Mayor Carolyn Kirk, running for her fourth term, shuffled a stack of thank-you notes in a back room of her East Gloucester home Monday, swiveling to answer her phone as its shrill ring called for her.
“Hi, yes, I saw you were texting,” Kirk spoke into her phone as her knee-high black and white beloved mutt Brady nudged at her leg. “I’ll get right back to you; it’ll be just about 10 minutes. OK, thanks.”
That morning, long before lunchtime, Kirk had already vacuumed up pumpkin seeds from her two kids’ carvings of the prior night, inked out some of those thank-you notes to campaign donors and spoken to people within her administration.
The incumbent campaign has really tested her multitasking skills, she commented.
“Throughout the campaign, it’s been being the mayor, it’s been being hands-on to the campaign itself, and it’s been being present to the family,” Kirk said. “Between the campaign and being mayor, it’s 24/7.”
While Kirk has saved her door-to-door voter outreach for the weekend before the election, a big part of her connecting with voters has happened through her campaign’s fundraiser dinners, her small talks around the city called “Conversations with Kirk,” through several campaign forums and four head-to-head debates with challenger Mac Bell.
Kirk has spent about $21,158 on her campaign, pulling in much of her $44,733 war chest through campaign fundraiser events and dinners, though she started the calendar year with a balance of about $5,753 in her campaign account.
Of all the work she has put into campaigning so far, Kirk said the largest chunk of time was spent sitting with advisers around the dining room table in her bright-red family home, studying “boiling down responses,” and practicing for debates.
“There’s no way I’m ever going to go to the podium unprepared,” Kirk said.
Kirk took pointed notes and provided specific answers and information during much of the debating over the past months, drawing on her administration’s work and decisions as she faced off with Bell.
At the Gloucester Daily Times’ debate, for example, Kirk announced publicly, for the first time, her consideration to look at dissolving the Waterways Board — to the surprise of a couple board members in the audience.
People have begun to raise questions about the Chamber of Commerce debate, moderated by Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff, since the release of campaign finance reports this week showed that Duff donated $100 to Kirk at a Kirk fundraiser in May. That donation came after a March 27 donation from Kirk’s campaign bank account to Duff’s election committee.
Both politicians called the donations, that stem from attending each others fundraisers, “routine” among people in political office.
“It’s just one of those things you do when you’re elected officials and colleagues,” Kirk said Tuesday.
While some people have criticized a lack of person-to-person outreach in Kirk’s campaign, she said the Conversations with Kirk she has hosted throughout the campaign have given her the chance to “reconnect” with residents and answer their questions.
People have asked mostly about fire stations, road work and the city’s economics, she said.
Helping to host the events and complete other tasks, Kirk’s first-ever campaign manager, Brianna Kelley, has picked up some of the duties of campaigning. When asked about the challenge of “letting go of the reins,” Kirk tipped her head back and cracked into laughter.
“I’m very much involved with the messaging, and I’m completely involved with debate prep,” Kirk said. “It’s been a great relief to have all the details taken care of. To do it right and to put a full effort in, you have to have that go-to person.”
Along with Kelley, Kirk pointed to her “loyal core” of “dozens” of supporters who have volunteered to assist in making phone calls to voters and holding her distinctive, circular “Kirk for Mayor” signs. The volunteers, she said, were so supportive that she was left without a sign for her own lawn. The only sign stuck in the grass is one urging voters to choose Melissa Teixeira for School Committee.
Though the big signs stay on the porch, name tags and mayoral badges from various events hang, clipped to a lampshade, inside Kirk’s office.
She said she hangs on to them fondly, but when she really needs inspiration and a break from the “24/7 pace,” Kirk heads down to the new Newell Stadium to look out over the new turf and stadium. It reminds her, she said, that hard work and community partnerships can create gems that make all the effort and time “worth it.”
Kirk recalled a challenging stretch of work when she spent three days leading the city through the Blizzard of 2013 last February. The storm came immediately after her brother died, but she remained in Gloucester through the blizzard before packing up and heading to meet her family in Florida.
“Being the mayor isn’t just about the to-do list, it’s also about character and the deep call to service,” Kirk said. “That’s what it takes, you know.”
Coming tomorrow: The campaign trail with Mac Bell.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.