Newton voters will face an unprecedented choice this November, as they’ll decide between two women candidates on the ballot in the city’s mayoral election. And regardless of their decision Nov. 2, the city’s electorate is poised to make even more history this fall.
They’ll either reelect a woman to the mayor’s office for the first time, or elect the city’s first Asian American resident to serve as its chief executive.
The contest between Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who was the first woman elected to mayor in Newton, and challenger Amy Mah Sangiolo, a longtime city councilor, hit full steam this week after the pair were the top two finishers in Tuesday’s preliminary election.
In separate interviews Wednesday, Fuller and Sangiolo each pledged an all-out effort to broaden outreach for their campaigns and build support before the November vote.
Fuller, who was first elected as mayor in 2017 to a four-year term, has been the city’s steward during the pandemic crisis. Some city mayors -- including in Somerville and Lynn -- are not seeking reelection this year, but Fuller said she is committed to continuing as mayor.
“At a time when some mayors are saying it’s time to step back, I’m leaning forward, I’m rolling up my sleeves,” Fuller said. “We’re going to get through COVID, and we’ll come through with the wind on our back, and continue to do the good work for this good city.”
Sangiolo, who came in second Tuesday after launching her campaign in June, said Newton residents are concerned about the future of the city, and many do not feel they are being heard by the current administration.
Sangiolo said she has worked throughout her career on issues like protecting the environment and supporting the rights of immigrants. She pointed to her long career on the City Council, and said she would bring a similar approach to serving as Newton’s mayor.
Sangiolo, a lawyer and environmental activist, works as a consumer specialist in the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.
“My whole life has been dedicated to pushing forward with progressive values,” Sangiolo said. “During my 20 years on the City Council, I made sure people knew exactly where I stood.”
The two are expected to meet up next month during an Oct. 14 debate organized by the Charles River Regional Chamber and hosted by the group’s president, Greg Reibman.
Unlike the taut nail-biter that unfolded in Boston’s mayoral preliminary Tuesday, Newton’s vote saw a clear first place finish for a candidate on election night.
Fuller took a more than 1,600-vote lead Tuesday over Sangiolo going into November. But Sangiolo secured nearly 40 percent of the ballots cast in the election, according to data released by the city clerk’s office.
Fuller had 5,926 votes Tuesday, while Sangiolo had 4,247 votes, according to unofficial figures released by the city clerk’s office. A third candidate, Albert Cecchinelli, had 661 votes. The Tuesday election outcome means Fuller and Sangiolo will appear together on the Nov. 2 ballot.
On Tuesday, Newton’s city clerk reported 17 percent of Newton’s registered voters -- 10,853 people -- cast ballots in the preliminary election Tuesday. Newton has 62,901 registered voters.
Fuller carried seven of Newton’s eight wards Tuesday, while Ward 4 went to Sangiolo, who was a longtime Ward 4 councilor-at-large.
This isn’t the first time Fuller and Sangiolo have faced off in a contest for the Newton mayor’s office. In 2017, they were part of a seven-candidate field that emerged after then-Mayor Setti Warren announced he wouldn’t seek a third term as mayor.
Fuller and Sangiolo appeared with five other candidates on that year’s preliminary election ballot. About 24 percent of Newton voters participated in the 2017 preliminary election, and Fuller came out in first place. Sangiolo came in third, behind then-City Council President Scott F. Lennon.
Fuller ultimately won the city’s general election that year over Lennon to become the first woman elected as Newton’s mayor.
On Tuesday night, both Fuller and Sangiolo celebrated the results of the election, and looked ahead to the final contest on Nov. 2. Each has called on backers to help build support for the campaigns ahead of the next vote.
Fuller, in a statement Tuesday night, told supporters she was honored by the result Tuesday and the support she received across the city. The mayor pointed to investments in the city’s schools, including full-day kindergarten, money for roads and other projects, creation of new housing, and implementation of a climate plan during her tenure.
She said the city listened to “medical experts, helped the vulnerable, and supported our small businesses” during the pandemic.
“Newtonians are optimistic about the direction of the City and the voters sent a clear message that they want the work of my administration to continue,” Fuller said in the statement.
In an interview Wednesday, Fuller said she communicates frequently with the people of Newton during her tenure as mayor, is prioritizing the needs of the city’s youngest and oldest residents, supporting its schools, and will build a new senior center.
Residents “know me, they know they can always get a hold of me. They understand how I make decisions, that I lead with a steady hand and a compassionate heart,” Fuller said. “They have seen me lead during an unimaginable crisis, and believe in the direction the city is going.”
Sangiolo told supporters Tuesday that she was pleased with the support of so many Newton residents, and looked forward to earning the support of more city voters.
People have lost confidence in the city’s schools, are concerned about the pace of development in Newton, and seek equity and inclusion in decision-making that affects the city, according to Sangiolo.
“So many of our citizens think we can and should do better. I’m running for mayor because I know we can do better,” Sangiolo told supporters. “I look forward to leading an administration that is bold, inclusive, and effective.”
Tuesday’s election results show there is no mandate for the current administration, she said in an interview.
“And that is what we are hearing on the ground, that is what motivated me to run: the concept of making sure we have bold, accountable, responsive leadership here in the city,” Sangiolo said.
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.