Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Boston's most competitive mayoral race in 16 years, which has pitted a long-time incumbent against a trio of feisty challengers, drew a steady stream of voters today, pushing turnout by the evening well beyond levels seen in the last preliminary election.
By 6 p.m., more than 60,000 ballots had been cast with two hours left until the polls close. In the last preliminary election in 2005, voter participation topped out at about 41,000. The surge prompted at least one political observer to predict that turnout could be much higher than predicted.
"I think the turnout will be actually closer to 70,000 than 40,000," said Lawrence S. DiCara, a former city councilor.
Neighborhoods that saw the highest turnout included areas in West Roxbury, a battleground where City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty Jr. is challenging four-term incumbent Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Voters also surged to the polls in South Boston, where Adrienne Callaghan said she threw her support behind Flaherty because he brings "new ways to look at old problems.”
"And I tend to not like change," said Callaghan, 27. "I’ve grown up with Mayor Menino in office my whole life.”
At the same South Boston polling place, however, Karen Cahill blackened the oval next to the name of the longtime mayor. "I think he's done a lot of things that people overlook," Cahill said, explaining that her support of the four-term incumbent never wavered. "He's done a lot for parks, he's done a lot for services."
Voters enjoyed warm, sunny fall weather as they cast their ballots. Menino faces challenges from Councilors at Large Flaherty and Sam Yoon, and South End developer Kevin McCrea.
The preliminary contest will narrow the mayor’s race from four candidates to two and the field for at-large City Council seats from 15 to eight. The final election is on Nov. 3.
MassVOTE, a nonprofit voter rights organization, had predicted that of the city's 353,683 registered voters, about 45,000 to 50,000 -- 12 to 14 percent -- would vote. But 17 percent had already voted by 6 p.m. and polls were scheduled to remain open until 8 p.m., offering people who had to work during the day an opportunity to vote afterward.
In Yoon's Dorchester neighborhood of Fields Corner, Jerlean Charley, 74, said she cast her ballot for the incumbent.
"Mayor Menino has turned a lot of these buildings into places for people to live," said Charley, who lives on Bowdoin Avenue.
At Curtis Hall Community Center in Jamaica Plain, Charles Indingaro, 66, said he had voted for Menino.
“Look around – look up in West Roxbury, all the new housing he’s put in there,” said Indingaro, a retired Sears employee. “And every year, he gives us a Christmas tree out here. He comes down and sings carols. It’s nice.”
While the other candidates talk about their plans, the mayor has a 16-year record of accomplishment, he said.
“You can’t beat what you can see,” Indingaro said.
Joe Golding, 35, who was carrying his 7-week-old son, Eamon, in a sling across his chest, voted for Yoon. He was the kind of young, well-educated voter whom Yoon was courting throughout the campaign.
“I’ve lived in two other cities and I would like to see new and different plans in Boston,” said Golding, a teacher at Newton South High School. While Golding said he might vote for Menino in the final election, he said he wanted to show that “maybe someone different than Menino would be good and healthy for the city.”
Outside the hall, Scott Gortikov, executive director of MassEquality, a gay rights group that endorsed Menino, and Susan Elsbree, a spokeswoman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, held signs for the mayor. One of the many city employees helping to power the mayor's reelection effort, Elsbree said she was taking a vacation day to campaign.
In Chinatown, at the Metropolitan community center, Cynthia Lee, 24, greeted passers-by and encouraged them to vote for Flaherty. The Boston-born daughter of Chinese immigrants said she backs Flaherty because "we need a change.''
Lydia Lowe, 51, touted Yoon in Cantonese, prompting many voters to ask whether Yoon was Chinese. As she told people that the city councilor is Korean-American, Lowe said she believes Yoon's background will still help him in the neighborhood.
"He hasn't been afraid to stand up to other elected officials for full voting rights for Asian-Americans,'' said Lowe, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association.
Outside Holy Name Parish Hall in West Roxbury, traditionally one of the busiest polling stations in Boston, small clutches of supporters held signs for Menino and Flaherty and several council candidates.
Menino stopped by in the morning, and Flaherty greeted voters in the afternoon, just after Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral swung by to stump for Menino. McCrea’s mother, Joanne, was there, holding a sign for her son.
In the nearby rotary, a GMC Sierra with the license plate “GOTV” –Get Out The Vote – was driving in circles, plastered with Flaherty signs and blaring messages such as “It’s Time For a Change!” from a rooftop loudspeaker. In the parking lot, a Teamsters van was plastered with Menino signs.
Brendan Adams, 36, who said he works in the schools, voted for Flaherty because he said he was concerned about the student dropout rate.
“The Boston Public Schools, they’re a mess,” Adams said. “We need new leadership. We need someone who’s actually going to be sitting behind the desk, not just cutting ribbons all day.”
He said Menino failed to live up to his promise to improve the schools. “It’s time – 16 years has been long enough,” Adams said. “He said judge me on the schools – and that’s what I’m judging him on.”
Richard Fallona, 81, a retired clerical worker who was wheeling a shopping basket and voted on his way to the supermarket, said “it was more or less a conflict between Menino and Flaherty,” but he ended up voting for Menino.
“He’s kept at it,” Fallona said. “He’s kept Boston moving.”
Kathy Cloherty Henry, 36, a lawyer who came with her son, Seamus, 2, in her arms, declined to say for whom she voted but said she was concerned that the mayor’s Cabinet chief of policy and planning, Michael J .Kineavy, had been deleting his emails in possible violation of state public records law.
“I was very upset about the email issue,” she said. “I think that the people who hold high positions in city government should know the law about saving their emails as public records. It was not something I was pleased to read and hear about.”
Jim Ryan, 70, a retired Boston Herald pressman and former owner of a Jamaica Plain smoke shop, said he voted for Flaherty because he was concerned about rising tax rates and regulations on small businesses.
“Menino’s been in there long enough,” Ryan said. “We need people in there helping to get the tax rates down and make it a good, livable city for the working people. It’s a great city, but it’s getting tougher to live here.”
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