of candidates on this year’s ballot; incumbents, challengers, or first-timers the best of luck. I’ll stay engaged as always, and will be back in some capacity, to try again.


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