POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Elections Massachusetts Style

by David Trumbull

June 1, 2007

In order to prevent those, who are vested with authority, from becoming oppressors, the people have a right, at such periods and in such manner as they shall establish by their frame of government, to cause their public officers to return to private life; and to fill up vacant places by certain and regular elections and appointments. --Massachusetts Constitution Part One Article VIII

Now we know. Anthony Petruccelli will be our next Senator in the General Court for the First Suffolk and Middlesex District. He prevailed with 60% of the vote over his rival for the Democratic nomination, Daniel Rizzo, by 7,836 to 5,238 votes.

Mr. Rizzo, as expected, did very well in his hometown of Revere, leading 3,628 to 1,031. But Petruccelli's strengths in the other three municipalities easily offset those votes. The results were:

Boston: Petruccelli 3,673; Rizzo, 635
Cambridge: Petruccelli, 1,360; Rizzo, 473
Winthrop: Petruccelli, 1,768; Rizzo, 592.

Turnout was low. In Boston less than 15% of registered voters participated. The few who voted -- about eight percent of the population of the district-- decided for the rest who will be our senator.

Actually, the final election is not until June 26th, but the East Boston Democrat has no Republican or other opposition. Petruccelli is a likeable fellow, with a good record of attention to his constituents as Representative in the General Court. And he ran a very competent campaign for the primary election on May 29th. But you'd think that out of a population of over 160,000 at least one person would have stepped up to give a voters a choice in the final election.

Sadly for Massachusetts voters, a ballot with only one name on it is common, even pervasive. In the November 2006 state senate elections 22 of the 36 Democrats were unopposed. Uncompetitive elections have a bipartisan character in the Bay State, as four Republicans were reelected with no opposition. Republicans are a small minority in the state senate --five out of 40 members. But they enjoy exceptional job security --an 80% change of drawing no opposition for reelection!

Add up the uncontested "contests." In 26 out of 40 districts the voters were presented with but one candidate. Do we believe those voters --65% of the Commonwealth-- are so contented with the status quo that they wouldn't like to have at least some alternative?

Shortly, Mr. Petruccelli will be sworn in as senator. If past performance is a guide, we can expect to enjoy his representation of our district for many years to come. The man he replaces held that seat for 14 years with no serious electoral challenge in either the primary or general election during most of the biennial contests. Senator Petruccelli may feel like the new kid on the block in his new office, for 19 of his 39 fellow senators have been in that office for ten or more years.

So there you have it. 13,256 people out of 160,000 have given us the man who will, in all likelihood, be our senator for the next decade. That's democracy. But it's not a healthy democracy when there are so few choices. But that does not detract from Mr. Petruccelli's victory. And I wish him well in his new office of trust. He won the contest honestly through hard work and attention to his constituents. Congratulations Senator Petruccelli!