A decade after unseating a long-term incumbent to earn a seat in the Statehouse, Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, will be asking voters in Gloucester, Rockport and Essex to return her for a sixth term Tuesday in a race against an independent challenger from Rockport.

James Gardner, a business management consultant, former teacher and chairman of Rockport’s Public Works Commission and past member of the town’s Finance Committee, did not follow the usual path to the November ballot by seeking a party nomination in the September primaries.

Instead, Gardner, who is registered as unaffiliated, collected more than the required 250 certified signatures from residents across the three-community district to earn his ballot slot as an independent opposite Ferrante in Tuesday’s general election.

“It’s been a learning experience for me,” Gardner said of his first run for a state office. “I’m finding that, as an independent, it’s tough to get a message out because you don’t have a ready-made (party) organization available to you to, say, produce videos, and support you with mailings and so forth.

“But the main message I’m trying to get across is that we spend billions of dollars every year on our government and schools built on (structural) models that have been the same as they were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s,” he said, “and we need to look at opportunities to improve these organizations.”

Build on success

Ferrante, 46, said she will be wrapping up her campaign push with visits to all three communities over the final pre-election weekend, and hopes to build on her successes.

Those have included securing financing for a multitude of local projects through earmarks in a state Transportation Bond Bill, bringing together parties and helping to leverage a $2.7 million Massachusetts Life Sciences Center grant for the new Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, and facilitating development of an acclaimed partnership with the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District and area trade unions that will provide Gloucester High School students with a chance to take vocational and technical courses at the regional technical school high school.

“To me, it’s all about creating opportunities (for residents) and making the most of the opportunities we have,” said Ferrante, who serves on the House Rules Committees, the Policy and Steering Committee and as a House floor division leader. A licensed attorney who is not actively practicing while in the Legislature, she is a graduate of Tufts University and Suffolk Law School. She also recently earned a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Better manage, bring reform

Gardner — a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, who holds a Master in Business Administration from Yale University — says he believes there are more fundamental opportunities to create more efficient government operations, including within school systems. A former teacher at Peabody High School and an instructor in Salem State University’s business and entrepreneurship program, he said he believes teachers should have a voice in progress and curriculum throughout a school rather than being limited to working with their own classroom.

“The private sector has developed all sorts of tools and processes that help you top better manage and bring about reform,” he said, noting that includes collecting and sharing data among other businesses and municipalities.

Gardner, 63, added that he believes the state representative should work more closely with officials in the three communities to address such issues as the potential for sharing services  — including for schools amid longstanding enrollment declines. He said he’s concerned that Ferrante does not see the legislator’s role as pushing for government structural reform. 

Job review

Ferrante, however, noted that Gloucester’s O’Maley Innovation Middle School is already granting teachers more input regarding curriculum and other policies as part of its innovation platform, and added that regular monthly meetings hosted by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Caucus bring together officials to discuss regional and shared issues. That meeting group includes Ferrante, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, state Rep. Brad Hill, the Ipswich Republican whose district includes Manchester, Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, and administrators and selectmen from the Cape Ann towns.

“I believe in local control,” she said, “and what I don’t want to do is purport to be an expert over the schools superintendent and teachers who are in the classroom every day, and pontificate to local leaders that I know more than I do and that Boston (the Legislature) will come in and dictate what we should be doing. I don’t think that’s what people want. We’ll find out.

“The way I look at this, I’m up for a job review every two years,” she said of Tuesday’s election. “This is it.”

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.