Bevilacqua Cries Foul Over Reports Colleagues Won’t Elect Him Haverhill Council President

Haverhill City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua. (WHAV News file photograph by Jay Saulnier)

Although he was the top vote-getter, Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua at this point doesn’t have the support of his colleagues to become president of the Haverhill City Council in January.

City Councilor Melinda E. Barrett. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Instead, the majority of councilors say they are leaning toward naming former Council Vice President Melinda E. Barrett as president and Colin F. LePage as vice president on inauguration day. Bevilacqua told WHAV Sunday councilors should honor a 50-year tradition where most times, but not always, the highest vote-getter gets the nod. He said he first learned election night of trouble ahead when he congratulated a fellow member on his win.

“And he said to me, ‘we have to talk.’ The minute he said that to me, I knew there was a problem. I couldn’t imagine what it could be because I’ve known—having worked for the city for so many years—I’ve known the tradition has been that whoever was the top vote recipient became the Council president,” he said.

A person closely associated with councilors summed up the factors weighing against Bevilacqua, saying “he has a long history of grandstanding, throwing others under the bus and, when he gets push back, acts like a victim. It has left him in a precarious position.”

Haverhill City Council President John A. Michitson. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Sitting Council President John A. Michitson, second highest vote-getter, told WHAV he doesn’t want the job, saying, “I’m stepping aside so I can focus on the key issues that have not been addressed enough, and not spend so much time on the administration of the City Council.” He said he’s not showing his cards on how he plans to vote Jan. 6, but noted, “How one handles this kind of situation is quite telling.”

Bevilacqua said he emailed all of his colleagues last Thursday and spoke to six councilors by telephone. He learned he did not have their support. Each person he reached didn’t challenge his qualifications, but accused him of not going along, especially on hot topics like recreational marijuana; making them take “tough votes” and campaigning “too hard.”

Bevilacqua remarks, “And one actually told me they’re going to ‘punish me.’ That’s an actual quote from a city councilor that they’re going to punish me and not elect me president.”

He said an unnamed person close to other councilors told him they had been “plotting” against him the last 30 days in the event he became the highest vote-getter. All others, who asked not to be identified by name, said the issue did not come up in advance of the election.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Bevilacqua has the support of Mayor James J. Fiorentini and an informal group of voters who have invited the public to hear their concerns Thursday, 6 p.m., at Battlegrounds Coffee, downtown. Adding intrigue to the debate is a feeling among some that Fiorentini will step down during his term, allowing the Council president to become acting mayor. The mayor disputes the rumor, saying, “I’m not resigning, but if I were to die, there would be a special election. The voters will decide.” Bevilacqua agrees some councilors are thinking ahead to the next mayor, but that other members want to be able to pick a likely successor.

Bevilacqua garnered 6,029 votes—the only Council candidate to break the 6,000-vote mark. Bevilacqua says he was also elected five times to the School Committee and was usually the top vote-getter in that race too. He said while he is disappointed by what appears will be the outcome, his family is most upset.

“That’s not what this is about. This is about the voter, to respect the will of the voter as has been done in past year. So, if you go back, you go back to John Guerin, Mike Hart, (Michael) Bresnahan, Brian Dempsey, Ted Pelosi—who had multiple terms as president, John Michitson—who had multiple terms as president. It’s been a tradition of the city that the City Council would respect the voters and elect as City Council president as top vote recipient,” he said

He said he asked a question of each councilor with whom he spoke. “Don’t you respect the voters, and they said, ‘it’s not about the voters, it’s about us. We make the decision and, in two years, they’ll forget all about this.”

City councilors are paid $15,000 annually and the council president receives an extra $3,000. Bevilacqua said he is not interested in a lesser title such as vice president.

City Council rules do not specify the highest vote recipient becomes president. Instead, the rules indicate, “The City Council shall, by majority vote of all members elected, elect a president and vice president from its own members; and the persons elected shall likewise make oath to perform faithfully the duties of the respective offices to which they are so elected at the same meeting, except any member-elect not present shall make oath at the first regular meeting of the City Council thereafter which s/he attends.”

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