The picture of who will lead Framingham through its transition from New England’s largest town to one of its cities became a little clearer yesterday. In a preliminary election that drew more than a quarter of eligible voters, Yvonne Spicer and John Stefanini emerged as the two candidates who will compete to be the newly minted city’s first mayor. Spicer, whose only political experience is as a town meeting member, surprised some analysts by earning half of the votes in a crowded field of seven candidates. She emerged as the front-runner over Stefanini, former town selectman and state representative who played a pivotal role in steering Framingham toward changing its system of government.
While both candidates have similar platforms, many voters said Spicer’s status as a newcomer to government was an appealing alternative to a man steeped in the political system. But Stefanini’s political history is also an advantage — he has drawn in significant campaign donations.
Both candidates said they plan to focus on revitalizing the downtown business district and focus on making Framingham more affordable to live in.
Regardless of who wins the election, people are paying attention. The town had a 27 percent voter turnout for the preliminary. WGBH New’s Joe Mathieu spoke with reporter Tina Martin about the election. To get the full story, read the transcript below or click on the audio player above.
Joe Mathieu: Lets go to Framingham, where voters were honking support for their candidates last evening in a historic race, the first ever vote for mayor in Framingham. The town voting to become a city earlier this year and joining us now in studio is a woman who was there for all of it last night, WGBH’s Tina Martin, who has basically been up all night. Tina, good morning.
Tina Martin: Good morning to you, Joe.
Joe Mathieu: This was a pretty big deal. As we mobilized in Framingham, incidentally, home to many listeners who hear us every day driving in, listening to WGBH’s Morning Edition. The city charter or should I say the town charter changed. Framingham goes from the biggest town in Massachusetts to the newest city.
Tina Martin: To the newest city, correct.
Joe Mathieu: And it’s time to pick a mayor. What happened last night?
Tina Martin: It is time to pick a mayor so we have two candidates out of the seven. John Stefanini is a five-term state representative. He’s a two-term selectman. He’s an attorney. He grew up in Framingham, and he is going to be up against Yvonne Spicer, who is an African-American woman. She’s a vice president at the Museum of Science, and her political experience consists of being a town meeting member, and she has been a member of the fair housing committee. So, she’s not quite as politically experienced as John Stefanini, but what the two of them have in common is that they’re both very well-educated, and they’re both lifelong Framingham residents. The both told me they have a vision for the town now city. We have to get used to saying that. Let’s go to Yvonne Spicer.
Audio of Yvonne Spicer: We have not been as good of shepherd’s as I think we’d like to with some of our open spaces. I also say economic development. Our downtown area has experienced some resurgence, but there’s still much more work to be done and part of that is looking at what kinds of jobs are available for our community, and I’m looking at trying to grow technical jobs that are higher-wage that allows people to work in Framingham, but also live in Framingham.
Tina Martin: Work and live in Framingham. So that was a big theme last night, being able to work and live in the town. Let’s go to John Stefanini. I asked him his vision for the city.
Audio of John Stefanini: I envision a community where every child has the same opportunity to achieve success. I envision a community where people proudly go to their neighborhood shopping plaza or downtown on a Saturday night for dinner or to shop. I envision a community where we preserve and protect our open spaces, and I envision a community where everyone has a voice at the table and can participate in the process.
Tina Martin: So Joe, you heard Stefanini talk about every child having an opportunity. That was an underlying theme last night for voters also — school, education. There is a gentleman who we spoke to named Mike Lucek. Let’s listen to what he said.
Joe Mathieu: This one of the voters you spoke with last night.
Tina Martin: Yes.
Audio of Mike Lucek, Framingham voter: I’m looking for progress, especially with the school systems. I have a young son, and that’s primarily what I am looking at for candidates and councilors — so the quality of the education and trying to bring the Framingham school system up. I think I saw a Boston Magazine article where Framingham ranked 81st, but they’re in the top 20 in spending per student.
Tina Martin: So that was the theme from voters last night. You know, the other thing, Joe, you talked about me being up all night. It wasn’t hard to be up all night because this is so exciting. Everybody was so, you know, kind of thrilled to feel like they had a seat at the table — that they’re driving this new administration. The assistant town clerk said that they had a 27 percent voter turnout.
Joe Mathieu: Which is better than we saw in Boston, right?
Tina Martin: Much better than we saw in Boston. To put it in perspective, they usually don’t even break double digits for their general local election. So this is a huge deal.
Joe Mathieu: You can speak to that. You live in Metro West, and you know what this means locally.
Tina Martin: Absolutely, people are very, very excited about this, and I think that they really feel that they have an opportunity to see the kind of city that they’ve always wanted. And so that’s basically what we’re seeing.
Joe Mathieu: Did you find that there was name recognition? These names are new to a lot of folks around Massachusetts, but in Framingham these are two known entities.
Tina Martin: They’re two known entities. I think what I found very interesting was that Yvonne kind of was popular based on the fact that she is a newcomer. She’s grassroots. She doesn’t really have the political experience so maybe that leans to the fact that people are looking for something a little different. Maybe they want to try new things. Maybe they want to do things that are a little bit more nonconventional.
Joe Mathieu: So, we’ve got our finalists, two finalists November 7th, the general election. I suspect you might be back in Framingham.
Tina Martin: I suspect I will.
Joe Mathieu: We’ll see how that goes. Thank you so much, WGBH Radio’s Tina Martin. I think you’re allowed to take a nap now.
Tina Martin: You bet.