Campaign season over: A look at the 2021 municipal election in Malden

Newcomers and incumbents begin new year in city government

Malden residents stand outside of the Ward 3 polling location in support of candidates. Photo by Keren He.

By Saliha Bayrak. Photos by Keren He.

On Nov 2, residents of Malden headed to the polls to vote for councilors-at-large, city councilors, and school committee members. Excitement was high as candidates and Malden residents stood outside voting locations with signs in support.

Incumbent Craig Spadafora and two newcomers, Karen Colón Hayes and Carey McDonald, won seats for councilor-at-large. 

“We ran a very serious, competitive campaign from the beginning, and that was a campaign built on reaching out to all parts of the community,” said McDonald on an Urban Media Arts livestream during election night. His campaign focused on knocking on doors, working across neighborhoods, and ensuring that citizens had access to information in their own language, McDonald said. 

Peg Crowe (Ward 1), Amanda Linehan (Ward 3), Ryan O’Malley (Ward 4), Barbara Murphy (Ward 5), and Jadeane Sica (Ward 8) were re-elected for city council in their respective wards. Chris Simonelli joined Ward 7’s city council after a hiatus from city government, while Stephen Winslow, formerly councilor-at-large, was elected to the Ward 6 seat. The school committee will welcome newcomers Dawn Macklin, Keith Bernard and Sharyn Rose-Zeiberg for Ward 4, 7 and 8, respectively. Full election results can be found here.

Ward 3 city councilor Amanda Linehan outside of the poll location at Beebe School. Photo by Keren He.

Despite a large number of contested seats, voter turnout was relatively low compared to past municipal elections, according to city clerk Greg Lucey. There were six contested seats and a 20% voter turnout, down by one percent from the city election in 2017.  

“Turnout wasn’t that great for a lot of effort that was put in by a lot of candidates, and there were a lot of contested races,” Lucey said. 

Lower turnout rates are common in election years when the president, governor, or mayor are not on the ballot. Lucey also believes that the low turnout rates may be caused by rapid population growth. There was an increase of 4,000 new registered voters in Malden from 2019, but the number of voters interested in local politics did not increase as quickly, Lucey noted.

“You get some people moving in from other areas, they’re going to register to vote for the presidential election and they’re going to vote, but they’re not going to vote in the city election,” Lucey said. 

Some minority groups were represented in the newcomers to Malden’s city government, with Karen Colón Hayes and Carey McDonald identifying as Latina and Black, respectively.  However, despite Malden’s large Asian community, an Asian American has yet to win a seat during a city election. Lucey said that this was shocking to him, especially due to the large number of open seats. However, Michelle Wu’s successful campaign as the first Asian American mayor of Boston is an indicator of positive change in the area, Lucey said. 

Malden residents standing outside of Ward 1 in support of candidates. Photo by Keren He.

Hayes also spoke on the UMA Livestream after winning her campaign. “It’s always been about the people in the city, and it’s always been about the marginalized, and the people who don’t usually come out and have their voices heard,” Hayes said.

Many unprecedented things occurred in this year’s city election, including the first youth-produced candidate forum. Lucey said that he noticed people running in “blocks” for the first time, in which groups of candidates would publicly financially support each other.

This year’s municipal election had more campaign financing than the past two combined, with more than $177,000 raised for the candidates. 

“Usually this happens at a more elevated level…so it is weird to see at this municipal level… it underscores the intensity of this race,” said Sharon Fillyaw, a former board member of UMA, during the election night special. This increased funding may lead others to be hesitant to “throw their hat in the ring,” she continued.

Supporters for city councilor Chris Simonelli oustide of the Ward 7 voting location. Photo by Keren He.

Additionally, Lucey said that this year’s election paved the way for newcomers to gain more support in future elections. Despite John Matheson being a familiar name from a previous bid for mayor, he lost to newcomers in the councilor-at-large race. 

“I think you saw something in the vote on Tuesday, that times have changed,” Lucey said. “There are some people that got elected that, you know, six months ago, people really didn’t know them, but they were able to do it.” 

Video Program: UMA hosted a special Election Night Show, providing in—depth commentary and analysis of the election campaign with host Ron Cox (UMA Executive Director) and co-hosts Prisco Tammaro and Sharon Fillyaw.

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