When voters in Attleboro wake up Wednesday morning following tomorrow’s election, one thing is absolutely certain: They will have a mayor or mayor-elect who is intelligent, articulate and dedicated to the city.
Mayor Kevin Dumas and State Rep. Paul Heroux will complete an interesting and intense battle for Attleboro’s top political position Tuesday. Both have worked hard and done what they believe was necessary to win the votes of the city’s residents. Only one will emerge victorious and preside over City Hall.
But with all due respect to Heroux and his spirited and thorough campaign efforts, this race will be decided based largely upon one overriding factor: Whether voters are just plain tired of having Kevin Dumas as mayor, regardless of the job they think he’s done.
It is impossible to be mayor of a city for 14 years, make the tough decisions, and not tick off a whole lot of people. Incumbents certainly have advantages in terms of a ready-made campaign infrastructure, established local political connections, and intimate knowledge and experience regarding city affairs. But in these times, with today’s prevailing political attitudes and overall frustration and anger, being an incumbent is not all it formerly was cracked up to be.
It is an undeniable fact that Attleboro today is a different and better city than the one Dumas took over 14 years ago. There have been no overrides, many revitalization projects, and a lot of inglamorous but very necessary improvements.
But there have also been lots of controversies. The school budget has been underfunded in the opinion of many, and there were layoffs not that long ago. There was a major battle with the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority, budget battles with the city council, and the usual political infighting and accusations.
Heroux is an experienced politician and a proven leader. So is Dumas. While they both like to highlight the differences between them, the truth is both would take a similar approach to operationally running the city. Their individual styles are different. Their personalities are almost opposite. But it is hard to see how they would specifically vary much from each other when it comes to the basics of running the city.
Neither of them would agree nor be happy with that statement. But if you look at it carefully and objectively, it’s an accurate one.
Take their positions on education funding. Both have come out in favor of building a new high school, although they argue about who did it first. They both plan to increase school spending, although they differ on just where the money will come from. Heroux criticizes Dumas for only recently coming up with a plan for education funding, while Dumas accuses Heroux of not having a plan at all other than using funds anticipated from future marijuana dispensary sales.
Much of the controversy in the campaign is over who talks to who, who gets along with who, and who originally had the idea for anything that actually worked. There is very little concentration on what will happen in the future, and there are a couple of good reasons for that.
First, that is complicated. It involves details and explanations that make the eyes of most voters glaze over after about 60 seconds. Sure, they want reassurances and promises of better times ahead. But they are mainly interested in the end result, and how you transport them there becomes very secondary.
And secondly, politics today are personal. Style often prevails over substance. In some cases, people will vote for you not because of who you are, but rather because of who you are not. It often boils down not to who is the most popular, but who is the least (sorry Hillary).
Dumas and Heroux present Attleboro voters with a choice — but not a clear choice, despite what each campaign and candidate thinks. There is no doubt each would do some things differently, and each would leave their own distinct mark on Attleboro.
But ultimately, Tuesday is a referendum on Kevin Dumas and his tenure as mayor. If Heroux wins, he will richly deserve the victory. But a case can be made that in addition to Heroux, Dumas is also running against himself and time.
Good luck to all of them.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime local official. He can be emailed at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.