EVERETT — Since casino mogul Steve Wynn sprinkled stardust on an old factory site on the Mystic River, residents have been swept up in Las Vegas-sized dreams.
The promise of new jobs, tax revenues, and other economic opportunity from the $1 billion resort casino Wynn proposes comes as Everett is poised to embark on a new era of local government.
Voters in November will elect the city’s first mayor who will serve a four-year term, and replace its 25-member bicameral legislature with an 11-member City Council.
A first step will come on Tuesday, when the preliminary election will eliminate one of three mayoral candidates and narrow the field for councilors in Wards 2, 5, and 6.
But it is the high-stakes mayor’s race that is expected to draw the most voters to the polls, choosing who’s the best candidate to lead the city if Wynn receives the license to build the Greater Boston- area casino, or if Everett must forge its economic future without it.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr., a six-year incumbent who negotiated the city’s host agreement with Wynn, is being challenged by two political veterans: Ward 1 Alderwoman Millie Cardello and Ward 5 Alderman Robert Van Campen.
City Clerk Michael Matarazzo estimates that 5,000 of the city’s 19,000 registered voters will cast ballots.
“I’d be surprised if we hit 6,000, but if the campaigns are out there hustling, making sure their supporters get out, we could have more,” Matarazzo said.
Some voters in this blue-collar city of 38,000 aren’t shy about voicing support for their candidate.
“I’m for Millie,” said Joanie Slama, 53, as she stood in Everett Square, holding a sign for Ward 2 council candidate Dennis DiBiase. “A woman can clean a house, and she can clean up City Hall.”
“Van Campen, that’s who I want,” said Mary Ann Zimmer, 67, as she sat on a bench in Everett Square. “Let’s face it. We need change. The taxes are sky-high in this city. Some of the elderly can’t afford to stay in their homes. Why should that be?”
But Emily Savickas, who sat in her wheelchair a few feet away, is firmly in DeMaria’s camp. “I’m going to vote for him,” said Savickas, 69, a retired mental health worker. “He supports the senior center. He’s very concerned with seniors’ needs.”
Others aren’t sure which candidate deserves the keys to City Hall for four years and the $105,000 annual salary that was approved by the Board of Aldermen and Common Council, up from the $85,000 the post previously paid.
“I like all three candidates and I don’t know yet who I’ll vote for,” said Ronald Senna 67, a homeowner for 13 years.
“I want to hear more about what their positions are before I decide,” said Charles Leo, 54, a retired Boston fish pier worker. “ I think the last couple of times, the mayor has run unopposed. But not this time.”
In the run-up to Tuesday’s primary election, the three candidates have been campaigning almost nonstop: Waving to motorists from rotaries, knocking on doors, or visiting senior housing complexes.
Each is quick to share their vision for Everett — with or without a casino.
Cardello, 62, the only woman and military veteran in the race, is proud of her native city.
“If not for joining the Air Force, I might never have ever left Everett,” said Cardello, who served for five years during the Vietnam era. “At the time, I had been laid off from a job at the airlines. A lot of my friends were serving. I thought it would be a great way for me to give back to my country.”
A former paralegal for the Middlesex district attorney’s office, Cardello is a 16-year elected official. She served six years on the School Committee, six years on the Common Council, and the last four on the Board of Aldermen.
“I enjoy helping people,” said Cardello, who is married and has a grown son. “And I haven’t completed everything I’d like to do.”
Cardello, who earned a degree from the University of Southern Mississippi while serving in the Air Force, is concerned about public safety, high property tax bills, and salaries at City Hall.
“I want to lower taxes,” said Cardello, who is chairwoman of the aldermen’s licensing committee. “You have to make really hard choices. You have to start cutting jobs that maybe you might not need.”
DeMaria, 40, was born and grew up in Everett. He was elected as a Ward 2 common councilor in 1994 and later to the Board of Aldermen. In 2007, he was elected to the first of three two-year terms.
“I’ve walked these streets for 20 years,” DeMaria said as he campaigned on Pierce Avenue, a tidy street near the Malden line. “Not just in election season. If there is a problem on a street, I visit.”
DeMaria and his wife, Stacie, have three young children. A graduate of Northeastern University, DeMaria owns four Honey Dew Donuts shops located in East Boston, Revere, and Winthrop.
“I manage those shops the same as I do the city, with good help, and keeping your eye on the bottom line,” he said.
On the campaign trail, DeMaria has heard residents’ cry for relief from high property taxes, rising water bills, and even issues over which he has very little control.
“Can you get those cable rates down?” asked Conrad Lattanzi, 82, a homeowner and supporter on Pierce Avenue.
“The problem is we don’t have any competition,” the mayor answered.
He said the city is working to help residents cope with an unexpected hike in water bills, which he said resulted from a recent program to replace old meters.
“A lot of the inside meters are accurately read, but a lot of the outside meters aren’t,” he said. “We’re working with residents on it.”
New commercial growth is the surest route to lowering tax and water bills, DeMaria said.
“We need to rebuild our community,” he said, identifying lower Broadway, a stretch of Route 99 near the proposed casino site. “There are used car lots and auto body shops and scrap yards down there now. Is that what the city of Everett should be known for? Or should we be known for something bigger and better, regardless if the casino comes in?”
A lawyer, Van Campen is the Melrose city solicitor, a position that has given him insight into municipal leadership, he said. As an alderman, he has worked on legislation to create a historic district in Everett, and on an ordinance to allow greater enforcement of city health codes to prevent overcrowding in housing.
“I have sat with developers in Melrose and have helped to bring development there,” he said, citing the Stone Place apartment complex near the Malden city line. “I’ve worked on deals to benefit that city; I would do the same here.”
“Everett can bring vibrancy, bring people who want to work here, raise their families here,” said Van Campen, 38, as he stood waving to motorists at the rotary at Routes 16 and 99. “Or people who want to bring their businesses here. I don’t think we’ve tapped that potential as much as we should.”
Van Campen, an alderman for 12 years, earned a bachelor’s and law degree from Suffolk University. He grew up in East Boston and Melrose before moving with his parents to Everett in 1992.
“I have a different perspective from the mayor and Millie because I wasn’t born here,” said Van Campen. “That’s an advantage for me in this election, not a disadvantage.”
Van Campen and his wife, Lisa, have two young children. “I know why my parents invested here, and why my wife and I also decided to invest here,” he said, citing the city’s tightknit neighborhoods. “I just think that type of perspective is different, and frankly, very refreshing for a city that’s no longer all about natives. It’s now about people coming here for other reasons.”