FRAMINGHAM — “My heart is full,” an excited Yvonne Spicer said to a crowd of cheering supporters from the steps of the Memorial Building Tuesday night.
It was her first appearance after learning she was the voters’ choice for Framingham’s first mayor. A political outsider, she soundly defeated former state representative and town selectman John Stefanini in a race that grew nastier as election day neared.
As a cold rain fell, Spicer told the crowd the election marks a new beginning for the city. She resolved to heal divisions in the wake of the election and ensure the transition to a new form of government is smooth.
“This is a beginning that we get to set the course of where we’re going to go as a community,” she said. “Framingham is an amazing place to live, and I promise you as your mayor, I will make sure that everyone in Framingham has a seat at the table, that everyone feels their voice is recognized. Regardless of language, culture, immigration status, you belong to Framingham.”
Spicer will take office Jan. 1, 2018, becoming the first mayor in Framingham’s 317-year history. The vote follows the town’s decision in April to become a city, replacing the centuries-old town government structure.
Over the course of the campaign, Spicer touted her personal integrity and leadership skills, pledging to be responsive to the public and serve as “the people’s mayor.”
Turnout reached 39.1 percent in Tuesday’s contest — the highest for a local election in the last 25 years. Spicer won with 58 percent of the vote, receiving 9,128 votes to Stefanini’s 6,455, according to unofficial results released by the city clerk’s office in the evening.
Meeting with supporters at La Cantina, Stefanini — one of the architects of Framingham’s new city charter — said he was disappointed by the outcome, but encouraged by voter turnout. He said the increased level of civic engagement in Framingham will never be turned back.
“It’s a tall order for our new government implementing the charter,” he said, “but we’re going to get a more accountable, transparent and efficient government. We have representatives from each neighborhood in our community on our School Committee and on our council that are forever going to change the way we talk about, and we think about, our schools and our community.”
A Brooklyn native, Spicer, 55, moved to Framingham for a teaching job in 1985. She began her career at Farley and Walsh middle schools, then went on to Framingham High School, working for 16 years as both a classroom instructor and administrator focused on technology education.
She earned a doctorate in educational leadership, and is now vice president of advocacy and educational partnerships at the Museum of Science. Working in a startup division at the museum, Spicer travels the country building capacity for STEM programs in local schools.
Spicer, who was elected to Town Meeting last year, overcame her relative inexperience in politics to win the mayoral contest. She also trailed Stefanini in fundraising, bringing in a little less than $70,000 through mid-October, compared to Stefanini’s haul of more than $113,000.
Despite having a smaller warchest, Spicer took a commanding lead in the preliminary election, topping a field of seven candidates with about 54 percent of all votes.
Her campaign reached out extensively to female voters, and touted a network of grassroots volunteers and donors, many of whom were women. Spicer also had the backing of EMILY’s List and the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, among other groups.
Adding to the historical significance of Tuesday’s vote, Spicer is believed to be the first popularly-elected female African-American mayor in the state’s history.
Tuesday’s contest follows a momentous decision in April to reform local government. By a margin of only 112 votes, residents adopted a new city charter, installing a strong mayor to lead the executive branch, and eliminating the position of town manager and the Board of Selectmen.
With political power being concentrated underneath the mayor, Spicer appealed to many voters who remain skeptical of the change from town government to city.
Kenneth Menzies, of Precinct 2, said he appreciated that Spicer was not a politician. He was turned off by negative campaigning in the run-up to election day.
“John’s been a (state rep) before,” Menzies said of Stefanini. “His argument is he’s got more experience in that regard, but I don’t think that Yvonne doesn’t have enough experience to operate the town. And she’s been involved at the Museum of Science in an executive position.”
Voter Cheryl Wallace also said she was impressed by Spicer’s background, and believes Spicer can fill gaps in her experience with strategic appointments.
“I just think integrity-wise I trust her more,” she added.