NEWTON — With less than three weeks to go before Newton’s preliminary election, the mayoral race is practically invisible, save a lawn sign here or there, but the candidates say they expect the contest to heat up after Labor Day.
“Over the summer, obviously, people’s minds are on the beach or on vacation,” said Alderman Ted Hess-Mahan, who, along with Tom Sheff and Jacqueline Gauvreau Sequeira, is challenging incumbent Mayor Setti Warren.
All four say they plan to attend a League of Women Voters of Newton candidate forum scheduled for Sept. 12, five days before the Sept. 17 preliminary, which will narrow the field of candidates to two. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 5.
Warren, who is running for a second term, said he has been recruiting volunteers and fund-raising, building the foundation for a grass-roots campaign.
“We’ll be doing door-knocking and phone calls over the course of the coming weeks,” he said. “I’ll be doing a lot of meet-and-greets and house parties throughout the city that we have scheduled and lined up through September and October.”
He has already put out about 500 lawn signs, he said, and requests for more come in every day. He declined to say how much money has been raised so far, but said he feels “very good” about it.
Warren, 43, said he wants to make sure residents know his record — producing a capital plan, securing contracts with all the city’s unions, and getting voters to approve a $11.4 million override to rebuild schools, hire more teachers and police officers, and fix aging facilities.
Several residents walking through Newton Centre Thursday morning were unable to name all four candidates, and some did not realize there was a preliminary election coming up.
Hess-Mahan, a lawyer who is also running for Ward 3 at-large alderman, said he has begun fund-raising, and had collected $4,700 by Friday. He recently launched a website and Facebook page, has started distributing signs around the city, and has been meeting with a “kitchen cabinet” to discuss strategy and policy. A team of volunteers, he said, is working to organize fund-raisers and events for after the preliminary. He has also appeared on local television programs.
“I’m spending a lot of time meeting with people directly, talking to my supporters, having them help me get more support,” he said. “I understand you’re not gonna see the shock and awe of seeing 1,000 lawn signs across the city, or bombarding the city with mailings. It really is a grass-roots campaign, and I’m running it on a shoestring because I have to.”
An alderman for the past 10 years and the current chairman of the board’s land use committee, Hess-Mahan, 53, has been involved in much of the city’s economic development, including Chestnut Hill Square.
While he supported Warren four years ago, Hess-Mahan has criticized the mayor for what he calls a lack of transparency, and for making a run for US Senate just a year and a half into his first term.
Sheff, an independent, said he has been knocking on doors and making phone calls to independent voters. He is active on social media, with a website and Facebook page that have been live for several weeks, and said he has an intern working as his campaign manager. He appeared on a local cable show, and said he recently purchased signs for people to hold at polling places.
He is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and has said that instead of turning to overrides, the city should look to cut costs.
Sheff, 50, is listed as vice president of a local nonprofit called Second Life Computers, which refurbishes old computers. He has run unsuccessfully for public office a number of times, including once for mayor in 2005.
He said his plan for the next few weeks is to keep getting out and talking to voters.
“It’s cost effective. I’m the fiscally responsible candidate, and my costs are low,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll pay off when they see me on the ballot.”
Gauvreau Sequeira, 71, who became known as a whistle-blower during the priest sexual abuse scandal, said she has been strengthening her base and reaching out to voters “wherever I happen to be.” She appeared with Sheff on the local cable show, and said she has ordered signs and plans to send out a mailing soon.
She has criticized Warren for his attempted Senate run, as well as his firing of the police chief in 2012. She said she is also concerned about safety on the roads, citing the threats of falling tree branches. Erosion caused by cutting down trees is also an issue, she said.
In the run-up to the preliminary, she said she plans to continue working on the issues, establishing her committee, and “to forge ahead.”
The race so far this year is much quieter than it was four years ago, when Warren was running against four other candidates for the seat vacated by longtime mayor David Cohen.
“It was a very, very vigorous race,” said Ken Parker, a candidate who lost in the preliminary election in 2009. “When we had the open seat last time, people ran vigorous campaigns for two years.”
Several residents walking through Newton Centre Thursday were unable to name all four candidates, and some did not realize there was a preliminary election coming up.
“I only know Setti Warren,” said David Blume, who lives in Waban and said he will not vote until the general election in November.Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.