Lowell’s election results demonstrated the advantage of incumbency, especially when so few voters bother to cast a ballot.
It also marked a setback for the aspirations of what can be generally viewed as the new breed of city politicians, who failed to win either an additional City Council or School Committee seat.
Its toll included one school board incumbent and a sitting school board member who fell short in her attempt to make a City Council leap.
You can also count democracy as an election loser. Just over 7,500 of Lowell’s 75,000-plus registered voters – 10% – exercised that right of citizenship.
The same complacency couldn’t be said of Fitchburg’s elections, where 25% of the electorate – 6,959 of 27,935 – went to the polls.
And with that turnout, voters turned out four-term Mayor Stephen DiNatale, who shockingly lost to Councilor-At-Large Samantha Squailia in a landslide.
Even high-profile endorsements by Gov. Maura Healey, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan and former Gov. Charlie Baker could prevent Squailia’s overwhelming 4,093-2,778 victory.
In addition, voters also chose five candidates for at-large seats on the City Council out of a total of 10 contenders, with one new member being elected to the council.
Replacing the seat occupied by Squailia, School Committee member Beth Walsh will become the new at-large member on the City Council, bringing in 10.3% of votes, 1.2% over the next highest vote-getter.
City Councilor-At-Large Sally Cragin garnered the top percentage of votes out of all at-large City Council candidates with 15%, or 3,678 votes.
Marcus DiNatale, Amy Green, and Anthony Zarrella also claimed at-large victories, while Bernard Schultz, Paul Beauchemin, Andrew Van Hazinga, Marisa Fleming, Derrick Cruz, and Anthony Couture took ward councilor seats.
In the race for three seats on the School Committee, James Walsh, Debra Jeffries, and Lindsey Englund were victorious.
Lowell’s lack of competition
Lowell’s light turnout might be partially due to the lack of contested races, since many incumbents had no challengers.
They included School Committee members Connie Martin, Jackie Doherty, Eileen Delrossi, Dominik Lay and challenger Dave Conway.
On the Council side, Dan Rourke and John Leahy defeated blanks and write-ins.
But the election wasn’t without some suspense. The race for three at-large councilor slots generated the most interest, with two incumbents and a formidable district councilor facing three high-profile challengers.
Could one of those three – former Councilor Corey Belanger, activist Bobby Tubiyele or Virak Uy – break into the top three, and would 28-year veteran Councilor Rita Mercier finally succumb to the forces seeking her ouster?
Well, Mercier again frustrated the folks who’ve previously dismissed her as a dinosaur, out of step with the progressive times.
District Councilor Erik Gitschier topped the ticket with 3,837 votes, followed by Mercier (3,723) and Vesna Nuon (3,405), leaving Belanger (2,874), Tubiyele (2,472), and Uy (1,552) out of the money.
Another Council race of interest pitted District 5 incumbent Kim Scott against school board member Susie Chhoun.
While Chhoun was thought to represent a serious challenge, Scott easily retained her seat, 513 -217.
The only new Council face belongs to John Descouteaux, who won the District 8 seat vacated by Gitschier with a decisive win over fellow challenger Ty Chum, 799-387.
Descouteaux, set to retire from his position as Lowell Public Schools’ transportation director, believes he’ll now have the ability to devote the time that a seat on the Council deserves.
Incumbent Councilors Sokhary Chau, Corey Robinson, Wayne Jenness, and Paul Ratha Yem comfortably defeated their challengers.
And in the only contested School Committee race, Fred Bahou ousted District 1 incumbent Stacey Thompson by nearly 300 votes, 193-923.
Though a challenger, Bahou possessed impressive credentials. He’s been a member of the Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee for 13 years, which translates into name recognition that Thompson, who made history by becoming the first woman of color elected to a municipal or school office in the city – couldn’t match.
Incidentally, Bahou intends to keep his seat on the GLTHS board.
As for Lowell’s lazy voters, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves should the city’s governance not live up to their expectations.