HAVERHILL — For the second election in a row, a smaller-than-usual field of City Council candidates will battle it out in a race that includes eight of nine incumbents, two former councilors and several well-known challengers.
The campaign toward election day on Nov. 5 has 15 candidates for nine available seats — not enough for a preliminary election in September, but enough to draw voter interest. Nineteen candidates are required to trigger a preliminary contest.
All incumbents except Michael Hart are seeking re-election, and face the challenge of two former councilors, two city lawyers, a high school teacher, a school custodian and the owner of a popular downtown sandwich shop.
The absence of Hart from the ballot means at least one challenger is certain to win a seat, but political watchers are predicting there could be more than one new councilor elected.
“No preliminary is dangerous for incumbents because someone could be in trouble and they won’t know it until it’s too late,” said Hart, the council’s current vice president who always finished among the top vote-getters in past elections. “In the past, I’ve seen incumbents do poorly in the preliminary and, as a result, start campaigning really hard and end up doing much better in the final.”
Hart, who decided to take a break from the council after serving for 10 consecutive years, said he expects at least one surprise 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.
Timothy Coco, a local radio talk show host and longtime observer of Haverhill politics, is predicting at least one incumbent will get knocked off.
“There’s an interesting dynamic in play where the two former councilors could be filling the role of incumbents,” Coco said, referring to former councilors David Hall and Ken Quimby, who are making comeback bids.