Non-Incumbent Wins in Worcester City Council and School Committee elections

Nick K. has a column about the crappy voter turnout this year [$].  I’ve decided defer any angst I might have about this, and go straight to geek heaven…this post is only worth reading if you prefer boring analysis of municipal elections.

How many times have non-incumbents won an at-large City Council seat?

I’ll begin in 1989, since 1987 was the year of the first election under the new charter.

From 1989-2013 (12 elections), 18 non-incumbent candidates won.

Of those, four were what I’d consider special cases of candidates who were current municipal elected officials: Gary Rosen in 1995 (he was an incumbent School Committee member); Kate Toomey in 2005 (ditto); Mike Perotto in 2001 (he was an incumbent district councilor); and Rick Rushton in 2007 (ditto).

In 1989, there were only four incumbents running — all of them won re-election and two non-incumbents, John Anderson and Konnie Lukes (who had both previously been elected officials) won at-large seats.

In 1991, Robert Hennigan, Jr. won, but there was an open seat on the Council, as there was in 1993 when John Buell won, in 1999 when Dennis Irish won, in 2003 when Juan Gomez and Mike Perotto won, and in 2009 when Joe O’Brien won.

When did challengers beat incumbents?

In 1995, when Gary Rosen (a popular sitting School Committee member) bumped Robert Hennigan, Jr.

In 1997, when there was one open seat, and not one but two incumbents were voted out of office (Gary Rosen and John Buell) and newcomers Tim Murray, Joe Petty, and Stacey DeBoise were voted in.

In 2007, there were no open seats, and incumbents Dennis Irish and Mike Perotto were bumped in favor of Rick Rushton (a sitting D5 councilor who was also running for mayor) and Mike Germain.

The 2013 election is probably closest to 2005, when there was one open at-large seat, and an at-large councilor (Juan Gomez) was voted out, and two candidates who were well-known to voters, Kate Toomey and Gary Rosen, were voted in.

So, out of twelve elections, only two had cases where all six incumbents were running and at least one lost to a challenger (1995 and 2007).

It seems, at least from looking at 1997, 2005, and 2013, that an open seat presents the possibility of shaking up the Council greater than just that one seat.

But it’s even tougher to win a School Committee seat as a non-incumbent.

Since 1989, 18 non-incumbents have won seats on the School Committee — just like the City Council.

Only four five incumbents have lost to a challenger:

  • Edith Morgan, in 1997, when Ogretta McNeil and Raymond Loughlin, Jr. won seats.
  • Raymond Loughlin, Jr., in 1999, when Kate Toomey and Jack Foley won seats.
  • Robert Bogigian, in 2009, when Dianna Biancheria and Tracy O’Connell Novick won seats.
  • Mary J. Mullaney, in 2011, when Donna Colorio won a seat.
  • Donna Colorio, in 2013, when Hilda Ramirez won a seat.

Note that three four of those listed above — Morgan, Loughlin, Bogigian, and Colorio — were each wrapping up their first term on the School Committee.

In short, of the 18 non-incumbents who won seats to the School Committee, all but four five of them won an “empty” seat.  (So — 12 11 School Committee candidates and 8 at-large City Council candidates won an “empty” seat.)

As with the City Council, there appears to be a greater possibility of a shakeup when there is at least one empty seat.  But there’s also a very high likelihood that incumbents will continue to be re-elected.

How many people actually need to vote for you in order to win a citywide seat?

I find “how many” less interesting a question than “what percentage”…

I was a bit inspired by Mike’s charts of yesteryear, and wanted to see if I could figure out a pattern in what the lowest winning vote-getter got, percentage-wise.

Short answer: there is none.

This year, you could have won an at-large Council seat if 37% of the voters bubbled in your name; in 2007-2011, it was only 32-34%; in 2001-2003, it was as high as 45-46%!

To win a School Committee seat, it’s usually a slightly higher percentage.

For more information, look at the following boring charts (click to make them readable):

CC-SC results89-13 CC-SC results89-13_2

But no one showed up to vote!

Lest we forget, this year the City Council voted to compress the time candidates had to gather signatures by two months.  The deadline for signatures was May 21 this year; in previous years, it had been in mid-July.

Even with the compressed schedule, twelve candidates chose to run for at-large City Council, and nine for School Committee.  Three of the district races were contested.

But none of those district races had debates or forums, and the Chamber of Commerce did not sponsor any debates for City Council.

I’d be interested to see whether the presence of a contested district race increases turnout in those districts.  But that requires more time than I have at the moment.

I’d had a suspicion that a preliminary election would increase turnout, as there might be more coverage in the media and more debates.  But looking at the four races where there was an at-large preliminary (1993, 1995, 2007, 2011) didn’t bear out my suspicion.

One thing that doesn’t really seem to matter is the number of registered voters; in fact, it seems as though the more registered voters we have, the fewer people vote in municipal elections:

voter turnout 1987-2013

(note that I couldn’t find the number of registered voters for 2005)

For those who are interested in some numbers, and perhaps in doing some other analysis, I’ve posted the totals for city candidates in elections from 1987-2013 on Google Drive.

Note that this post was updated on November 12 due to a great comment, which helps to prove my point about open seats causing more electoral shakeup than just that empty spot.