Curtatone wins mayoral prelim, challenger sees hope for general

A promotional lawn sign for Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone is pictured on Sept. 10. Alexander Thompson / The Tufts Daily

The results of yesterday’s preliminary election for Somerville mayor led both camps to declare victory.

Joe Curtatone, Somerville’s incumbent mayor of 15 years, won the three-way contest with 57.49% of the vote, while his main challenger, Marianne Walles, a social worker and activist, garnered 37.12%. The percentage Walles racked presents the closest race against Curtatone in a decade.

Local elections in Massachusetts are non-partisan, and if any office is contested by more than two candidates, a preliminary election is held to determine which two candidates advance to the general election, which takes place on Nov. 5.

The presence of three candidates‚ — Curtatone, Walles and Kenneth C. Van Buskirk — forced a preliminary election. Van Buskirk received 4.74% of the vote and will not advance to the general election. Write-ins accounted for 0.65%.

Despite coming second, Walles was encouraged by the results.

“I’m very excited. It clearly indicates that the city is looking for some change,” Walles said in an interview with the Daily after the unofficial results had been published.

Walles said that going into the day she had been hoping to top 30% and thanked her supporters and campaign workers for helping her do much better than that.

Walles spent the day knocking on doors around Somerville to get out the vote, pitching voters the simple message that she is looking out for the best interests of Somerville.

Curtatone was unable to be reached for comment last night, but in a Facebook post from early yesterday, the mayor urged people to head to the polls.

“It’s been my honor over the years to work on behalf of the people of this city. We do what others don’t think is possible because we’re a city that’s never forgotten we’re in this together,” he wrote.

He went on to tout his achievements as mayor in the areas of transportation, the environment, housing and combating the opioid crisis.

Walles said that the town-gown relationship was key campaign issue and pointed to her role working on the Tufts Payment in Lieu of Taxes Project of Our Revolution Somerville, a left-wing advocacy group, and with the Tufts Housing League.

“[Voters’] taxes have gone up over the last few years, and Tufts hasn’t been paying their fair share, so it’s very concerning for the residents of Somerville,” Walles said.

Walles admits that she has a long way to go to reach the 50% she’ll need to prevail in the general election, and she plans to campaign for the votes of Tufts students registered to vote in Somerville to help close the gap.

“I have stood by [Tufts students’] side hearing their issues, standing with them, especially with the Tufts Housing League around the tiered housing, their need for a high-density dorm. I’m hearing them,” Walles said. “They want Tufts to be a responsible community partner, and I think that my work with Tufts students speaks for itself.”

Curtatone, however, will not be easy to topple. He crushed his opponent, Payton Corbett, in the 2017 mayoral election, winning 73% of the vote even after Corbett pulled 35% in the preliminary election and was endorsed by Our Revolution Somerville, which has now endorsed Walles.

However, this was after the Boston Globe published offensive social media posts that Corbett had made and Our Revolution dropped its endorsement.

Curtatone supporters were camped out near many of the polling stations in the Tufts area for most of the day with signs, though they declined to speak with reporters.

The preliminary election’s predictive power is limited considering the meager turnout. The Somerville Election Commission does not publish turnout with its unofficial results, so they are not yet available for yesterday’s election, but the turnout in 2017 reached only 9.6%.

There was only a small trickle of voters at the West Somerville School to cast their votes yesterday afternoon.

Henry Talberth (A’72), a professor at Cummings School of Dental Medicine, was in and out of the polling station in a matter of minutes. 

“I think all politics is local, and I knew it wouldn’t take long,” he chuckled.

Talberth said that he had cast his vote for Curtatone, calling him a good advocate for Somerville.

“Though it was a losing effort, I really appreciated his very, very vocal opposition to the casino in Everrett, and he seems engaged with the community,” Talberth said.

Jack and Eleanor Madison, who also voted at the West Somerville School yesterday, voted for Walles and let their distaste for the mayor be known.

“We know of his family,” Eleanor Madison said. “And of his reputation,” Jack Madison finished.

Both candidates must now turn their attention to the general election and the thousands of voters who did not vote yesterday but will in November.