After a campaign remarkable only for its civility, voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to stick with a mayor who has guided the city through hard times.
If he is reelected to a second two-year term, Democratic Mayor Art Ward would be the first mayor to return to office since 2001, when Frank Nicastro won the last of his five mayoral races.
Voters will also decide the fate of four incumbent city councilors, two Democrats and two Republicans, and perhaps whether to hand control of the council to the GOP for the first time since 1991.
Also on the ballot are races for the treasurer’s post, the Board of Assessment Appeals and constables, as well as an economic development referendum considered routine.
The Democrats start with a built-in advantage in terms of registration, claiming the allegiance of 41 percent of the city’s 34,142 registered voters. The Republicans have just 16 percent.
But after a blip last year where the Democrats outnumbered unaffiliated voters, those registering as independents again outnumber either party, with 42 percent of the total.
The GOP is counting on capturing not just independent voters but also many Democrats.
In the three-way mayoral contest, Republican Mary Alford and independent Gary Lawton are likely to split some of the anti-Ward vote, making it even more likely that Ward will return to his $98,000-a-year job at the helm of City Hall.
In the council contests, though, the Republicans have a shot at grabbing a majority if they can keep their two incumbents – Ken Cockayne and Mike Rimcoski – and snatch a couple of open seats in the 3rd District.
Despite a Democratic lock on the district for three decades, GOP contender David Mills is widely considered to have a reasonable chance of winning one of the 3rd District’s two seats. He had raised more money than any other council hopeful at the last reporting deadline.
Mills may even be strong enough to pull the other Republican candidate in the district in with him, political insiders said, giving Derek Czenczelewski a better shot that he would otherwise have.
The Democrats, though, are counting on their 3rd District candidates, Kate Matthews and Terry Parker, to succeed in recapturing the district for the party.
Two Democratic council incumbents, Kevin McCauley and Cliff Block, are aiming to keep their seats as well.
In the 1st District, Block and Rimcoski have to fend off challenges from two newcomers, Democrat Kevin Fuller and Republican Eldianne Bishop.
In the 2nd District, Cockayne and McCauley are in the sights of Democrat Allen Marko and Republican Richard Scarola.
In the race for the part-time treasurer’s slot, first-term incumbent Democrat Bill Veits is hoping to fend off Republican newcomer Rose Parenti.
Republicans have held the allegiance of 15 to 20 percent of the voters for many years. Their numbers have slipped only a little during the past five years.
Democrats, on the other hand, once had a commanding hold on the electorate.
In 1984, for example, 49 percent of city voters called themselves Democrats and only 32 percent were unaffiliated.
By 2004, just 39.5 percent of the city's electorate registered as Democrats, but during the past five years, the Democrats have made gains.
The polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Polling Places in Bristol:
Council District One
77A– Edgewood School – 345 Mix Street
77B – Northeast School - 530 Stevens Street
77C – Mountain View School – 71 Vera Road
Council District Two
78A – Chippens Hill Middle School – 551 Peacedale St.
78B – Clara T. O’Connell School – 120 Park Street
79A – South Side School – Tuttle Road
Council District Three
79B – American Legion – 22 Hooker Court
79C – Greene Hills School – 718 Pine Street
77D & 22 - Stafford School – 212 Louisiana Avenue
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org