BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Voters yesterday entrusted the city’s future to Mike Cahill, a former state representative and city councilor who won a historic election to become his hometown’s 31st mayor.
Cahill took more than 55 percent of the vote to defeat Ward 2 City Councilor Wes Slate and become the successor to Bill Scanlon, the nine-term mayor who has dominated the city’s political scene for the last two decades.
When Cahill emerged smiling from the kitchen at the Italian Community Center, where he had been huddled with his campaign team tallying the votes, the nearly 300 supporters who were jammed into the upstairs room at the Rantoul Street club erupted in applause.
“This feels pretty good, huh?” Cahill said to the crowd. “It feels a lot better than when we walked out of that back room two years ago.”
Cahill was referring to the scene in 2011, when he fell 353 votes short of beating Scanlon. When Scanlon decided not to run for re-election after a record 18 years in office, Cahill became the immediate favorite to succeed him.
Cahill beat Slate by nearly 1,200 votes and won four of the city’s six wards. Slate won his own ward, Ward 2, and also took Ward 4. City officials pegged turnout at 41 percent, which was lower than the last two mayoral elections.
“This is your victory. This is our victory. This is Beverly’s victory,” Cahill said to his supporters. “This is a great night.”
As Cahill was giving his victory speech, Slate arrived to congratulate him. Slate walked across the floor, shook Cahill’s hand and gave him a shoulder-to-shoulder hug.
Cahill did not mention Slate when he continued talking. Cahill had accused Slate of “character assassination” during the campaign when Slate sent out a mailer criticizing Cahill’s work ethic.
Later in the night at the Cove Community Center, Slate said he had no hard feelings toward Cahill and had no regrets about his campaign.
“I’m disappointed, obviously, but we did everything we could have done against an opponent who was very tough and had run citywide several times,” Slate said. “We closed the gap from the preliminary, but honestly, I couldn’t think of a single thing we could’ve done differently.”
Cahill, 51, had several advantages over Slate, a three-term city councilor who was running for citywide office for the first time.
Cahill grew up in Beverly, the son of a city alderman and public school teacher and one of six brothers. He had already proven himself to be a prodigious vote-getter in city elections, having won five terms as the city’s Democratic state representative and topping the ticket in his only term on the City Council.
Cahill beat Slate by more than 1,000 votes in September’s preliminary election, then raised more than twice as much money in September and October, an advantage that allowed Cahill to send out a host of citywide mailers to residents.
Cahill thanked his family, including his five brothers, three sisters-in-law, six nephews and one niece. He reserved special praise for his late parents.
“I’ve never won an election without them, and that’s still true,” he said. “I know they’re half the votes I get every time I put my name on the ballot.”
Cahill said the election results reflect voters’ desire for a more open and inclusive government. Beverly, he said, will become a city “whose future greatness will now be shaped by more hands.”
Rantoul Street resident Barry Checchi said people are looking forward to a new face in City Hall. He called Cahill’s victory “long overdue.”
“Mike finally got his message out about being more inclusive and open,” Checchi said. “He doesn’t want to leave anybody out of the process. It was a change from what we’ve had the last 18 years.”
Lakeshore Avenue resident Donna Mitchell said her family has known Cahill for years, ever since he helped them out with a tax problem when he was state representative.
“He took over and fixed it right away,” she said. “We’ve loved Mike forever. He knows the ins and outs at the state level.”
Another Cahill supporter, J. David Broudo, said Slate’s negative campaign piece about Cahill backfired on him.
“I am so pleased (Cahill) won,” Broudo said. “The thing that really turned me off was Wes with his negative mailer.”
The two candidates agreed on most of the issues facing the city, so Slate tried to distinguish himself by saying Cahill did not have the “work ethic” to serve as mayor.
Slate sent out a mailer that accused Cahill of being “distracted and not engaged” in his one term as City Council president. Cahill fired back at Slate in a debate at the Cove Community Center, characterizing the accusations as “character assassination.”
Slate called himself a “workhorse” who would put in the time and energy necessary to run the city. He had the backing of Scanlon, who had raised the same criticisms of Cahill in their race two years ago.
Slate was also endorsed by City Council President Paul Guanci and Ward 1 City Councilor Maureen Troubetaris, who is stepping down after 22 years on the council.
But voters’ familiarity with Cahill proved too much for Slate to overcome.
At the Italian Community Center, Cahill encouraged everyone in the room to become involved in the future of the city.
“The best part of today’s victory is that after three years of talking about what we want for Beverly, starting tonight, we finally get a chance to start doing it,” he said.
Cahill will take office in January at a time of major change in the city’s political structure. Four new city councilors and one new School Committee member were also elected yesterday. The city is also in the process of picking a new school superintendent and police chief.
Cahill’s victory also marked the beginning of the post-Scanlon era. Scanlon served four terms from 1994 to 2001 before losing to Tom Crean. He beat Crean in a rematch in 2003 and will now finish out his record ninth term before handing over the reigns to Cahill in January.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.