By Cary Shuman
The City Council voted to not hold a preliminary election in the city on Sept. 12, which means that all candidates for City Council and School Committee will advance to the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
The “Act of Eliminating The Preliminary Election” will be forwarded to the state delegation on Beacon Hill for the Legislature’s consideration.
The Council felt that with there being only a couple of candidates that would be eliminated in the Council and School Committee races, the city would be best served by not holding a preliminary election, thus saving the city approximately $60,000 in election day expenses.
Ward 2 Councillor Ira Novoselsky that there was precedent for the “no preliminary election” decision, pointing out that the city did not hold primaries in 2003, 2009, and 2011.
“The reason we did it is that there were only one or two candidates for Council seats [that would have been eliminated in a preliminary election,]” said Novoselsky. “I was not coerced to do this. Nobody asked me to do this. I’m doing this for the benefit of the city. It costs $60,000 to run an election. We can take that $60,000 for a good cause, put it somewhere for the kids in the city.”
Ward 5 Councillor John Powers said that if more candidates filed papers by Tuesday night’s deadline, he would “perhaps” ask the Council to consider holding a preliminary election.
“But I would hate to spend $50,000-$60,000 to have a primary to eliminate two individuals. It’s just crazy and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Ward 5 Councillor Charles Patch reasoned that with the expected small citywide turnout in a preliminary election with only a couple of candidates being eliminated, “It’s a waste of money for the city and it puts a lot of people in hardship.”
Councillors-at-Large Steve Morabito and Jessica Giannino felt the election day funds could be used in other areas.
“I think it’s $50,000 that could be used for election equipment or transferred to another department, or for senior citizens or something of that nature. When all is said and done, why waste $50,000?’’
Giannino, who has topped the ticket by sizable margins in her past two elections, recalled some of the very small turnouts at her precinct polling place in past primaries. She said the $60,000 would be better utilized by funding the salary of a police officer or firefighter or of two part-time DPW workers.
Ward 3 Councillor Arthur Guinasso said a low turnout (8 or 9 percent, potentially) in a preliminary election would not be a fair indicator of whom the electorate truly wants to represent its interests in city government and that general elections with substantially larger turnouts are a much better indicator of the electorate’s wishes.
Councillor-at-Large George Rotondo and Ward 4 Councillor Patrick Keefe Jr. both spoke against the elimination of a preliminary election.
“I’ve disagreed in the past and I testified at the State House for it. We have well over $6 million in the stabilization account. There is a reason why we have primaries that were rooted in our foundation in our city charter. By doing this, you lend more power to one seat of government versus another. I’m totally against [not holding a preliminary election].”
Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto said he disagreed “completely” with Rotondo’s statements, saying that in his first election for councillor-at-large, “I would have been thrilled to have been left on the ballot as a newcomer that was not known and be guaranteed a place on the final ballot – it would have been a big bonus. I’m sure newcomers may feel that same way – maybe not. To eliminate two people [in a primary] at a cost of $60,000 is a waste of money.”
Keefe said his fellow councillors offered good arguments on both sides.
“But I don’t agree that we should get rid of the primary. I know it’s $60,000 in costs and that’s a lot of money but I hate to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game. This late in the game, I don’t like that.
“We set a primary on Sept. 12 and we should stick to that,” concluded Keefe.