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Lisa Wong answers the wake-up call

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Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong received a Martha Coakley-style shock to the system when City Councilor Joseph Solomito trounced her in the September preliminary election, 60 percent to 37 percent. But Wong energized her supporters and then some, riding a record voter turnout in yesterday’s election to stage a stunning comeback victory, thumping Solomito by a 56-44 percent margin.

Issue number one in Fitchburg? Turning on more streetlights and reversing other cutbacks in city services. Wong turned off many of the lights to save money when she came into office in 2008.  Solomito, a former assistant district attorney and Fitchburg police officer, quickly seized on simmering resentment over the moves. He promised to turn all lights back on along with expanding library hours and hiring more police officers. However, he had little to say about precisely where the money would come from to pay for these reversals.
 
Vulnerable on these in-your-face issues and admittedly getting her re-election campaign off to a late start, the state’s first female Asian-American mayor quickly pivoted to spotlight some potent intangibles. When she first took office the city was in dire straits. Exhibit A was a reserve fund that contained a paltry $10,000. Wong boosted the fund to about $3 million. She also took center stage on the economic development front by embracing Fitchburg State University as a key player in the city’s revitalization effort and coaxing a variety of new small businesses to town.

The mayor’s reputation as a can-do urban mechanic also paid dividends in the form of support from her fellow Gateway City leaders. Outgoing New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang touted his support for Wong as a “thoughtful and article advocate for Fitchburg” in the pages of the Sentinel and Enterprise (even if the paper didn’t get his name right). Haverhill’s Jim Fiorentini chimed in on her Facebook page, wishing that he could vote for her.

But there may be more to Wong’s triumph than stashing away money for a rainy day and kind words from her fellow mayors. Call it the Unitil factor.

More than one elected leader has been done in by a lackluster response to a natural disaster. But Wong’s response to last month’s surprise nor’easter recalled the mayor’s finest hour: her response to the 2008 ice storm that devastated the region and pitted Wong in a still-running battle against Unitil, the much-despised area power company.

With 25,000 residents without power in the immediate aftermath of the recent Halloween weekend storm, Wong posted continuous updates to her Facebook page about the scope of the power outages. She also contrasted Unitil’s failure to provide basic information about outages to other power utility companies’ efforts to keep customers informed.

Now secure in her third two-year term, Wong remains one of the key leaders in what is certain to be a renewed campaign to persuade Beacon Hill to allow more municipalities to set up their own power companies.

                                                                                                                                             --GABRIELLE GURLEY


ELECTION 2011

Ayanna Pressley tops the ticket in Boston’s at-large City Council race, while Michael Flaherty’s comeback bid comes up short as all four incumbent at-large councilors are reelected. Peter Gelzinis has some backhanded congratulations for the council’s top vote-getter. In a strong rebuke to Mayor Tom Menino and outgoing City Councilor Maureen Feeney, who both put lots of muscle behind John O’Toole, who was jockeying to succeed Feeney in the Dorchester district council seat, Frank Baker rolled to victory.

Incumbents generally ruled across the state, as mayors in Quincy, Brockton, Braintree, Weymouth, Attleboro, Amesbury and Fall River were easily reelected. Springfield, Chicopee, Agawam, Easthampton and Westfield also re-elected incumbents. Daniel  Bianchi wins a close race in Pittsfield and Mayor Richard Alcombright wins another term in North Adams.

“Holy mackerel!”  says 22-year-old Alex Morse after becoming the youngest mayor in the history of the city of Holyoke.

In Worcester, long-time city councilor Joseph Petty wins the mayor’s office with 48 percent of the vote.

Former federal prosecutor Jon Mitchell defeated longtime state Rep. Antonio Cabral for the open mayor’s office in New Bedford.

In Methuen, Stephen Zanni edges out Al DiNuccio in the mayor’s race by 28 votes. A recount is expected. Newcomers do well in Lowell.

Fall River City Councilor Leo Pelletier, indicted last month along with three others on charges of running an illegal slot parlor in his Internet cafe, was defeated in yesterday’s election after 27 years on the council.

Voters in Saugus approve a debt exclusion that will hike property taxes to pay for renovation of a middle school, the Lynn Item reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

In a move that will boost his centrist bona fides, US Sen. Scott Brown says he’ll oppose a National Rifle Association-backed bill that would allow concealed weapons to be carried anywhere in the country, regardless of state and local laws

The Daily Beast reports on the defeat of Mississippi’s anti-abortion personhood amendment and Ohio’s votes overturning collective bargaining reform and rejecting a key provision of President Obama’s health care legislation. Time calls it a banner night for Democrats.
John McCormack at the Weekly Standard says yesterday’s defeat in Mississippi of a referendum that would have defined “personhood” as beginning at conception should not be seen as a setback for anti-abortion groups. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is rebuffed in his efforts to turn Democrats out of the Legislature. It was Republicans’ weakest off-year election night since 2007.

Scot Lehigh says Mitt Romney is one lucky dude.

Maine voters rejected new racinos and a casino, the Portland Press Herald reports. They also restored Election Day voter registration.

Next stop, the Supreme Court: A third federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of Obama administration’s health care reforms and the nation’s highest court will consider whether to look at the issue tomorrow.

ELECTION 2012

Herman Cain says he didn’t even know his accuser, NECN reports. “I have never acted inappropriately with anyone. Period,” he says. He also concedes that more unsavory allegations will be coming. Even Howie Carr is sticking a fork in the Hermanator. Slate’s David Weigel asks: Is Cain campaign manager Mark Block a schmuck, or a liar?

Former state senator Richard Tisei plans to announce a challenge to US Rep. John Tierney on Tuesday, the Salem News reports. The racketeering trial of Tierney’s brother-in-law continues to embarrass the congressman: Yesterday, a witness testified that Tierney and his wife dined at the luxe Antigua gambling headquarters at the center of the federal trial. “They had a wonderful cook,” the witness says.

Republicans on the Cape are excited about the chance to take on US Rep. William Keating as are potential Democratic primary challengers.  Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is among those Republicans weighing a run for the newly crafted 9th District that now includes parts of his county including his town of Dartmouth.

In the National Review, Michael Tanner does the compare-contrast thing between the Good Mitt Romney and the Bad Mitt Romney.

Michele Bachmann -- still a candidate! -- hints at breaking the GOP’s anti-tax orthodoxy.

Newt Gingrich wants to eliminate the Congressional Budget Office. Not surprisingly former directors don’t think that’s a good idea.

Rick Perry dons a barn jacket for his latest Iowa ad. Perry also rolls out the latest in an ongoing series of anti-Romney, “There’s a lot of reasons not to elect me” ads -- this one focusing on TARP.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Poverty’s grip on families in Boston’s Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan neighborhoods has increased, according to a new study released by The Boston Foundation. One of the most striking data points: 85 percent of families in the areas with concentrated poverty are headed by a single parent, mostly mothers.

Keller@Large isn’t very impressed with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, including the way he dresses.

On Greater Boston, CommonWealth editor Bruce Mohl and UMass Dartmouth professor Michael Goodman discuss MassINC’s and CommonWealth’s research into the middle class and the American Dream.

Fannie Mae needs another $7.8 billion from the Treasury, after losing $5.1 billion in the third quarter.

The Greek prime minister and the principal opposition leader there, who are in battle over how to address the country’s burgeoning debt crisis, were roommates at Amherst College in the early 1970s.

John Hancock’s CEO decries the partisanship in Washington.

EDUCATION

Idaho requires high school students to take at least two credits from online course providers and also requires school districts to pay the provider two-thirds of the state funding that normally goes to the district, the Denver Post reports (via AP).

HEALTH CARE

Physicians and other health care providers often fail to alert authorities to suspected cases of child abuse, according to a new study by researchers at Boston Medical Center.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments yesterday in a challenge by Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey who wants to end the one-of-its-kind live streaming by WBUR of proceedings in Quincy District Court.

Failed Columbus Center developer Arthur Winn appears in court to plead guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to politicians.

MEDIA

Wired releases its photos for anyone to use via Creative Commons, but the Nieman Journalism Lab asks what that means.

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