The first votes won’t be cast for nine months, but Mike Healy was smiling broadly as he greeted people in front of the Donut King on Copeland Street in Quincy on a brisk Saturday morning earlier this month.
Later that day, he walked house to house in the city’s Ward 4, leaving campaign pamphlets for those who didn’t answer his knocks and shaking the hands of those who did.
“Look me up,” Healy said to a young Hughes Street resident who was still wearing pajamas when he opened the door.
The 39-year-old Healy is already hustling for votes to become the next city councilor for Ward 4; the incumbent, Brian Palmucci, says he hasn’t decided whether he’ll run again.
As the only declared candidate for any office on the city’s ballot next fall, Healy has been campaigning for a month, has a Facebook page that he updates regularly, and even stood in the cold on Election Day last month waving to people who hadn’t yet seen his name on a campaign sign.
Municipal elections are often spirited in Quincy, where a vitriolic mayoral campaign is still in recent memory, but it’s unusual for candidates to get such a large head start, according to some observers.
“I don’t know of anyone else running this early” in the state, said John Portz, a Northeastern University political science professor. If anything, spring is the typical time for municipal elections to start to ramp up, he said.
“There’s a series of deadlines in terms of when people have to take out papers to be nominated and collect signatures,” Portz said.
“I don’t even think they’re available at this point. They aren’t available until the spring.”
Early campaigning sometimes is done in a big city like Boston, which has more ground for a candidate to cover, but it is less typical in a community of Quincy’s size.
But whatever the size of the campaign, candidates who begin the conversation this early have a long road ahead.“It’s hard to have people focus on an election that is a year off,” Portz said. “It’s hard to get people to focus before September, October of next year.”
Healy is not only starting early, he’s trying to cover every corner of Ward 4, in the southwest section of Quincy.
Reid Canniff, a Hughes Street resident who met Healy on that Saturday earlier this month and has lived in the city for decades, said he can’t recall too many candidates knocking on doors in his neighborhood over the years. “It’s probably the last street in Quincy,’’ he said. “They probably don’t make it this far.”
Yet Healy did. He walked door to door, one street at a time, crossing off names on the latest voter list before looking up like a deer to observe his surroundings, then moving with purpose to the next front door.
“I understand it’s early, but if you’re concerned, if you’re worried, if you’re passionate about it like I am — it’s time,” said Healy, who is a project manager in the health-care industry. “I plan to keep working, meeting folks, saying hello, having events here and there, and that will continue through winter, spring, and summer, and we’ll continue to the fall.”
In his interactions with potential voters, the Ward 4 resident wears his Quincy pride like a favorite sweater — he goes back to it often and it suits him well. He will tell anyone who is interested that he has three kids in the public schools, and that he’s lived in the city for 18 years, ever since moving here after college.
His previous campaign experience was working for Anne Mahoney, who was defeated in last year’s race for mayor. This time around, Healy said, the main reason he’s running is to ask more questions and provide more oversight to the city’s inner dealings, including the $1.6 billion downtown redevelopment project and the city’s implementation of a $25.4 million capital improvement plan.
“People are concerned — concerned about spending, concerned about the decisions being made,’’ he said. “What I hear, and I do believe this, that it’s been somewhat of a bad thing to ask questions. I’m trying to shift that.”
Healy also wants to bring back the community of Ward 4, including increased communication on neighborhood projects, and increasing the importance and visibility of local neighborhood associations.
It’s a campaign not too dissimilar from Palmucci’s first run for the Ward 4 seat in 2009, when he beat a longtime incumbent.
“I think on the platform I ran on, to improve communications and keep people informed, I’ve done that and done it in such a way that has made more people involved in government, and more aware of what’s going on in the city that might affect them,” said Palmucci.
The 34-year-old cited his newsletter, frequent mailings, and use of Twitter, Facebook, a website, and YouTube to get information to the residents of Ward 4.
As far as oversight, Palmucci said, he points to his success helping clean up the Brewers Corner neighborhood by updating the infrastructure, increasing police presence, and cracking down on housing code violations.
Palmucci said he also scrutinized the issue of zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries, and played an active role in the downtown redevelopment plans.
“I like to think of myself as a watchdog for the residents and neighbors of Ward 4. That’s the position I take on the council,’’ Palmucci said. “I represent Ward 4, and that’s who I have in mind with all the votes I take up there.”
At City Council meetings, Palmucci is anything but silent, bringing his background as an attorney to the table as he spells out his concerns, points out discrepancies, and draws out questions from others on the council.
Yet when it comes to whether he would run again for his seat against Healy, Palmucci remained tightlipped.
“I’m not even halfway through the term that the voters elected me to last time. I’m focused more on doing my job than figuring out my next move,” he said. “I’ll make a decision in the spring, when it’s more appropriate.”
At this point, Healy is the only person in the city who has established a campaign committee, which allows him to collect donations. He won’t be an official candidate until he files nomination papers, which will be available on May 6 and are due back by July 19. The primary election takes place on Sept. 19, and the general election on Nov. 5.
If Palmucci does run, the stage would be set for a spirited debate between two young candidates. According to Portz, the catalyst for intense political campaigns is typically a special issue that sparks interest in a community. “It’s episodic, depending on the community,” he said.
Regardless of what’s motivating Healy’s energetic efforts, he is already rounding up supporters.
“Mike is a homeowner and is committed to the community itself,” said Sheika Babin, who has been on board with Healy’s campaign since he announced his bid last month.
Others agreed that although Palmucci had done a good job, Healy would be the right man for the position going forward.
“He isn’t one of these guys running for the ego. He’s a fairly egoless man, which is important in politics now,” added Jim Jaehnig, a friend of Healy’s.
“In Quincy, there are great politicians, and I think Mike would be a great addition to that.”
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.