The City Council campaign for the four available at-large seats is entering the homestretch, with the eight candidates crisscrossing the city in a blur of signage, meet-and-greets and door-to-door politicking that makes you wonder how they don’t all end up at the same spot at the same time.
In fact, that’s happened more than once, in a Times debate and a number of campaign forums. But the whirl of activity finally will cease at 8 p.m. Tuesday, when the Gloucester polls close and the composition of the new city council will be set.
”It’s going to be a tough race,” said Bob Whynott, one of three incumbents seeking to return to the council against five challengers. “You really can’t predict it because there’s so many people running. And with all the new people, you don’t know who (among the incumbents) they’re going to take votes from.”
That uncertainty has made for something of a free-for-all through the myriad of debates, candidate forums, coffee klatches and old-school standups. If you’ve driven around either of the Gloucester rotaries in the past month, you wouldn’t have much trouble picking most of the candidates out of a lineup.
In Gloucester, a city steeped in its old-world traditions, campaigning remains a retail enterprise. While some of the candidates have ventured into the brave new world of online and social media, the bulk of the campaigning among this group remains a face-to-face endeavor.
”In Gloucester, the elderly are still the most dedicated voters,” said challenger and former Ward 3 councilor Steve Curcuru. “They’re not part of Facebook. That’s the reality. That’s the direction most of us have gone and it seems to work.”
With Tuesday’s municipal elections approaching, the Times sampled the eight candidates to find out how they’ve been spending their campaign time and what issues the electorate continues to raise out on the stump.
There are no surprises here, especially if you’ve attended any of the candidate forums or debates.
”It’s like Tip O’Neill said about all politics being local,” said at-large challenger and current Ward 5 councilor Greg Verga. “Going door-to-door, what you hear a lot are things like ‘When are they going to pave that street out there?’ Most of what’s on peoples’ minds are the typical ward concerns.
“Beyond that, I found that the biggest question that comes up is the Fuller School. ‘What are we going to do with that school?’ I hear that over and over again.”
Challenger Dennis Latham said the most common complaints are also the most basic.
”I’m hearing, ‘Oh my God, the traffic in Gloucester is wicked. You can’t go anywhere in the city of Gloucester with a sense of urgency because of the traffic’,” Latham said.
Beyond the hyper-local question of streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, candidates say voters are interested in the state of the city’s school system — especially the fate of the West Parish School as the city moves to replace it; the future of the city-owned I-4, C-2 parcel and the Designated Port Area; answers to staffing all of the city’s fire stations; and what to do with the City Hall building and other city offices scattered throughout the city.
”The other thing people want to talk about is whether the city has a good plan for economic development, not only in helping industries that are already here, like the fishing industry, but attracting new industry as well,” said challenger Paul Lundberg.
Whynott said his city-wide campaigning unearthed two major concerns: the size of residents’ water bills and the state of the city’s roadways.
”The roads are terrible,” Whynott said.
”I tell them the same thing I’ve been told, which is when all this work is done, the roads will be repaved,” he said. “They’re not buying it.”
The old political saying holds that you need two things to run for office: a solid issue and a comfortable pair of shoes. That’s especially true if you incorporate door-to-door campaigning in your repertoire.
Whynott said he has been knocking on doors every single day since Oct. 1. One day, he’s in Lanesville, the next in Magnolia, followed by excursions to East Gloucester and the central part of the city.
”I’ll continue doing so right up until 8 o’clock Tuesday night,” Whynott said.
Verga also has been going door-to-door, which has underlined the difference in geographic sweep between running at-large and running for a ward seat.
”You have to have a view,” Verga said. “You can’t go out there and be wishy-washy on the issues. You can’t go out there and try to wing it.”
Incumbent Joe Ciolino has eschewed door-to-door campaigning in favor of meeting with small groups and using his Main Street shop, The Weathervane, as campaign central.
”Running a business, I can’t do door-to-door,” Ciolino said. “Where I am, with my business on Main Street, I see people all day long.”
Curcuru said he has done much of his out-and-about campaigning at Gloucester’s supermarkets, while challenger Bob Whitmarsh has opted for coffees with small groups across the city.
”I do that every day, just about, and I’ve been in every ward in the city,” Whitmarsh said.
Lundberg has had the most sophisticated direct mail approach, doing two mailings: one to residents who voted in the last municipal election and another city-wide. Verga has the most cutting-edge campaign website, allowing voters to sign up for campaign updates, access positions and make donations online.
Signs translate into candidate visibility and name recognition, and no one does it quite like incumbent Sefatia Romeo Theken. She is the self-proclaimed Godmother of Gloucester politics. Anyone with a political pulse knows the candidate behind the signs and banners that say “Re-Elect the Godmother.” That’s name recognition for you.
The rest of the candidates are left to slog it out in the battle for the greatest number of signs and the most strategic placement.
The generic campaign signs go for between $5 and $10 a pop depending on volume, which leaves Whitmarsh the leader in sign expenditures. The challenger said he bought 400 signs from a Peabody printing company.
”I’ve got about 350 around the city,” he said, though he added, “a lot of signs went missing.”
Ciolino and Whynott have about 175 and 100 signs respectively, each purchasing them online from a Michigan company that specializes in political signs.
Verga has about 75 signs. Curcuru has about 120 and Lundberg has about 200 he had done up locally at Gloucester Graphics.
”I’ve got about 175 and I’m holding back about 25 for Election Day,” Lundberg said.
The anti-candidate when it comes to signs is Latham, who has all of 10 signs out for a city-wide race.
”There’s only 10, but they’re strategically placed,” Latham said. “For instance, I have one going into West Gloucester. I have one going into Magnolia and I have one on the way out in East Gloucester and there’s only one way out of East Gloucester.’
A part-time cab driver, Latham also has one in the back window of a cab.
”Riding all around Gloucester, it’s been effective as hell,” he said.
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT