BEVERLY — In an election year without many choices in other parts of the city, voters in Ward 5 have a rare chance to decide who will serve as their city councilor.
Longtime Ward 5 Councilor Don Martin is facing a challenge for the first time since 2007. His opponent is Kathleen Feldman, the operations manager at the Wenham Museum and the mother of two children who attend the Beverly schools.
Feldman, 39, has never run for public office before, but said she has been active in local politics since she campaigned for her uncle, who was running for police commissioner when she was growing up in Buffalo.
"I'm really hoping to engage a new generation of voters," she said.
The Ward 5 race is one of only three contested races in Beverly for the Nov. 5 election, along with Ward 3 Councilor and Ward 4 School Committee. Voters will also determine who becomes the City Council president, with the top-vote getter in the at-large race automatically assuming that role.
Ward 5 has been similarly sleepy over the years on election day. Martin, 58, had an eventful early political career, losing three elections for the Ward 5 seat, including his initial run in 1983 as a 22-year-old college student at Salem State. But he has now been in office for 12 terms and hasn't faced an opponent since 2007.
"It's been a while, but as I always remind people, early in my political career I had some brutal battles," Martin said. "In 16 campaigns I've had nine challengers, so it's not like I've never had a challenger. We've been down this road before."
Martin said the people he has talked to on the campaign trail are "very happy" with the state of the city. He said the city is in solid financial shape, citing its "rainy day" account that now has about $13 million.
"I think we've done a tremendous job in moving the city forward," he said. "I actually think we're the envy of a lot of surrounding communities."
"I'm very proud of the fact that I've served as long as I have," he added. "I think it shows a real commitment to the city."
Martin said his No. 1 concern for Ward 5 is the impact of the Whole Foods Market that is scheduled to open on Brimbal Avenue on Friday in the Beverly Crossing plaza. Estimates said the plaza would generate an extra 30,000 cars per week.
If the traffic becomes a problem, Martin said, he would reactivate the Brimbal Avenue Citizens Advisory Committee, a group that he formed in response to the Whole Foods project.
Feldman said her core concerns are traffic and pedestrian safety, education funding, and environmental sustainability, and all of them are related. She noted that many children live within a half-mile of their school yet cannot safely bike or walk there.
"Nobody's eyes are more keen on making the streets safer than a mother of a 6- and an 8-year-old trying to safely get her children around town," she said. "A mom's motivation is pretty strong."
Feldman said the tone of the campaign has been positive and the race is not personal, but she also said it's time for a change in Ward 5.
"My opponent has had almost 30 years to push for his core principles," she said. "I think it might just be time. I have new energy. I'm willing to work hard, and I think people are seeing that."
Feldman said she is trying to energize people, including families who are new to Beverly, to get out and vote. Turnout for the election two years ago in Beverly was only 23%.
"I will be happy, win or lose, if we have over 30 percent voter turnout because that means I made a difference and I got a lot of people involved and paying attention for the first time," she said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.
Occupation: Financial analyst for the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development
Family: Wife Michele; children Jessica and Kyle
Education: Salem State University, bachelor of arts in political science; Suffolk University, master in public administration
Elected office: Ward 5 Councilor, 1990-92; 1998-present
Occupation: Operations manager at Wenham Museum
Family: Husband Michael; sons Graham and Arlo
Education: Fordham University bachelor of arts degree; SUNY-Albany master of business administration
Community service: North Beverly Elementary School PTO treasurer; First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church generosity committee co-chair; Family Promise North Shore Boston volunteer; Beverly Cub Scouts Pack 4 volunteer