BY TOM DALTON
---- — Tomorrow night’s vote to fill a vacant City Council seat might be the most anticipated local “election” since the 2005 mayoral race, when upstart Kim Driscoll knocked off an incumbent mayor and a veteran councilor.
It’s an election with one issue: Who will replace Joan Lovely as councilor-at-large as she moves on to the Massachusetts Senate?
Will it be the early favorite, former two-term councilor-at-large Steve Pinto, who was turned out by voters in the 2011 city election? Pinto appears to have strong support from at least four councilors, and needs only two more votes to secure a majority of the 10-member body.
How about Lucy Corchado, a former two-term ward councilor who chose not to run for re-election and has expressed an interest in returning? She appears to have strong backing from Mayor Driscoll and would keep at least one woman on the elected body.
Or is the unlikely possible — a deadlocked council turns to a compromise candidate?
Letters of interest also were submitted by William Legault, a freelance writer and personal trainer who is well-known around town; Chris Sicuranza, director of communications for the New England Police Benevolent Association; Robert Wright, a college teacher with a lengthy background in state government; and Ken Sawicki, who has run unsuccessfully for multiple offices.
On Monday, several councilors said they think the seat is up for grabs. Two men seen as swing votes were noncommittal.
“I’m still weighing it,” said Ward 1 Councilor Bob McCarthy. “I think I owe it to everybody who has submitted their name for consideration to keep an open mind.”
“It’s going to be close,” said Ward 4 Councilor Jerry Ryan. “I like Pinto and I like Lucy because of the fact both are former city councilors.”
Ryan said he favors someone with experience, since the person will be filling out the final year of Lovely’s term.
Several councilors noted that Ryan may face an especially tough decision, since he plans to give up his ward seat in the fall city election to run for one of four at-large positions. If he votes for Pinto, or even Corchado, and they decide to run for re-election as an at-large councilor, he has granted incumbency to a potential opponent.
In 2006, the last time the council filled a vacancy, several members said they voted for Mark Blair, a former councilor, because he pledged not to run for re-election.
The battle for Lovely’s seat took a turn last month when Darek Barcikowski, the at-large runner-up in 2011, who finished ahead of Pinto, decided not to submit his name. Based largely on the fact he was next in line with voters, Barcikowski had at least three votes: Councilor-at-large Tom Furey, Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel and Ward 7 Councilor Joe O’Keefe.
With Barcikowski out, those votes are going elsewhere. Furey said he will vote for Corchado in the first round, while Turiel said he is undecided. Both said they will not vote for Pinto.
O’Keefe said he expects to support Sicuranza, at least initially, for a lot of reasons — including the fact he is from Ward 7, O’Keefe’s home turf. He said he likely will shift to Corchado in later rounds, if it goes that far.
Councilor-at-large Kevin Carr, another potential swing vote, said he is “leaning toward Legault.” As of Monday, he said he considers the election undecided.
“I don’t think anybody has a majority of votes right now,” he said. “If I had to handicap it right now, I’d say Steve and Lucy are strong candidates, and I think (Legault) has a chance as well.”
The Salem News was not able to reach Ward 2 Councilor Mike Sosnowski, Ward 3 Councilor Todd Siegel, Ward 6 Councilor Paul Prevey, and Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent, all of whom are considered Pinto supporters. Sosnowski, in fact, has already gone on record for Pinto.
If there is a point of agreement, it’s that the councilors want to hear from the candidates.
“I’m hoping we give each of the candidates an opportunity to talk a little bit, (to say) why they’re interested and why they think they would be a good fit,” said Carr. “I will go with what I think is the best fit.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.