Friday, November 4, 2011

Five thoughts on the Fitchburg mayor's race

With just four days until Election Day, the big question is if Mayor Lisa Wong, who is looking to secure her third three-year term, can come back from a very poor showing in the September preliminary election. She finished a distant second-place to Councilor Joseph Solomito, who pulled well over 50% in elimination stage. Here are five thoughts leading up to Tuesday's election:

1. How much does last week's snowstorm help Mayor Wong? I think it could help a lot. Following the 2008 Ice Storm, parts of Fitchburg were without power for nearly two weeks. Wong, along with Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) and Reps. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg) and Steve DiNatale (D-Fitchburg), were very vocal advocates for the city in the wake of the storm and put a lot of pressure on Unitil to improve their preparations for future events. While some surrounding areas are still without power as of Friday, Fitchburg was essentially all powered up within three days after the storm. If storm preparation is an issue over the weekend, it will help Wong quite a bit.

2. Will voters accept Wong's argument that austerity was necessary? Councilor Solomito has argued that Wong was wrong in shutting off street lights and cutting other services in order to build up the city's reserve fund, which has reportedly grown from $40,000 four years ago to around $3 million today. Wong's detractors also suggest that the improvement in the city's bond rating (which makes borrowing money cheaper) is the result of factors other than Wong's fiscal conservatism. The mayor's retort is that the city was on such poor financial footing four years ago that extreme measures were necessary to right the ship. It's very easy for voters to relate to the reality that library hours were cut or that their streets are dark at night. If Wong can't get them to believe her argument that those things were necessary to put the city on a stronger financial footing, she loses.

3. Was the preliminary election a sign that Solomito is heading for a landslide, or an indication that Wong didn't worry about the prelims? I think the result had more to do with the latter. The prelim was essentially a waste of time since the third candidate, Kevin Lynch, was more famous (or infamous) for his legal troubles than for his political positions. While I doubt that Wong spent much, if any, effort to get the vote out in September, I think the result probably surprised her and her supporters. My expectation is that Solomito has a lot less room to grow his support than Wong does. That's a double-edged sword for both candidates. On the one hand, I think the Solomito voter is more reliable--I'd guess that a lot of his voters vote in prelims, generals, special elections, you name it. On the other hand, Wong was a fantastic organizer in 2007 when she won for the first time. She has a lot of room to grow if she can be as well organized this weekend.

4. So, can Wong get her people out? I don't know. I suspect yes, but there's no telling for sure. In addition to her own organization, she has the advantage of having the support of some powerful politicians. While Sen. Flanagan has not endorsed a candidate, she is close to Mayor Wong and it wouldn't surprise me if her volunteers were helping the mayor. Flanagan may be the most popular figure in the North County and is probably the most organized. I'd be surprised if some of her people weren't helping get the vote out. I also think last week's endorsement by State Treasures Steve Grossman may be a bigger deal than meets the eye Will more than five voters change their vote because of Grossman? Probably not. Will a number of party activists get the message that if they have nothing else to do this weekend they should get to Fitchburg and pound the pavement for Mayor Wong? Probably so. Getting more feet on the ground and voices on the phone banks can only help.

5. So who will win? I don't know. Solomito has the advantage of high-value voters and the emotional argument that Fitchburg should have been spending money to make life better now instead of saving it for a rainy day. Wong likely has the advantage of organization. I realize this is a cop-out, but I think it is too close to call. The pressure is on Wong to change September's result. I think she will, but I'm not convinced it will be enough to be reelected for a third term.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Unenrolled candidates hurt Alicea in special election

A quick look at the results from yesterday’s Sixth Worcester House special election suggests that the presence of the two unenrolled candidates took most of their votes from Rep. Geraldo Alicea (D-Charlton), and likely provided Rep.-elect Peter Durant (R-Spencer) with the margin of victory.

In three of the four towns that Durant won in both elections, his percentage of the vote remained remarkably consistent, while Alicea’s percentage dropped at the hands of Peter Boria (U-Charlton) and Bob Cirba (U-Spencer).

TOWN              Nov. ’10           May ‘11
                  Durant -- Alicea   Durant -- Alicea -- Others
E. Brookfield       59.8 --   40.2     61.8 --   32.6 --    5.6
Oxford              54.5 --   45.5     54.5 --   31.2 --   14.3
Spencer             59.5 --   40.5     62.0 --   31.8 --    6.2

In Charlton, the effect was less pronounced, however Durant still increased his margin over Alicea from +7% to +12%. In fact, Boria, a Charlton selectman, finished second ahead of the incumbent representative.

TOWN              Nov. ’10           May ‘11
                  Durant -- Alicea   Durant -- Alicea -- Others
Charlton            53.7 --   46.3     40.4 --   28.0 --   31.6

Only in Southbridge did the unenrolled candidates appear to take more support away from the Republican, but the effect was less pronounced than it was in the other four towns.

TOWN              Nov. ’10           May ‘11
                  Durant -- Alicea   Durant -- Alicea -- Others
Southbridge         38.3 --   61.7     30.6 --  58.9  --   10.5

The other indicator that the extra candidates hurt Alicea is that if the vote percentages from each town in the November election were used to predict the vote based on the May turnout, Alicea would have won by 165 votes. Here is the predicted vote using that method.

TOWN              Nov ’10 Percentage   May ’11       May ’11 Predicted
                  Durant -- Alicea     Turnout       Durant -- Alicea
Charlton            53.7 --   46.3       2,768        1,486 --  1,282
E. Brookfield       59.8 --   40.2         578          346 --    232
Oxford              54.5 --   45.5         339          185 --    154
Southbridge         38.3 --   61.7       3,118        1,194 --  1,924
Spencer             59.5 --   40.5       1,142          679 --    463

TOTALS                                   7,945         3,890 -- 4,055

It seems clear to me that for all of the discussion that the election should have been a straight runoff with no new candidates -- much of it from Republicans who claimed that one or both of the unenrolled candidates were “Trojan horses” drafted to hurt Durant -- the candidate that was hurt the most by the open field was soon-to-be former Rep. Alicea.

Monday, January 31, 2011

How Lisa Wong became a Senate contender without even trying

A recent news item on Swing State Project, a well-respected and widely read liberal election blog, included this little note that could shake up the political landscape in Central Mass:
We've already seen the mayors of some of Massachusetts's cities cited as potential [U.S. Senate] candidates (especially Newton's Setti Warren), but here's another one to keep in mind: Salem mayor Kim Driscoll, who has been asking around about the race. Two other mayors get cited in the piece as additional down-in-the-weeds possibilities for the Dems: New Bedford's Scott Lang and Fitchburg's Lisa Wong.
If that seems like news to you, you’re not alone. hasn’t heard even the slightest buzz about a Mayor Wong challenge to Senator Scott Brown (R-Wrentham). In searching the internet, the story of Wong’s potential candidacy is a fascinating example of how one public appearance can turn into a potential campaign in a few short months, without comment from Wong (or any source at all, for that matter).

The saga began innocuously enough as Mayor Wong appeared on CNN on October 12, 2010 to talk about programs in Fitchburg to better engage the minority and immigrant community in civic affairs.

While the brief interview did not touch on any possible future campaigns and did not even mention Senator Brown, it did catch the eye of reporter Matt Murphy of the State House News Service. In an October 29 article examining the possibility that Newton Mayor Setti Warren may be a challenger for Brown’s Senate seat, Wong is mentioned as one of a handful of young Massachusetts mayors
As a young mayor with experience at both the national and local levels and a military background that could offset Brown's own service record, Warren could be an attractive candidate to many voters looking for new blood, sources told the News Service, explaining the rationale for a possible Warren candidacy

Some put him in the category of several promising young Massachusetts mayors, including Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong and Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan, both of whom voters could have spotted giving national interviews on CNN in recent weeks.

"It's all about who can raise the money," said one Democratic official who agreed to speak anonymously, and acknowledged the chatter around Warren. "He could probably raise national money by tapping into the national veterans groups and African-American donors. Look at what [U.S. Rep. Joseph] Sestak and Patrick Murphy have done."
While one could infer that Wong and Flanagan were potential Senate candidates (and Flanagan subsequently confirmed his interest), Murphy does not compare Warren to Wong and Flanagan as prospective candidates, but as mayors with similar pedigrees.

The potential Wong candidacy first went national just before Christmas. Writing for the National Journal, Jim O’Sullivan, formerly a colleague of Murphy’s at the State House News Service, named Wong in a list of potential contenders that included Warren and a legion of others:
In a state with a relative dearth of prominent female politicos, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll is eyed as an ascendant pol, and has had conversations about a potential run at Brown.

“I’m certainly always intrigued by these ideas, but I like what I’m doing right now a lot,” she told National Journal Tuesday. “I don’t think I have itchy feet, but I definitely think that having the local perspective would be great.”

Another young mayor, Newton’s Setti Warren, an Iraqi War veteran and former Kerry aide, has drawn attention. Patrick’s outgoing energy and environment chief, Ian Bowles, lost a race for Congress in 1996 and distinguished himself in Patrick’s Cabinet as its least press-averse inhabitant. Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong won statewide visibility with her 2007 election as the state’s first female Asian-American mayor. New Bedford's Scott Lang is one of the most active municipal CEOs in the state, and politically attuned enough to have won favor with some Patrick advisers.
The interview with Driscoll caught the eye of the Salem News’ Chris Cassidy, and three weeks later he included Wong in a “list of potential 2012 Democratic challengers:”
The [National Journal] story lists Congressmen Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey among the most likely challengers and goes on to mention lesser-known Bay State Dems, including former AG Scott Harshbarger and fellow mayors Setti Warren of Newton, Lisa Wong of Fitchburg and Scott Lang of New Bedford.
It was this news item that caught the attention of Swing State Project and put talk of a potential Wong Senate campaign back into national view. Note that nowhere along the line has a reporter actually received a comment from Wong on a potential candidacy. In fact, there is no mention of any source whatsoever pegging Wong as having interest in a Senate run.

Despite all of the speculation, there is currently only one declared Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Bob Massie (D-Somerville). Copyright © 2009 Premium Blogger Dashboard Designed by SAER