Contested School Committee Campaign Not Before Voters

This story has been updated to reflect the comments of school committee President Scott W. Wood Jr.

Former School Committeeman Shaun P. Toohey.

Former School Committeeman Shaun P. Toohey.

An intense political campaign is underway as February begins. Hillary vs. Bernie in New Hampshire? The Donald vs. the Republican establishment in Iowa? No. It’s the one to fill a vacant Haverhill School Committee seat and voters won’t directly decide it.

This campaign isn’t following the tradition of door-to-door politicking, crowds of sign holders at busy intersections or even baby kissing. This battle—shaping up as Shaun P. Toohey vs. any of eight contenders, but most likely former School Committeeman Raymond J. Sierpina—is instead being waged in social media. This campaign is also not being managed by the candidates, but rather surrogates.

“Shaun Toohey should be in that seat. I have two children in the Haverhill school system. I truly believe we need Shaun Toohey on The Haverhill School Committee. He is dedicated to our city schools and has gone above and beyond with any issues brought to him. He was very active in getting Tilton School back where it should be,” wrote Julie Cadorette Dimakis on Facebook.

Former School Committeeman Raymond J. Sierpina.

Former School Committeeman Raymond J. Sierpina.

“If going by their resume, the obvious choice would be Ray Sierpina who has the most experience of anybody,” wrote Jeff Grassie on the Facebook page of School Committeeman Paul A. Magliocchetti.

Magliocchetti started the conversation on his page by asking for input on his contention two members of the school committee and a city councilor have fatal conflicts of interests and cannot vote “‘objectively and fairly’ as required by law.” He said Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello is Toohey’s sister-in-law, Scott W. Wood Jr. is someone who does business with Toohey and new-City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua heads the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce where Toohey’s business, Seaman and Toohey Insurance, is a member. Ryan-Ciardiello said she has already received clearance from the State Ethics Commission, which typically is concerned only with an official’s “parents, children, siblings, spouse, and spouse's parents, children and siblings.”

Wood, in a statement released this morning, also said the state has given him the go-ahead to vote.

“First and foremost, (Toohey and I) are not business partners. We work for the same company in completely different roles. Neither one of us works for the other. Second, I have been in contact with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission and I have spoken with their general counsel who has said that I do not have any conflict of interest nor am I in violation of any state law if I vote,” Wood said.

Magliocchetti also argued for Sierpina. He said Bevilacqua, whose former school committee seat is at the center of the dispute, “was chosen in the November of 2013 election. Taking Gail Sullivan out of the picture, the runner up in Bevilacqua’s 4-year term election was Ray Sierpina.”

Countering Magliocchetti’s position is City Clerk Linda L. Koutoulas’ research showing the runner-up in the “most recent election” has filled school committee vacancies three out of four times since 1967. The one exception was a special election in 1973—one the state now says was probably illegal.

A special committee of the mayor, city council and remaining school committee members are expected to name a replacement school committee member at a meeting taking place Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 6 p.m.

Fiorentini Calls for Possible City Charter Change

What is shaping up as the most bitter electoral contest in years—albeit without voters—has Mayor James J. Fiorentini vowing on social media, “I am also strongly considering asking the council to amend the charter so that this never happens again.” The mayor has made his position clear. He told WHAV Open Mike Show listeners last week that while he has sparred the most with Toohey over the years, tradition favors Toohey taking the seat.

Each side has its supporters. Favoring Magliocchetti’s position on social media was Michael Gallant, who served four years as an aide to Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives. Democrat O’Connor Ives has faced off against Republican Toohey in senate elections in 2012 and 2014. Magliocchetti’s post also received “likes” from the spouses of school committee members Gail M. Sullivan and Sven A. Amirian, Team Haverhill Vice President Tim Jordan, Team Haverhill board members Lisa Marzilli and Rebecca York, former Haverhill Education Association (HEA) President Joseph V. Cunha and at least 37 others.

Dimakis is urging the 33 people so far who liked her post to show up at Tuesday’s special meeting in support of Toohey. Her post won the support of Bevilacqua and Ryan-Ciardiello.

“Let’s rally together and show up on Tuesday...at Haverhill City Council Chambers and support Shaun Toohey. We need Shaun’s voice for our schools and our children,” she wrote.

All Eyes on Vargas, LePage, Daly O’Brien

With all but three elected officials firmly taking positions, attention has turned to City Councilors Andy Vargas, Colin F. LePage and Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien.

Vargas’ only visible position has been to encourage residents to submit resumes to be considered for the position and nine people complied. Besides former School Committeemen Toohey and Sierpina, they are Emily Lawrence-Boulger, founder of Shoe Town Art Center; Dr. Kimberly A Waligora, Northern Essex Community College science professor; Katrina Hobbs-Everett, city council candidate; Susan D. Danehy, former school committee member; Deborah A Sasso-Flanagan, recently retired Haverhill High Classical Academy dean; Mikaela Lalumiere, Greater Lawrence Technical School instructor; and Angelica “Toni” Acevedo, city Community Affairs Advisory Board member.

2 thoughts on “Contested School Committee Campaign Not Before Voters

  1. Is the School Committee attempting to advocate for friends and family? Sounds like a set-up to me. And why wouldn’t Ray Serpina be given the position?????