BEVERLY — When the deadline for filing nomination papers for the 2019 city election expired last week, it produced the seemingly sleepy news that Mayor Mike Cahill will once again have no challenger.
Further scrutiny reveals that the non-existent race is more newsworthy than you might think. Research by The Salem News indicates that Cahill is the first mayor in the city's history to have no opponent in consecutive elections.
Two years ago Cahill became the first person to run unopposed for mayor since Daniel McLean in 1944. Now he's the first ever to have clear sailing in back-to-back elections since the city elected its first mayor in 1895.
Cahill said he wasn't aware of either of those distinctions. He attributed the absence of an opponent to satisfaction among voters with local government, including the City Council and School Committee. He pointed out that there are also no challengers to the three incumbent at-large city councilors.
"I think collectively that people feel good about how they're being represented throughout local government," Cahill said. "That's not to say that everything we're doing and every issue that comes up there's unanimity of opinion. We're trying our best to reach out and solicit public opinion on issues."
It's not entirely unusual for a local mayor to face no challengers in a re-election year. It's happened to Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt three times. Oftentimes mayors face only what could be considered token opposition, as has happened to Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll.
But the back-to-back free passes that have been given to Cahill are unprecedented in Beverly. The only other mayors to run unopposed besides McLean were Roy Patch in 1928 and John Baker, the city's first-ever mayor in 1894.
Former Mayor Bill Scanlon, who with nine terms in office was the city's longest serving mayor, faced an opponent every time he ran for re-election, even losing once, to Tom Crean, in 2001.
Cahill, a former state representative and City Council president, actually lost his first run for mayor, to Scanlon in 2011. Cahill then beat City Councilor Wes Slate in 2013 to become mayor, and knocked off School Committee member David Manzi to win re-election in 2015.
Why no challengers?
Observers pointed to a number of possibilities to explain why nobody has since challenged Cahill.
Ward 3 City Councilor Jim Latter said the lack of an opponent is a sign that Cahill is doing a good job. Latter, who is not running for re-election, said Cahill has built on the work of Scanlon to put the city in good financial shape.
"Mike has been a good mayor at a time when we haven't had any economic crisis," Latter said. "It's easy to be a good mayor when you can do good things. It's harder to be a good mayor when you can't do good things anymore because you don't have the resources."
City Council President Paul Guanci, who has been considered a possible mayoral candidate for years, noted the mayor's $110,000 salary is relatively low compared to some communities. It is, however, scheduled to increase to $115,000 in 2020 and $120,000 in 2021.
Guanci, who owns and operates Super Sub Shop and Casual Catering in Beverly, said the city charter prohibits the mayor from holding another job at the same time.
"It's always something that has kept me from trying to make politics a full-time job, because I have a business," he said.
Guanci and Latter both pointed to social media as a possible reason for a lack of candidates. Instead of putting the time and effort into running for office, people can express their frustration on social media, they said.
"I can think of three or four people who you could say, 'If you've got this much to bellyache about, pull papers (to run for office)," Latter said. "Maybe there's relief valves on social media that allow people to vent (instead of running for office)."
Latter also said anyone running for mayor risks subjecting themselves to criticism on social media.
"People still view the City Council and School Committee as a public service. You're part-time and you get a stipend," Latter said. "At that level (of mayor), people really start to come at you."
Latter also said the "toxic" political environment at the national level could be discouraging people from running for local office. "I don't know if people look at political office as aspirational like they once did," he said.
Cahill pays himself back
One benefit of no opposition is that Cahill has been able to use his campaign fund to pay himself back for money that he loaned to his unsuccessful campaign for state treasurer in 2002, which is allowed under state campaign finance laws.
Cahill has used his campaign fund to pay himself $30,000 since his last competitive election in 2015, including a $20,000 payment in 2018. His campaign fund still owes him more than $45,000.
"I've been able to do a couple of reimbursements," Cahill acknowledged. "That was a very significant amount of my own money that I invested in that campaign. I wouldn't do that again. You live and learn."
Guanci said a competitive mayoral race is good for the city because it generates different ideas and opinions. Without a race again this year, Guanci said it's up to the City Council to fill that void.
"I think it means that the City Council needs to open up more of a discussion about things that are not necessarily wrong, but things that need to change or slow down, especially in terms of residential development," he said.
Cahill said there is plenty of opportunity for residents to play a role in the city's future because the city is in the process of writing a new master plan for the first time in 17 years. The city has surveyed residents about what they would like to see in a new plan, and is scheduled to hold neighborhood meetings about the process this fall.
"As for me personally, I feel very honored," Cahill said. "I love being mayor and I try to do my best every day. I feel very grateful and very honored that this is where we are, that people feel for the most part that things are going well and feel confident that we as elected officials know what we are doing and want what is best for the city."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.
Beverly mayors elected with no opponent
1894: John Baker
1928: Roy Patch
1944: Daniel McLean
2017: Mike Cahill
2019: Mike Cahill*
* Cahill faces no opposition in Nov. 5 election