With the filing deadline on Tuesday, three candidates are hoping to unseat Newton’s mayor, Setti Warren, who has sailed through much of his first term despite a brief run for US Senate and turmoil within the Police Department.
Ted Hess-Mahan, a former Warren supporter who has been an alderman for 10 years, was the first of the challengers to make official his bid for Newton’s highest office, gathering enough signatures to secure his place on the ballot almost two weeks before the deadline.
“A lot of the reasons I supported Mayor Warren in the campaign are the same reasons I’m running now,” said Hess-Mahan. “They’re things I feel he hasn’t followed through on.”
Warren, for his part, collected so many signatures that the city clerk stopped counting them.
Tom Sheff, host of NewTV’s “Veracity” and vice president of a Newton nonprofit, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2005, reached the requisite 400 last week. As of Thursday, Jacqueline Gauvreau Sequeira, a political activist and whistle-blower in the priest sexual abuse scandal, was a little more than halfway there.
All signatures must be certified. A preliminary election will be held Sept. 17 to narrow the field to two candidates; the general election will be held Nov. 5.
“I am committed to being the mayor for the next four years,” said Warren. “I love this job. I’m passionate about this job. I grew up in this community, I live in the same house where I grew up, and I am excited, I am so proud, of what we’ve done in the last four years.”
Warren secured contracts with all the city’s unions that brought compensation and health care spending in line with revenue growth, saving a projected $178 million over five years. And he said his zero-based budgeting has saved $15 million over the last 3½ years.
In March, voters approved an $11.4 million override Warren championed to rebuild three elementary schools, hire more teachers and police officers, and fix aging facilities.
“That wasn’t by accident,” he said. “That was really the last four years of working extremely hard to get our financial house in order.”
Warren’s first term has not been without bumps. He upset some residents by running for US Senate in 2011, and disputes within the Police Department have led to a $1.1 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the city.
Hess-Mahan, 53, is currently an at-large Ward 3 alderman and chairman of the land use committee. He is running for alderman again in addition to running for mayor — though he said he may drop out of the alderman race if enough qualified candidates enter. His ideal seat, he said, is in the mayor’s office.
“If I do win, I will serve as mayor and I will serve a full four years,” Hess-Mahan said. “No one ever has to question the veracity of that.”
Hess-Mahan said he felt the mayor has pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch, failing to deliver on campaign promises and running for Senate just 18 months into his term.
“I think people should question whether he’s 100 percent committed to being mayor or whether he’s committed to following his ambition for higher office,” said Hess-Mahan.
But Warren said he intends to serve a full second term. He said he was recently approached about leading the state Democratic party, as was first reported by Boston Magazine, but he said he turned that offer down to focus on Newton.
Hess-Mahan said he has recently been troubled by what he called a lack of transparency and public process in government.
“In the last few months, a lot of the issues that have sort of been overlooked for the past few years all of a sudden seem to be coming home to roost,” said Hess-Mahan.
He pointed to the recent decision by the city to undo nearly completed construction on a Newton Centre intersection, the process the city is using to develop a mixed-use project on Austin Street, and the mayor’s June announcement that he would block federal funding for a homeless housing project in Waban as examples of decisions made behind closed doors.
During his long tenure on the land use committee, Hess-Mahan said he has been involved in many major projects, including Chestnut Hill Square, and has “a record of ensuring an open and transparent and honest process.”
Sheff, 50, has unsuccessfully run for several offices including alderman, mayor and governor’s council, but said those experiences will only help him in the mayoral race. An Independent, he said he could represent everyone in the city.
While Sheff campaigned for Warren four years ago, he said he was upset by the mayor’s Senate run and by the override.
“We should be living off our needs, not our wants,” he said. “We have to make the tough decisions. That’s one of the things Setti promised us — and he hasn’t delivered.”
Sheff said that if elected, he would look for cost savings in the school budget and strengthen early learning with full-day kindergarten.
Gauvreau Sequeira, 71, has never held political office, though she said she has always been involved in local politics as an activist. She criticized Warren for his Senate run and for his handling of the problems in the police department.
She said her lack of political experience would not be an issue.
“I’ve always had a political opinion,” she said. “And I vote. And I think that’s the most important thing. It’s not what your label is; it’s what you do about it.”