It’s rare, but Mayor Scott Avedisian took off the gloves last Wednesday night.
And that’s what his friends and supporters wanted to see and hear, ever since Stacia Petri launched her campaign for the Republican nomination for mayor. For the first time in a long string of elections, Avedisian faces a viable challenge from a member of his own party.
At a $10-a-ticket meet and greet at the Islander Restaurant, Avedisian countered attacks Petri has made on his administration and, at his own admission of appearing to go negative, hit Petri for expounding on the importance of small business and then using out-of-state companies to make “robo calls” to registered Republicans and went out of state to buy campaign signs. And, citing a meet and greet of her own announcing her candidacy at the Islander, Avedisian said there was a “fight” over how many attended and the amount of the bill.
“Our money is where our mouth is,” he said. “We pay bills, just like the city pays bills.”
Petri’s meet and greet was also a subject with David Picozzi, acting director of Public Works who introduced the mayor. While the Beacon reported about 60 attended the Petri event, Picozzi said he had a head count of 39. Nonetheless, he said, it had him wondering, “If the mayor still has it.” Then, pausing to look around the crowded room – the door count stopped at 248 – Picozzi declared, “Obviously, he still has it.”
Many in the room were city workers, and the mayor’s defense of their performance played well. He started with Donna McDonald, director of elections, who Petri mentioned on her Facebook page. Avedisian said McDonald and her staff are not only good people, but having representation from both political parties “is the best way for fair elections.”
In her posting, Petri said her campaign manager had gone to the board of canvassers where he was told the only list of absentee ballot voters was from two years ago. However, after learning from a voter that wasn’t the case, she and the campaign manager visited the office “and poof!!! the list all of a sudden appears with phone numbers.” She questioned what would have happened had the absentee voter hadn’t contacted her, adding, “It’s quite the time for this regime to go.”
McDonald said she was blocked from responding on Petri’s Facebook page. She said Roy Dempsey, Petri’s campaign manager, requested a list of Republicans who voted by mail ballot in the last election, which he received.
“I realize you are running for the first time,” McDonald responded in a posting, “and completely naïve when it comes to campaigning (among other things) but attacking the integrity of an office and/or individual is not tolerated in this regime. Poof!”
Wednesday’s event wasn’t intended to be a fundraiser. In fact, Mark Russell, who has worked on almost all of Avedisian’s campaigns, and made a pitch to vote on primary day following Avedisian’s remarks, said the evening would cost more than it brought in.
But the mayor’s campaign fundraising efforts aren’t lagging either. A recent event at the Ironworks Tavern attended by 176 brought in $22,000, campaign treasurer Edward Tavares reported.
Russell warned that, “No one takes anything for granted … we’re going to treat this like the only election in a lifetime … You have to vote on Sept. 9 and take three people with you.”
The dynamics of this primary make it unpredictable. There’s more at play than a face-off between two candidates. Comparatively, the pool of Republican voters is small – 6,676 – so reaching them by mail, phone, in person or through social media is easier and less costly than in a general election. On the other side, there is a vast reservoir of unaffiliated voters – 34,974 – who can choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary on Sept. 9.
The unknown is how unaffiliated voters will vote.
Getting them to vote in the Republican primary, when the three leading Democratic candidates for governor are spending millions on a highly visible campaign, is problematic. In addition, the Democrats have primary races across the board, meaning they could be drawing voters that would have otherwise supported Avedisian.