TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — Polls opened Tuesday morning as four candidates push for Taunton mayor in the preliminary election. The top two vote-getters will move on to compete in the general election in November.
Mark Baptiste, Estele Borges, Peter Bzdula and Shaunna O’Connell are all hoping to replace the current mayor, Thomas Hoye, who announced he would step down after Republican Gov. Charlie Baker named him the Bristol County Register of Probate on Aug. 5.
The polls are officially open until 8 p.m. and registered voters can learn where to cast their ballots at www.taunton-ma.gov/registrar-voters.
The city’s mayoral election, which represents a changing of the guard with Hoye stepping down, has already sparked controversy. The local election is technically nonpartisan, meaning candidates do not claim party affiliation, but that’s hardly kept party politics out of the process.
Democrats have cried foul over the timing of Hoye’s appointment, which came one day before nomination papers for mayor were due. O’Connell, a fellow Republican and state representative from Taunton, filed her nomination papers within an hour of the second-term governor’s announcement.
Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford called the move by Baker an attempt to handpick Taunton’s next mayor. In a statement released last month, he described it as “undemocratic and the kind of tactic preferred by dictators.”
“It should come as no surprise that minutes after Baker’s announcement, his right-wing ally released a prepared statement announcing her candidacy for the mayor’s office. These kinds of backroom deals disenfranchise voters and undermine our electoral process,” Bickford said.
When asked about the timing, O’Connell said she had been considering a run for mayor long before Hoye’s announcement.
“A lot of people knew that something was happening with the current mayor and that he may be leaving and I think a lot of people were getting ready and thinking about running,” she said. “I have been thinking about it for the whole year and this was an excellent opportunity to get into this race.”
Beyond the political jockeying at the state level, some of the candidates have history locally.
Borges, who has served as a Taunton city councilor since 2014, unsuccessfully challenged O’Connell for her seat on Beacon Hill in 2016. O’Connell earned 58% of the vote compared to Borges’ 41% during the general election.
The women are now vying for the top job in Taunton, and if either is successful in moving past the preliminary election and garnering the majority of votes in November, she would become the first female mayor in city history.
The other two candidates, Baptiste and Bzdula, are political newcomers. Baptiste described himself to the Taunton Daily Gazette as a conservative Republican. Formerly a firefighter and small business owner, Baptiste told the paper he’d like to continue the legacy of Hoye, saying the outgoing mayor has “done a phenomenal job.”
Bzdula, meanwhile, has set up a campaign website without including any information beyond an option to donate money. A self-described nonpartisan, Bzdula told the Daily Gazette he works at the Lowe’s in Raynham where he specializes in kitchen design.
The four candidates were required to submit pre-election campaign finance reports this month, and O’Connell is way out ahead of her fellow candidates. The state rep spent about $28,500 between July 1 and Sept. 6, and had about $29,000 leftover in her campaign account.
Borges, meanwhile, spent $4,300 during that time period, and had about $3,800 left in her account. Baptiste spent about $500 with $329 leftover, and Bzdula raised no money and spent no money during that time.
WPRI 12 has reached out to all four campaigns. Stay tuned for more coverage on Election Day.
Darren Soens is a Target 12 investigative producer.