The two-person race to become Brockton’s next mayor is of course centered on the issues — from the pros and cons of allowing a gas-fired power plant to be built in the city to violent crime, revenue, and taxes.
But the outcome of the increasingly bitter contest between incumbent Linda Balzotti and city Health Department enforcement officer Bill Carpenter is likely to come down to the candidates’ personality and style, and whether voters want consistency or change.
Balzotti, 52, is running on a two-term record of economic development and infrastructure improvement, of settling union contracts, and working to reduce crime.
Carpenter, 56, who is also a member of the Brockton School Committee, says his first goal is to upend the “good old boy” network Balzotti leads, and bring openness and financial relief to a city in crisis.
September’s preliminary election winnowed the mayoral field from four candidates to two, bumping Ward 7 City Councilor Christopher MacMillan and retired businessman Ron Matta. Balzotti bested Carpenter by some 800 votes and, since then, the pair have been bickering constantly.
‘As much as he thinks he knows? He doesn’t know.’
Carpenter says Balzotti is out of touch with reality and voters, particularly if she thinks crime is on the downswing, considering a recent rash of murders and assaults. He has proposed a 10-point plan, which includes “relentless” and “aggressive” pursuit, removal, and prosecution of every “gang member, thug, pimp and drug dealer” in the city, as well as what he calls saturated enforcement, or using motorcycle patrols and traffic units to conduct motor vehicle stops in high gang and high crime areas.
He says the mayor’s head is in the sand, working on raises for employees, for example, while taxes are going up. “Other than her, no one is buying it,’’ he said.
But Balzotti, the city’s first female mayor, said she aims for cooperation while Carpenter has an in-your-face stance.
“That’s not how you work with the public,’’ she said.
She contends Carpenter is untested and green, and says he will be surprised when he tries to force initiatives — like forging a deal with the developer of a proposed 350-megawatt gas-fired power plant — without the consent or support of the City Council.
“As much as he thinks he knows? He doesn’t know,’’ said Balzotti, who is seeking a third two-year term at the Nov. 5 polls.
In response, Carpenter said he would work to persuade the City Council of the benefits of such a move, and while a majority of council members have opposed the plant, the upcoming election could yield as many as five new faces, he said.
He described Balzotti as a reclusive mayor while he is all over the city, meeting and greeting. “People are really for openness,” Carpenter said.
During a recent debate, he criticized the mayor’s staunch opposition to the power plant, saying the city has spent more than $1 million over eight years to defend — and lose — a total of nine lawsuits involving Advanced Power AG, the Swiss parent company of Brockton Clean Energy, which wants to build the facility in the city’s south end.
“If Plan A isn’t working, you go to Plan B,’’ Carpenter said of his intention to negotiate the best deal possible for the city if the plant’s arrival is inevitable.
Balzotti, in what is now celebrated repartee, asked Carpenter at the public forum at Massasoit Community College on Oct. 16 whether he would apply the same logic to the Boston Red Sox if they were down 3-0 in the World Series. Carpenter replied that he wouldn’t necessarily do so, but suggested it might just be time to “change the pitcher.”
Ed Byers, who owns a salad-dressing manufacturing plant next to the proposed power-plant site and is the founder of the opposition group Stop the Power, said Balzotti deserves credit for delivering on a promise to oppose the plant, which many fear will affect nearby residents’ health and property values.
“This has not been easy, because it was put into place before she took office,’’ Byers said. “But she has stayed true.”
Brockton is a poor community, Byers said, and Carpenter’s plan to balance the city’s $300 million budget on potential power-plant revenues — including millions in daily water sales, taxes, and fees — is like a “Ponzi scheme.’’
“He makes it sound better than it is, and people may believe it because they are so hungry for relief,’’ he said.
Byers criticized Carpenter’s three prior bankruptcies, one as recent as last year, which Stop the Power made public this summer. “If Bill Carpenter doesn’t have the answer for his own personal life, how can he have answers for the city?” Byers asked.
Conversely, Gary Leonard, the owner of Campello-Keith Oil and the city’s business association’s “ambassador,” said he has moved his support from Balzotti to Carpenter due to the “stone walls” at City Hall that make progress impossible.
“We are supposed to be a business-friendly city,’’ Leonard said. “But they give me such a hard time I have had no choice but to switch sides.”
Balzotti plans to raise taxes and user fees to balance her budget, he said, which hurts efforts to transform the city of 94,000 into a destination for new business and entertainment.
“We have to elect an official who will bring us forward, and Bill Carpenter is a man with a business plan,’’ he said.
Balzotti said her door is always open to help anyone, and many of Carpenter’s ideas — with the exception of the power plant — are already underway.
Not his proposed hard line on crime, however, which she described as a “Gestapo mentality.’’
“He can’t just go down the street arresting people,’’ Balzotti said. “There is something in this country called the Constitution.”
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at email@example.com.