Election 2010, Lawrence by the numbers: part II


By: Jamison Tomasek – January, 2011

Jamison TomasekIt would be helpful to read Part 1 of this from last month’s Valley Patriot, but to briefly recap the first article finished with the conclusion that Lawrence is a city that votes overwhelmingly Democratic and this influences any election where the people of the city play a role. Some of this vote appears to be robotic or automatic in nature, not because a “machine” tells them to vote a particular way.

The Mayor, who in last election backed a couple of Republicans, appears to have some influence on voting patterns, but this only affects a portion of the vote. So can someone other than a Democrat win anything in Lawrence?

Looking first at City elections, these elections are non-partisan, meaning no party affiliation is indicated on the ballot, and are held in odd numbered years. Thank the turn of the century (1900) Progressive movement for both these items (maybe more on this in another column). The off year election depresses the casual vote as less are aware of the election and the party line voters are unsure where to put their mark. There is nothing to stop a candidate from revealing their affiliation before the voting, which the Mayor did in the 2009 election, but no one is actually listed on the ballot as the representative of a party.

Despite having run with the word Democrat on his campaign material the Mayor has indicated publicly he may change (back) his affiliation to un-enrolled in response to criticism by local Democrats looking for State party censure after his support for Republicans, and this might be interesting.

Probably however the MA Democratic Party is not going to do anything to the Mayor. He has proven to be the most capable area politician (as in playing politics, not necessarily governing). If Lawrence hadn’t needed the $35 million in borrowing authority we might still be talking about the Mayor and the 16th District State Rep as the same person. State Democrats will consider it better to have the Mayor in their corner, rather than neutral or against them.

So the playing field in a local election is somewhat more balanced. What then? Number one it would be helpful to be Latino. With the census numbers in the city now showing that it is overwhelming Latino, and with the people in the United States having a strong history of voting their ethnic groups (think the Irish and the Italians over the last 150 years) it’s only natural.

What would be a great interest in Lawrence, but requiring some real research using surveys and voting records would be if one could identify how the two major Latino groups in the city, the Dominicans and the Puerto Ricans, would distinguish between opposing candidates from their respective homelands. A 2013 contest between the Mayor, a Dominican, who everyone assumes would run for re-election and a Puerto Rican challenger would further test (factoring incumbency) whether country of origin was important.

Secondly a candidate for office has to tread lightly when making campaign statements in the area of government spending, likewise with criticizing government programs. A very large number of people in Lawrence are connected to government spending. This includes even the Anglos in the city, some poor, but also with many working for the government or retired and relying government spending. It much more useful to promise to make them more effective, and most think that is actually possible and it’s hard to argue against.

It’s always a good idea to promise jobs and the only way that Lawrence will understand that is through talking about jobs programs. Other people in this state may get the whole “improve the business climate” mantra, but it’s not an urban message.

Besides City elections Lawrence factors into MA Legislative elections and represent a significant number of Deval Patrick’s votes. Charlie Baker was critical of the city on a number of occasions. This probably impacted his votes as well as the downstream candidates. In general the urban areas in MA were against Charlie Baker, as he lost 17 of the 20 largest cities, including all five of the largest.

In the Legislature Lawrence is 20% of the votes in the Senate District, 100% of the 16th House district and a small part of the 17th “Andover” district and the 14th “North Andover” district. Individuals from Andover or North Andover rather than the city typically occupy these last two districts and a candidate from the towns would probably beat a Lawrence candidate of either party.

Some other potential winning ideas:

A candidate for the Senate not from Lawrence could undertake a long-term strategy to get involved in Lawrence and build a group of influential supporters who might be able to swing blocs of votes.

It’s possible a non-Latino Republican from Lawrence could do well in Lawrence and then go on to win the other parts of the Senate district. As there is so little Republican organization in Lawrence and very few people who fit this bill it seems unlikely that this person will surface.

It’s not clear (and some might say unlikely) that a Latino candidate from Lawrence for the Senate, even a Democrat, could win. Andover is probably the most liberal town but as the district is currently configured Tewksbury and Dracut would need to back such a candidate. If a good Latino Republican candidate emerged then that would be interesting to see.

Which brings us back to Sheriff Cousins; a Republican non-Latino person of color who had the Mayor’s backing and won Lawrence. His in a win that certainly bears further investigation, and might give us a clue as to how Lawrence can factor into the Merrimack Valley’s future.