Council considers eliminating preliminary at-large election

The City Council was scheduled to consider a home rule petition on Wednesday that would eliminate a preliminary at-large City Council election scheduled for this September and allow all nine candidates who have filed the requisite signatures to compete for four seats in the final election in November.

With nine candidates in the race (all four incumbents and five challengers), a preliminary election is currently scheduled to whittle the field to eight before the general election to fill the four At-large seats. At-large Councillor Stephen Murphy, who filed the petition, said in a statement that eliminating the preliminary would save the city at least $500,000, the cost of orchestrating a citywide election.

City Council President Maureen Feeney, who supports the petition, said in a statement that eliminating the preliminary would close an "awkward" loophole.

"It will save the city money while allowing all candidates a spot on the ballot," said Feeney.

The preliminary election was scrutinized in particular this year because the field of five challengers is seen as particularly weak. Only John Connolly, who in 2005 finished third in a preliminary election and fifth in the general election, has high visibility among voters and political watchers.

"I think it's a good idea mainly because it saves taxpayers money. We have a city where affordability is constantly in question for every resident," said Connolly, of eliminating the September primary. "Strategy wise, I think I still have to see where the chips all fall, but having peaked in September two years ago, I'm focused on November whether we have a preliminary or not," he said.

To continue after the Wednesday meeting, the petition would have to be passed unanimously by the council and be signed by the mayor before advancing to the State House as a home rule petition.

According to Murphy's staff, previous home rule petitions have been approved to eliminate preliminary elections in Worcester in 1991 and Methuen in 2005.