By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — On the eve of tomorrow’s city election, most of the work by candidates is done.
But last-minute campaigning and votes that hang in the balance could make the difference between winning and losing, especially for challengers.
Fifteen candidates are vying for nine seats on the City Council, while five candidates seek three School Committee seats.
Five-term incumbent mayor James Fiorentini is also facing a late-entry challenge from sticker/write-in candidate Tyler Kimball, a Haverhill firefighter who runs a family farm on East Broadway.
“The last couple of days before the election are all about meeting people,” said three-term School Committeeman Scott Wood, whose seat is not available until the 2015 election.
“And for the challengers who don’t have the same name recognition as the incumbents, getting their names out there is huge,” Wood said. “In a race like this where there’s likely to be a low turnout, the final days are when you can win or lose the election.”
Local election officials have projected that fewer than 25 percent of Haverhill’s 41,457 registered voters will cast ballots tomorrow.
Wood speculated the vote tallies at the end of the school and council races are going to be very close. The difference between the winning ninth-place finisher and the losing 10th-place finisher in the council race, for instance, is usually fewer than 100 votes, Wood said.
Most of the candidates and their supporters were out in force over the weekend, with the same expected today and tomorrow.
Kimball hosted a free concert at his family’s farm yesterday that featured country and western music. Guests were invited to bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets, and parking was free. Kimball and his backers are also busy mailing out personal letters to registered voters, explaining why he is running and what he hopes to accomplish. He said he planned to mail out thousands of letters by election day.
Late last week, Kimball arranged to have off-duty police officers and firefighters help him deliver 2,400 pumpkins to students at Haverhill’s four middle schools. Because Kimball is running a sticker campaign, voters must write in his name or attach a sticker with his name onto the ballot.
Fiorentini, who is seeking a Haverhill record sixth term as mayor, said he is focusing on making sure his supporters make it to the polls.
“Saturday we knocked on doors to remind people, and we will be calling our supporters to remind them to vote,” Fiorentini said. “We are also offering people a ride to the polls, which I have not done in years.
“I have been very grateful over the years to have a loyal block of supporters,’’ he said. “Our last-minute campaigning is to make certain that they turn out to vote.”
In his successful past campaigns, Wood said he had friends and supporters make phone calls to voters while he knocked on doors and visited local stores and shopping plazas in the days before the election.
“Saturday is typically the biggest sign-holding day, but you’ll also see a lot of signs out there’’ on Monday and Tuesday, Wood said. “The biggest thing, especially in a close election, is getting your supporters to the polls. Everyone has their own strategies to do it and I’m not going to give out all mine. But who does it best usually wins.”
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. Councilors and the mayor serve two-year terms.
The council campaign has 15 candidates for nine available seats — not enough to trigger a preliminary election in September, but enough to draw voter interest for Tuesday’s balloting.
All incumbents except Michael Hart are seeking re-election. They 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.
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, a retired Haverhill police sergeant, 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.
Voters will also fill three of six seats on the School Committee. Members serve four-year terms, but the seats are staggered so that three are up for election every two years.
In the school race, three incumbents are facing off against two challengers. School Committee incumbents Joseph Bevilacqua, Paul Magliochetti and Raymond Sierpina are seeking re-election. The challengers are Maura Ryan-Ciardiello and Gail Sullivan.