After serving 37 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic Congressman Edward Markey is headed for the U.S. Senate, at least for the next 17 months. The Malden liberal beat Republican challenger Gabriel Gomez in yesterday’s special election, one that was marked by poor voter turnout statewide.
“I have delivered a message on gun safety, on a woman’s right to choose, on creating more jobs, and I think that message has been delivered,” Markey, 66, said last night after capturing the seat held for many years by John Kerry, who resigned to become U.S. Secretary of State.
Markey will fill out the remainder of Kerry’s term, which expires in January 2015. Another Senate election will be held a year from November.
With most of the precincts across the state reporting late last night, Markey held an 8 to 10 percentage point lead over Gomez, according to unofficial returns.
But locally, voters in most communities supported Gomez, 47, the millionaire and former Navy SEAL from Cohasset. Lawrence was the lone local community favoring Markey, 4,494 to 1,652. Only 17 percent of the voters turned out.
Methuen voters went overwhelmingly for Gomez, 3,861 to 2,530.
Shawna Amoroso, a Methuen resident who typically votes Democratic, said she voted for Gomez because he is a fresh face and she thought his opinions were centrist, and even liberal, enough to gain her support.
“He seems like a liberal Republican. I felt like I could stand with him on a lot of issues,” she said.
Markey “rubs me the wrong way,” she said. Picking up on a theme Gomez has used in his campaign, Amoroso said she thought Markey’s long time in Congress made him a creature of Washington. “He seems slimy to me,” she said. “He’s been in politics so long, and nothing ever changes.”
Even some of those who said they voted for Markey — like Kevin Gerow — said they weren't thrilled about the veteran congressman’s candidacy.
“I think I’m more in tune with what his views are,” Gerow said outside Marsh Grammar School last night. Gomez is “an interesting character,” he said, but he decided against him because he felt Gomez would change his positions if he thought it would help him in the election.
North Andover School Committee member Laurie Burzlaff said she cast her ballot for Gomez.
“There wasn’t much choice,” said Burzlaff, who is an unenrolled voter.
North Andover resident Coralie Jensen, of Winter Street, voted for Markey.
“I’m a Democrat and a pretty liberal one,” she explained. Her husband, Bruce Jensen, said he backed Markey for those same reasons.
Joe Silveira, of Foxwood Drive, said his choice was Markey because of his extensive experience as a congressman.
“I’m not totally opposed to Mr. Gomez,” he added.
In Haverhill, voters seemed to be looking for a fresh face on the Washington political scene. Gomez’ military background helped too.
Wayne Raycraft,a 52, mental health worker, said he voted for Gomez because Markey has been in politics for 35 years and “done nothing.”
“If telecommunications is all he has to take credit for in all that time, then we’re in trouble if he gets in,” Raycraft said of Markey.
Grant Cannata, 60, who works part-time at Target, said he voted for Gomez because he put his life on the line for the U.S. as a Navy SEAL.
“I’m unrolled so I can vote with my heart and I just feel he’s the better man for the job,” Cannata said of Gomez.
John Bresnahan, 53, an electrical technician, said he voted for Gomez because he’s a former military man and because “he’s closer to my age.”
“I feel Gomez is less entrenched in the Washington hierarchy and we need new people.”
Yesterday’s special election failed to draw the attention that the state’s 2010 special Senate election did.
Markey won the early backing of Kerry and much of the state’s Democratic political establishment, which was set on avoiding a repeat of the stunning loss it suffered three years ago, when Republican state Sen. Scott Brown upset Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the election to replace the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
But as poor as the voter turnout was, some local election officials said it wasn't as bad as many were expecting.
Andover Town Clerk Larry Murphy predicted a 30 percent turnout in his town.
Despite the fact that turnout was low throughout the region, Murphy was right on the money about his community, as 6,876 voters — 30.09 percent of residents registered to vote — cast ballots yesterday, supporting Gomez by a 54.1 percent margin over Markey, who received 45.4 percent of the vote.
“Traditionally, we do beat the state average in turnout,” Murphy said. “It has been my experience in Andover that they take the right to vote seriously.”
Resident Suzanne Miller said the turnout, though higher than the average, was still distressing.”Why isn’t it 95 percent? I don’t understand why people don’t bother to vote,” she said. “It’s an important election. It’s the U.S. Senate. If it were for the local dog catcher, it wouldn’t be the same weight.”
Officials in Methuen said yesterday afternoon that turnout surprised them, even though it was far from record setting.
“It was better than I thought,” said Christine Touma-Conway, Methuen’s city clerk. “That doesn’t mean it was high.”
Reporters Dustin Luca, Doug Moser, Paul Tennant and Shawn Regan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.