Newton Aldermen Approve Date for Ward 1 Special Election
Newton voters will head to the polls a total of five times in 2013.
After several debates on whether to actually hold the election, the Newton Board of Aldermen Monday night approved the date for a special election to fill the vacant Ward 1 alderman-at-large seat.
The special election will be held Tuesday, June 25, 2013, and will piggyback on the special Senate election held the same day. Because it is an at-large seat, the special election will be held citywide.
Ward 4 Alderman-at-Large Lenny Gentile, who has argued against holding the special election, urged his colleagues Monday night to reconsider the Election Commission's recommendation to skip the special election.
"As the chairman of [the Finance Committee] and as a taxpayer, I do not think this is a wise way of spending taxpayer dollars," Gentile said Monday night.
According to city officials, the Ward 1 at-large special election would run the city $30,000-35,000 if it decided to piggyback on the June 25 special Senate election. A typical city election that runs on its own costs around $80,000, he said.
In early February, the Newton Election Commission recommended the city skip the special election for the Ward 1 alderman-at-large seat, which was made vacant with the death of Alderman Carleton Merrill.
After holding a lengthy debate on the item, aldermen agreed in February to hold the special election and rejected the Election Commission's recommendation.
However, when the board went to vote on the special election date earlier this month, several aldermen, including Gentile, reiterated their concerns about the city spending money on the special election. At that time, the board decided to delay its decision on the special election date.
For Monday night's meeting, Gentile re-docketed the Election Commission's recommendation to skip the special election. Because the item was already taken up and disposed of by the board within the last 12 months, the majority of the aldermen had to vote in favor of referring it to Committee of the Whole for reconsideration.
Similar to his arguments earlier this month, Gentile said the city would be spending the money to elect someone that will only serve on the board for four months before the general election comes up in November. Two of those months (July and August), Gentile argued, are the "slowest times for the Board of Aldermen."
Moreover, Gentile reiterated his argument that the city would spend the money on an election that may only have one candidate. As of today, the only person who has declared candidacy for the Ward 1 alderman-at-large seat is current Ward 1 Alderman Scott Lennon, who sat out Monday night's discussion due to his conflict of interest.
"To me, it just doesn’t pass the common sense test that we would spend $35,000," Gentile said. "There is also, as we all know, the very real possibility that we will spend that money and we will still end up with 23 members of the board and not even get the 24th person that we are spending money to try and elect."
But many aldermen who had initially voted against the election and "agreed with Gentile's sentiment" said Monday it was important for the board not to go back on a decision it already made.
"As much as I would like to not have this special election, I'm going to vote against recommitting this," said Ward 6 Alderman Dick Blazar. "We've already had this discussion, the vote was a close one, and it would be better for us to abide by that vote."
Several aldermen also continued to argue in favor of the election, stating that the board must follow the rules in the city charter.
The city's charter specifies that a special election must be held to fill a Board of Aldermen seat if the vacancy occurs within the first 15 months of the term [Sec. 2-5 (a)]. Because the charter states a special election should be held, the Board of Aldermen would have to petition the state legislature for home rule legislation to allow the city to skip the special election.
The home rule legislation does not change the city charter, rather, it allows the city to forego the charter rules for one specific event.
In the end, the board voted against reconsidering the Election Commission's recommendation to skip the election. Aldermen Jay Harney, Jay Ciccone, Mitchell Fischman, Cheryl Lappin and Lisle Baker voted in favor of reconsidering it. The board then approved the June 25 date for the special election as well as funding needed to hold the special Senate election.
The June 25 Ward 1 special election/special Senate election will be one of five times Newton voters head to the polls this year. On top of the recent special override election on March 12, the city will hold a special Senate primary in April as well as a municipal primary and election in September and November, respectively.