By Paul Leighton
BEVERLY — City Council President Mike Cahill topped the ticket, and Mayor Bill Scanlon came in a close second to survive one of the most competitive mayoral preliminary elections in the city's history yesterday.
Cahill finished with 2,467 votes to beat Scanlon by 194, but the city's longest-serving mayor outdistanced former City Council President Tim Flaherty by 417 votes to advance to the Nov. 8 final.
The impressive showing by Cahill, who won four of the city's six wards and tied Scanlon in Ward 6, signals a tough road ahead for Scanlon as he seeks a ninth term in office.
"Those numbers are fantastic," Cahill said to applause from his supporters at the Italian Community Center. "This is one of two wins that we need. We need another win in about six weeks. But let's enjoy this while we can."
Scanlon, who suffered a stunning loss to Tom Crean in 2001 before returning to office two years later, must have seen his political life flash before his eyes again as the numbers came in to his campaign headquarters on Cabot Street down from City Hall.
Scanlon had just over a 100-vote lead over Flaherty after the first three wards reported in, leaving him and his supporters eyeing the results quietly as campaign manager Joyce McMahon posted them on a screen. When the numbers from Ward 6 came in and gave Scanlon a more comfortable lead, his supporters finally began clapping.
"We're just going to have to work harder," Scanlon told the crowd. "If 100 people who voted for Cahill voted for me, it's a different result. It's razor-thin."
As Scanlon spoke, he got a congratulatory call from Flaherty.
"Well, thank you, Tim," Scanlon said. "You've been very well-intentioned, and I know you worked hard. You're a gentleman."
At the Franco-American Club on Park Street where his supporters gathered, Flaherty sipped a soda and said he didn't have much to say about the results. The 44-year-old funeral director won his home ward, Ward 5, but finished third in four other wards.
"It's not the way we wanted it to turn out," he said. "I wish the city well."
28 percent turnout
More than 6,700 of the city's 24,103 registered voters went to the polls, a 28 percent turnout that topped the turnouts for the four previous mayoral preliminaries in the 2000s.
The contest pitted three of the city's most successful politicians ever. Cahill was elected five times as the city's state representative, then led all candidates in last year's councilor-at-large race after a seven-year absence from politics. Flaherty, like Cahill, is a homegrown candidate from a large family who had won six City Council elections and twice topped the ticket to become council president.
They were squared off against Scanlon, who at age 71 had won a record eight mayoral elections.
Cahill supporter Brian Norris said the unusually high-quality field and the familiarity of all three candidates put many voters in a difficult position.
"My parents had two signs on their lawn, one for Mike and one for Tim," Norris said. "It was hard to know which way it was going to fall."
Norris said it was Cahill's long experience as a state representative, city councilor, teacher and coach that led him to victory.
"He's just been so integrated into the community for so long," Norris said. "Mike thrives on just digging into the issues, and he's obviously a great campaigner. I think people know this guy knows what he's talking about. You have to have a very strong candidate to convince somebody not to vote for Scanlon."
Cahill, 49, thanked his family and his supporters and reiterated his campaign message that his administration would be more open and transparent than Scanlon's.
"The message is basic," he said. "This is a great community, and its best days are ahead of it."
'Have to work harder'
Scanlon and his supporters acknowledged that they are going to have to pick up the pace of the campaign if Scanlon hopes to win on Nov. 8.
Scanlon failed to win any of the six wards outright and came in last in Ward 3, the downtown ward where he has struggled in previous elections.
"We're going to have to work 50 times harder," said Bruce Nardella, a former alderman and a Scanlon supporter. "You can bet the other guy's going to be going after them at 7 in the morning."
One of Scanlon's supporters recommended that the mayor stand on the Beverly-Salem bridge with a "thank-you" sign early this morning.
"I don't know what to say, guys," Scanlon told the crowd. "I'd rather have the biggest number (of votes), but I'm glad I don't have the smallest number. I was vain enough to think we'd be first, but this was 6,000 people (voting) and the final will be 12,000. We have an opportunity to win, and I think we have the better candidate. It's going to take a lot of hard work. I'm going to have to find a way to knock on more doors."
Back at the Italian Community Center, Kernwood Heights resident Bill Sullivan said he followed Cahill's career as state representative and volunteered to help in this campaign. Everywhere he went, Sullivan said, it seemed that everybody knew Cahill.
Sullivan said he hasn't known Cahill long, but was impressed by his experience and ability.
"Having somebody like Mike who's been to Beacon Hill and knows the players up there, I thought he was kind of the next generation of leadership," Sullivan said.
Euplio "Rick" Marciano, a retired U.S. Army veteran who did not raise any money in the campaign, finished fourth with 145 votes.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.