In his own words, Everett city councilor and mayoral candidate Fred Capone is a low-key sort of guy. He’s not flashy like his opponent, longtime incumbent Carlo DeMaria Jr. Capone related in a recent interview that a local priest “told me I need to toot my own horn more often.” Indeed, before this year’s campaign, Capone had rarely been in the spotlight at all — and never for the kind of unproven corruption allegations that have dogged DeMaria for most of the time he’s led this city of nearly 50,000 people.
But by the same token, Capone doesn’t have a track record of thinking big about Everett and its future the way DeMaria has. Whatever one thinks of him — and he tends to provoke strong reactions — DeMaria has certainly been one of the more transformative mayors in Greater Boston, bringing a lucrative casino to the city, stewarding the creation of thousands of housing units, improving bus transit, fixing up the city’s parks and streets, and making progress in reconnecting the city to its waterfront.
Two decades ago, if people outside Everett thought of the city at all, it was as the place scrap metal went to and peanut butter came from. Now, Everett is home to trendy breweries, and the Globe Magazine recently named the city one of the top places to live north of Boston, a laurel DeMaria’s supporters often tout to show how much the city’s once-hardscrabble reputation has changed under 14 years of his leadership.
Capone’s council record includes more modest accomplishments like an environmental ordinance prohibiting the release of balloons. Granted, city councilors don’t have nearly the same influence as mayors, but it would be fair to say that in his eight years on the council, and now in this campaign, Capone hasn’t matched DeMaria’s vision. In a recent interview with Globe editorial board members, he said he thinks the money Everett received from the casino should be used to increase the size of the fire department to keep pace with development — a fine idea, perhaps, but not the kind of thing that will make Everett a “national leader” at anything, as DeMaria’s rapid-bus program has been called.
Although often overshadowed by the Boston and Somerville mayor’s races, the outcome in Everett could have a big regional impact, since DeMaria has made the city one of the most welcoming parts of the region for badly needed new housing development and Capone has flagged “overdevelopment” as a concern in his campaign. The election is a test of whether Everett has had enough — enough of the rapid changes on DeMaria’s watch, or maybe just enough of DeMaria.
And it may be close. DeMaria finished first in the three-way preliminary election on Sept. 21, but with less than 50 percent of the vote. If Capone can win over the supporters of third-place finisher Gerly Adrien — who endorsed Capone on Wednesday, saying he’d be a more inclusive leader — the challenger could topple DeMaria in the final election on Nov. 2.
DeMaria has attracted controversy for years. He’s been accused of extortion, receiving kickbacks, sexual harassment, and associating with reputed mob associates. He denies all wrongdoing. And for all that smoke, there’s never been a fire: Prosecutors have never charged DeMaria with any crimes.
For his part, DeMaria calls the allegations “background noise,” though the drumbeat of bad press clearly bothers him. Just after the preliminary election, DeMaria filed a defamation lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court against the Everett Leader Herald, a local publication, in response to a recent story that claimed he’d extorted another city official, city clerk Sergio Cornelio, as part of a real estate deal gone sour. In a Globe editorial board interview, DeMaria appeared to tear up when talking about the litany of allegations: “They’re trying to destroy me,” he said.
In DeMaria’s telling, some of the accusations against him have been ginned up by powerful political opponents who have been on the losing end of his efforts to improve a city that was once viewed as Boston’s dumping ground. For instance, in the mayor’s defamation suit against the Leader Herald, DeMaria’s lawyers allege that the owners of the paper “purchased the Leader Herald for the primary purpose of having a newspaper through which to publicly attack Mr. DeMaria,” and traces the “longstanding vendetta” back to the 1990s, when the owners, Matthew and Andrew Philbin, owned boarding houses in Everett. Because of “public safety and public health issues,” DeMaria — then a city alderman — had refused to renew their licenses. (The publication did not respond to requests for comment.)
If DeMaria loses — if the decade-plus of allegations and rumors finally catches up with him — Greater Boston will lose a mayor who’s done more than his share to help meet regional challenges, and in some cases, like his work on bus lanes and bus platforms, provided a model for other communities. But a big part of Capone’s appeal is that while he might be a little more boring than DeMaria, that might actually be just what Everett wants.
Alan Wirzbicki is Globe deputy editor for editorials. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.