By: Jamison Tomasek – December, 2010
I was recently a candidate for the Massachusetts State Senate representing Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury. I have time on my hands to write this because I lost the election. While doing well in the towns, I lost Lawrence, and I lost it big. Voters, VP readers or Eagle Tribune “Commenters” who rail about politics here in the central Merrimack Valley need to get used to the fact that there are certain things are not going to change soon because of the big Lawrence voting bloc. What I hope to do in a multi-part series is discuss how voting lines up in Lawrence and elsewhere, and present some scenarios about how this can change (or be changed) in the future.
Lawrence is one of the most partisan cities in Massachusetts; most people are voting the Democratic ticket in every election. Beyond that there are definitely more Democratic parts of the city. To those not living in Lawrence (the “I vote for the best candidate” people) it seems crazy. In Andover no part votes substantially different from other parts, and the town can go overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008 and then put up the same numbers, but this time for Republican Scott Brown, a little over a year later.
Besides the sheriff’s race the largest recent vote for a Republican in Lawrence was McCain’s 3,600 votes in the high turnout of a presidential year (Obama got over 15,000 in 2008). What is more typical is Baker’s 3,100 or Karen Polito’s 3,400. I will separate out the Essex County sheriff’s race (Frank Cousins) at this point and cover it later.
This is significant because if the numbers for Democrats is around 9,000 in a non-presidential year, and 15,000 during presidential election, Lawrence is an electoral force.
Lawrence divvies up with Districts A, B, C & D north of the river and these are mostly Latino and almost entirely registered Democrat or unenrolled. A couple spots in A (Prospect Hill) resemble the Lawrence of old. Districts E & F, while south of the River, are not homogenous at all. E-4 is between Andover St. and the river. Mt Vernon’s E-1, if you didn’t know it was part of Lawrence, could be a suburb. E-2 and 3 has a variety of housing, and parts of which are Mt. Vernon. Most of F is Latino and Democrat with the exception of F-1, which is nearest Andover and more similar in voting to Mt Vernon.
I did best in some E precincts only losing 55% to 45%, but north of the river I lost about 80/20. I wasn’t expecting to win them but I got only 10% in some B precincts! All Republican statewide candidates lost these districts in the same manner as I did. Other races in Lawrence show the effect of bloc voting a little differently. Republican Kevin Begley challenged sitting Democratic State Rep. David Torrisi in the Fourteenth Essex District. Without the votes of Lawrence, Rep Torrisi would have lost as he lost the N Andover part of the district. Begley, even with Lawrence roots, lost his A and most F precincts by 2 to1. In E-2 and F-1 however he basically tied his opponent. Same guy, same city, significantly different results by neighborhood.
Republican State Rep-elect Paul Adams of Andover had four precincts in Lawrence, D-1 and D-2 (Tower Hill) as well as E-1 and E-4 (Mt. Vernon). His race bears some additional interest as Mayor Lantigua (a Democrat) supported Adams at the end of the campaign. Adams still got beat in Lawrence (3 to 2), though he almost won Mt Vernon precinct, E-1. One might conclude that the Mayor’s support had some positive effect, but not much.
Between now and the 2012 election the Legislature (in Massachusetts not an independent commission like many other states) will be redistricting. Will the state spread Lawrence’s Democratic votes around? The Eighteenth District (Barbara L’Italien’s soon to be former district) could use some more Democratic votes. Maybe Rep. Torrisi never wants it close again. Maybe they add to the Seventeenth (Adams) to give his 2012 challenger a leg up.
Many wonder if the Mayor is now in charge of the Democratic vote machine, or is it just the result of people who can’t see past the letter D? Sheriff Cousins might provide part of the answer. He is a bit of a special case: the race is only every six years, his role does not directly effect most of us, he’s a person of color, and lastly he’s a great guy and an excellent campaigner. As he was from the start the Mayor’s choice for sheriff and if the Mayor truly controlled Lawrence voters, Cousins should have gotten 100% of the vote. He did do by far the best of any Republican in Lawrence, winning 5728 to 5545. Maybe he should be running for governor in 2014!
So people who vote like robots seem to be problem rather than “the machine” telling them what to do. A great candidate might be able to break the Democratic spell. The Mayor has some influence, but not as much as some think.
Look for some ways the current situation might change in my next column.