BEVERLY — The next mayor of Beverly won't be determined until six months from now on Nov. 8.
But in an election year in which three of the candidates have a long history of political victories, voters will also be facing a big decision in September.
Either Mayor Bill Scanlon, City Council President Mike Cahill or former City Council President Tim Flaherty will be eliminated from the race in the preliminary election Sept. 20. The presence of three candidates who have won a combined 20 city elections has added more urgency to the normally sleepy preliminary, when only the top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 8 final election.
"I've been knocking on people's doors and they say, 'It's so early, the election is so far away,'" Cahill said. "There are 16,000 doors in this city. To me Sept. 20 feels like it's just a blink away." Scanlon has won eight times for mayor, more than anyone in the city's history. Cahill won five elections for state representative in the 1990s and topped the ticket in his return to politics as a councilor-at-large candidate in 2009. Flaherty won election six times for at-large councilor, twice earning the most votes of the three at-large winners, before deciding not to run for re-election two years ago.
The only blemishes are Scanlon's loss to Tom Crean in his 2001 re-election bid and Cahill's failed bid for state treasurer in 2002.
Despite their past success, none of the three has faced each other in an election, and none can afford to take the preliminary for granted.
Like Cahill, Flaherty said he has already begun knocking on doors. Flaherty announced his candidacy in November, held his first fundraiser in March and has another scheduled for June 1.
Flaherty said he would have been campaigning early even if there weren't a competitive September preliminary.
"You can't wait until August," he said. "I need a well-organized game plan. Whether it's November or whether it's September, I'd probably start at the same time. You go to different functions and you see the other two there."
Scanlon, who is serving a record eighth two-year term as mayor, hasn't had to worry about a competitive September race since his first campaign in 1993, when he and Bill Gelwick knocked out incumbent Mayor Jack Monahan. Scanlon also faced preliminary elections in 1995 and 2007 but advanced easily.
Asked if he considered this his toughest preliminary, Scanlon said, "I've always felt they're all competitive. You can always lose."
Scanlon has held one fundraiser and is planning another in June. He said he hasn't been knocking on doors, "but I have taken advantage of every opportunity to be with people." As an example, he pointed to his attendance at last week's Beverly High music awards night at the Vittori-Rocci Post that was attended by 400 people.
"I feel as if I'm in a campaign mode," he said. "I'm doing a lot of work trying to figure out the theme of the campaign. I'm certainly engaged with it. I think frankly the best way to campaign is to do a good job."
U.S. Army veteran Euplio Marciano has also taken out nomination papers for mayor. Marciano survived the 2007 preliminary by besting former mayor Tom Crean but was trounced in the final by Scanlon. Marciano said he does not plan to raise money for his campaign.
"I'm not accountable to anybody except the citizens," he said.
It's often said that voters don't pay attention to political races until after Labor Day. With the preliminary looming only two weeks later, Cahill said he can't afford to wait that long.
"I'm trying to chip away and reach as many people as I can," he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at email@example.com.