HOLYOKE — A city councilor and a town administrator will face off to become Holyoke’s next mayor after winning a tight preliminary election on Tuesday.
Councilor Michael Sullivan and Joshua Garcia, the town administrator of Blandford, prevailed in a crowded field of seven candidates that emerged after Mayor Alex B. Morse announced in January that he would not run for reelection. He resigned two months later after being hired as the town manager in Provincetown.
Unofficial results show Michael Sullivan as the top vote-getter in the race, receiving 1,431 ballots and Garcia received 1,127 votes.
The race was close, with candidates jockeying back and forth as different precincts reported results Tuesday night. At one time Garcia and opponent Rebecca Lisi, another city councilor, were just 1 vote apart. In the end, Garcia prevailed over Lisi by 111 votes.
Of the remaining candidates, Lisi finished third with 1,016 votes; School Committee member Devin Sheehan followed with 832 votes; William Glidden, a former mayoral aide, finished fifth with 523 ballots; academic Gloria Carabello Roca received 117 votes; and Christopher Kosinski received 38 votes. There were also 63 write-in votes.
Sullivan and Garcia each called the preliminary a first step and said they are looking forward to getting back on the campaign trail.
“Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we get back to work and let’s make it happen,” Garcia said after kissing his wife, hugging his two young children and thanking his supporters who gathered together at the Fiesta Cafe to wait for results.
Sullivan called his victory a “huge win” and credited his campaign team with a lot of hard work.
“I’ve known Josh for years. He’s a great candidate and I look forward to a spirited debate and a great election,” Sullivan said.
“It’s about bringing jobs back to Holyoke, capitalizing on our green energy, getting controls back on our schools and really just bringing Holyoke back. That’s what I’m about,” Sullivan added.
Garcia said long-term he looks forward to creating a flourishing community with improved management and infrastructure that embraces new businesses and growth.
Despite the large field of candidates, who have been canvassing the city for months, turnout was low with just under 19% of registered voters casting ballots, said Brenna Murphy McGee, city clerk. That was a bit lower than the 20% to 25% she predicted. McGee held five days of early voting last week, which garnered a few hundred sealed ballots ahead of Tuesday’s voting.
All polling places and Precinct 1B at City Hall observed COVID-19 protocols, including mandated masks worn in schools and municipal buildings. Voters cast their ballots on new tabulating machines featuring touchscreen technology. The tabulators replaced older machines bought 25 years ago.
The November ballot should see a 40% turnout, McGee said, especially with over two dozen City Council and a slate of School Committee candidates on the roster.
The winner in the Nov. 3 mayoral election will be sworn immediately instead of waiting for the traditional start date of January because the city is being managed by acting mayor Terence Murphy. Garcia said he already knows what he would like to do in his first week if elected.
“In a healthy community, October, November is when the budget process starts for the next fiscal year, and I do look forward to hitting the ground running on that process collaboratively with the council, collaboratively with our department heads so we can identify where our inefficiencies are in our local government and help bridge those gaps,” he said.
While the other candidates expressed disappointment at the outcome, they thanked their hardworking supporters and said they had no regrets about getting involved in the race.
Sheehan specifically recognized two of his supporters who are running for City Council and School Committee in November and told people to: “Go out and ... vote.”
“We can’t let people who want to harm other people be in charge of Holyoke,” he said. “The importance of democracy and the importance of getting out to vote matters. I am not upset. I am so proud of my family and my friends.”
He joked “This is one for the obit.”
Lisi also told supporters she was proud of the campaign they ran together and asked them to not dwell on the loss.
“We envisioned taking the steps to make real a city strengthened by the pillars of education, economic development, being welcoming to newcomers and civic engagement,” she said. “I call upon the new leaders of our great city to embrace these goals and make them real. Doing so enhances the life of each and every Holyoker, and when that happens we all win.”
Dennis Hohenberger contributed to this report.