Eleven communities across Massachusetts held preliminary elections Tuesday, creating historic firsts in North Adams — where two women will face off to become the first female mayor — and also in Lowell, where voters tried out the city's new hybrid at-large and district city council system.
In North Adams, Tuesday's race determined planning board member Lynette Ritland Bond will face Jennifer Macksey, an official at the North Berkshire School Union, in the final November mayoral election. (The current mayor, Thomas Bernard, is not running for reelection.)
Bond works at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and cites the city's aging infrastructure as a priority. Macksey previously worked as city treasurer, as well as the city's tax collector.
In Lawrence, acting Mayor Kendrys Vasquez will advance to the general election, along with business owner and former City Councilor Brian DePeña. Vasquez assumed office following the departure of former Mayor Dan Rivera, who left last December to head MassDevelopment.
William Lantigua, who as mayor of Lawrence from 2010 to 2014 was the first Latino mayor in Massachusetts, was unsuccessful in his bid for a political comeback. Lantigua is a former state representative whose years in office were mired in controversy. He came in a distant fourth place, winning less than 800 of the 9,000 votes cast, according to unofficial election results.
Lowell voters tried out the city's new election system for the first time since approving the changes in 2019.
In 2017, Lowell faced a lawsuit alleging the use of a strictly at-large city council and school committee was illegally "diluting the voting power" of Latino and Asian residents, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, head of Lawyers for Civil Rights which brought the case, said he's glad the city has a better system in place.
"The lawsuit was successfully settled and the electoral system changed to allow for greater community representation in the political process," he said.
The new model approved by voters expanded the city council from 9 to 11 members, with eight district and three at-large seats. The number of Lowell School Committee members remains at six, but with four district and two at-large seats.
In Fall River's mayoral preliminary, voters picked Mayor Paul Coogan, in addition to City Council President Cliff Ponte. Ponte briefly served as mayor when Jasiel Correia was stripped of his duties as he faced a list of felony charges for shaking down cannabis entrepreneurs.
The same day as the preliminary election was held, Correia was sentenced for those charges to six years in federal prison.
Before the sentence came down, C.J. Ferry, a political observer and one-time candidate in Fall River, said the city continues to struggle politically since the fall of Correia.
"Somebody has got to move Fall River forward — we've had six years of turmoil under Jasiel Correia," Ferry said. "And that turmoil we still need to recover from."
Communities with preliminaries across the state saw dismal turnout, as is expected in a non-presidential election year, according to Tufts University political scientist Jeff Berry.
"The turnout will be low because the elections are designed to elicit low turnout," Berry said. "The reason for that is that politicians, of course, make the election dates, and low turnout elections are good for incumbents."
Massachusetts communities hold elections on Tuesdays because state law requires it. Berry explained the Tuesday tradition — which was made official for presidential elections in 1845 — essentially goes back centuries.
"When they were deciding what day of the week elections would be — one day was market day, and one day was the day people did their wash, and one day was a church day — and sort of by process of elimination, Tuesdays became the go-to day for elections."
Berry said that if communities want to boost turnout in local elections, towns and cities should be required to only hold elections when congressional or presidential races are on the ballot.
"Don't have them in the off-year," he said, adding that state elections officials may want to propose a change.