By Bill Cantwell
---- — Voters will go to the polls next week to decide who will lead Haverhill, as the city deals with growing pains and aging school buildings.
With Hunking School deteriorating and inner-city crime causing problems, voters will elect their mayor, city councilors and School Committee members on Nov. 5.
Here are the choices:
For mayor, incumbent James Fiorentini faces a late challenge from Tyler Kimball, who last week announced he is running a sticker campaign. He did not take out nomination papers before the deadline. Kimball is a Haverhill firefighter whose family owns Kimball Farm on East Broadway. The seat has a two-year term.
For City Council, eight incumbents face seven challengers for the board’s nine available seats. The only incumbent not seeking re-election is Michael Hart, a local lawyer who said he is stepping away from the political scene for now. The challengers include two former councilors, two city lawyers, a high school teacher, a school custodian and the owner of a popular downtown sandwich shop. Councilors serve two-year terms.
For School Committee, three incumbents face two challengers for three available seats. The challengers have backgrounds in education. Committee members serve four-term terms.
Fiorentini has said he is happy Kimball stepped up to challenge for the mayor’s seat because it gives Fiorentini a chance to talk about his administration’s accomplishments, including investments in old downtown buildings by merchants and housing developers.
Fiorentini is seeking a record sixth-consecutive mayoral term and had no challenger until Kimball’s surprise announcement.
Kimball said his qualifications for mayor include knowledge he gained of the Fire Department budget when he was head of the firefighters union in 2008, as well as his experience in running a large farming business.
When asked if he was dissatisfied with Fiorentini as mayor, Kimball said he would not attack Fiorentini because he does not want to run a negative campaign.
“I feel I can improve on every area,” he said. “It’s as simple as, the mayor had his shot and I’d like to cultivate a new seed.”
Kimball said he wants to better fund the police and fire departments, saying they city is in need of updated equipment and in need of updating old fire stations. But, he wants to accomplish these things without raising taxes. He said the city’s employees are its biggest assets and wants city workers to be proud of the job they do.
Fiorentini said he is campaigning hard, even though Kimball’s name will not be on the ballot.
“I’m not going to do anything different that what I’m doing,” Fiorentini said. “I’ll continue to concentrate on running the city and going out and meeting people. You can never take people for granted. Voter confidence is always something that has to be earned. And going door to door gives me an opportunity to meet with voters and see what’s on their minds.”
In the council race, incumbents seeking re-election are: Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, Colin LePage, William Macek, Michael McGonagle, John Michitson, William Ryan, Robert Scatamacchia and Thomas Sullivan.
The challengers are: Former councilors David Hall and Kenneth Quimby; Fred Simmons, a Haverhill school custodian and head of his workers union who has run unsuccessfully in the past; E. Phillip Brown, a Haverhill High School teacher; Lynne Saben, a local attorney; Timothy Connors, also a local lawyer; and Melinda Barrett, owner of a food and sandwich shop on Merrimack Street. A former two-term councilor and retired Haverhill police sergeant, Hall was the top council vote-getter in the 2007 election before losing his seat two years ago. Quimby, who has run several times, was knocked off the council in 2009 and ran unsuccessfully in 2011.
Hart, who decided to take a break from the council after serving for 10 consecutive years, said he expects at least one upset in the election.
“Whether it’s an incumbent who gets knocked off or a challenger who does really well, I’ll be shocked if there’s not at least one big surprise,” he said.
In the School Committee race, incumbents Joseph Bevilacqua, Paul Magliochetti and Raymond Sierpina are seeking re-election.
Bevilacqua, head of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, is seeking a fourth term in office and has been a School Committee member for 12 years. Sierpina, former long-time principal of Tilton Elementary School in Haverhill, is in his first term on the committee, which he joined in January 2010. Magliocchetti, a local lawyer who has been an active school parent for years, is also in his first term and has been on the committee since January 2010. He is the committee’s president. He made an unsuccessful run last year as an Independent candidate for the 1st Essex Senate District.
School Committee challengers are Maura Ryan-Ciardiello and Gail Sullivan.
Ryan-Ciardiello is a teacher by training and currently stays at home with her children. She ran unsuccessfully for the Governor’s Council last year. She is the daughter of City Councilor William Ryan. Sullivan is a teacher at Northern Essex Community College and the University of New England. She has also been a high school principal, curriculum specialist, assistant superintendent and superintendent.
School Superintendent James Scully said this is a key time for education for Haverhill.
“The first major issue that I believe should be important to anyone seeking a (School Committee) seat is the construction of a new Hunking School because if that is not accomplished, it will educationally devastate the city,” Scully said.
“Those students will be crammed into classrooms across the city that are already at their limit,” he said of the risk of not building a new school and having to move Hunking students to other schools.
Two years ago, the city discovered structural deterioration that threatened to collapse part of the Hunking. Repairs have been made, but the building can be used for only a few more years, forcing Haverhill to build a new school, officials have said. The city is seeking state money to cover most of the construction cost. Local taxpayers are expected to go to the polls early next year to decide whether to pay Haverhill’s share of the project.
The winning candidates will serve on the School Committee for the next four years. The committee has six members in total, with their terms staggered. That means three members are up for re-election this year and the other three are up for re-election in 2015. The mayor is chairman of the committee. Members get $5,000 per year and are eligible for health insurance from the city.
The mayor and councilors serve for two years. Councilors get $8,000 per year, plus the option of taking city health insurance. The mayor’s annually salary is $90,000.