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Brown wins 'the people's seat'

Turnout over 50 percent for most of the region

State Rep. Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton,works for Martha Coakley as Don Burrows holds a sign for Scott Brown as the two did some last-minute campaigning on Chestnut Street Tuesday. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
January 20, 2010


SOUTHBRIDGE — When the American people are upset about politics, they turn out in droves.

That was certainly something Tuesday's special election demonstrated all over the Bay State, despite slick roads and a sky spitting drizzle and occasional snowflakes.

Record numbers of people were streaming into polling places all day to cast ballots that sent Republican State Sen. Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate by a 52-47 margin over Attorney General Martha Coakley.

In his lengthy, quip-laden victory speech, the new senator pledged to "start fresh" on reforming health care, propose "across the board tax cuts for businesses and people," help veterans, and use taxes to "pay for weapons to stop [terrorists], not lawyers to defend them."

"I got to Washington as the representative of no faction, no special interest, answering only to my conscience and you, the people," Brown said. "… I'm nobody's senator except yours."

Conceding defeat, Coakley praised her campaign volunteers, saying, "I will never forget the passion, the energy and the soul everyone brought to this."

"This is the deal — although our campaign ends tonight, we know our mission continues," she said, later concluding with, "there's plenty of work to do here in Massachusetts and as we continue to organize for America."

Locally, Brown's victory came with a slightly larger than average margin, as 4,123 Southbridgians (34 percent) cast ballots. According to Town Clerk Madaline Daoust, that represents about twice as many voters as participated in the last town election. When the tallies were done, Brown had received 2,271 votes (55.1 percent) to Coakley's 1,748 (42.4 percent), with Libertarian Joseph Kennedy taking 98.

"I'm pleased with the turnout," she said. "Let's face it, the primary was dead."

She said she didn't expect such a response "at the very beginning," but started seeing a lot of interest in absentee ballots (more than 250) as the campaign developed. One of them went to a man "who didn't even know we'd changed the polling places in 2004 — he hadn't voted in years," she added.

Ironically, although it was a good turnout for Southbridge, it was very low for the state as a whole. According to town-by-town figures at boston.com, most communities saw turnouts exceeding 50 percent, and quite a few exceeded 70 percent (highest was Sherborn, 77 percent). Southbridge wasn't alone in seeing less than 40 percent turnout, however; the others were Chelsea, Fall River, Gosnold, Holyoke, Lawrence (the lowest, at 28 percent), Lowell, Lynn, New Bedford and Springfield.

To Councilor Steven Lazo, a Republican, the outcome is "history [heralding] the wave that will happen across the country the next election." He said he expected Brown to win in part because Coakley "took him for granted, and when he started gaining on her, it was too late [for her] to regain momentum."

He argued the Democrats would have done better if they picked U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano as their candidate, largely because he has experience running a Congressional campaign.

For many of those who voted, the federal health insurance bill was the big single issue, but that was often seen as a symbol of larger problems with government.

"I don't like what the Congress is doing to us — and you can emphasize 'to us,'" said Ken Boland after voting at the senior center. "They're usurping all of the authority of the people and making promises they don't keep. How can we have any faith [in the system]? And that's an awful way to feel."

To him, and several others, both major parties have the same problem in Washington — they're too beholden to lobbyists for unions, corporations, lawyers, the insurance industry and "big pharma," among others, to listen to the people.

"I'm almost embarrassed for them because they're committing such flagrant defiance of what the people want," Boland added.

He was specifically referring to the health overhaul, which he argues is so complicated even they don't know what's in it. From what he's heard of it's "talking points," Boland said he feels it might "do a lot of good, but also do a lot of bad and financially it'll do a lot of harm." Yet, he feels the congressional leadership plans to force it through despite highly-publicized opposition.

Wayne Mercure, talking at the Community Center, shared Boland's view, saying he sees the whole process in Congress as "virtually buying votes, and that's outrageous." Regarding the health issue, he said the debate has "too much innuendo," and the 2,000-page bill is "in lawyer-speak" and intentionally confusing.

"I'm tired of the arrogance of the current administration," he said. But he was bipartisan in his condemnation, adding the people should "vote out everybody and put in a new bunch."

Ironically, Mercure noted he came out to vote in large part because late Sen. Edward Kennedy's clan wasn't involved. (The Libertarian candidate is not related.)

"If the Kennedys had been running and this were a regular Senate election, I probably wouldn't have bothered because they'd win," he said.

For Sally Thurston, the health bill is "complicated and long," but doesn't seem to do what she wants it to do — make care available to everybody. To her, "nothing's happening" on that front, despite all the talk.

"More should be put into the heart of America instead of greedy corporations," she said. "I think Obama started that way, but, a year later, I'm no longer sure."

Among other things, she wants to see changes in education that favor veteran teachers, rather than encouraging the hiring of cheaper newcomers, plus more work "on highways and tolls so it doesn't cost so much."

One noticeable thing about today's election — probably in part due to the weather — was the paucity of signholders, or even free-standing signs. A few of the latter and two people were outside the community center for a while during the afternoon — pro-Brown resident Don Burrows and pro-Coakley Rep. Geraldo Alicea.

"I see the way things are going in Washington and I'm afraid for the country," Burrows said, wearing a U.S. Air Force cap with multiple service ribbons. "We hear a lot about 'socialism,' but our greatest threat is Islamic fundamentalists, jihadists. They're working their way in, and nobody seems to notice that."

Burrows said he believes Brown "can make a difference" in Washington and won't vote party line, but Alicea said he essentially has during his tenure in the state senate.

Before he left to help shuttle voters to the polls, Alicea noted there aren't many signs but there has been a strong effort to get out the vote. In Southbridge alone, he said, a six-line Democratic phone bank has been going all day.

Both, and several poll workers, noted they were "really heartened by the turnout since I've been here," in Burrows' words. While they talked, the flow of cars entering the Armory was basically steady, a few rolling windows down to say hi.

Gus Steeves can be reached at 508-909-4135 or by e-mail at gsteeves@stonebridgepress.com.

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