O'Day's (SEE CORRECTION) hard-fought race pays off; Unlikely candidate wins 14th House seat.
The following correction was published March 22, 2007:
James O'Day of West Boylston won the Democratic primary Tuesday for the 14th Worcester District seat in the state House of Representatives. Because of an editing error, the stakes in that election were misstated in a headline in yesterday's edition. Mr. O'Day will run against unenrolled candidate Joseph Cariglia of Worcester in the general election April 17.
If they told him once they told him a hundred times: a West Boylston candidate can't win a state representative seat in a district made up mostly of Worcester.
James O'Day heard this conventional political wisdom from the beginning - back in November, when Worcester Democrat James B. Leary left his 14th Worcester House District seat to become Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray's chief of staff.
Still, he parlayed his Worcester roots, a crowded Democratic primary field, a healthy campaign war chest and an eager campaign ground game into what looked, on paper, to be an easy victory. His supporters knew differently, however. It was a fight for every vote against a talented and well-funded field of candidates.
But as it turned out, Mr. O'Day did not even need the 50 percent plurality he pulled out of West Boylston. He won Worcester outright. Districtwide, he took 41 percent of the vote, vowing "to work my rear end off" up through the April 17 general election in a one-on-one matchup with unenrolled candidate Joseph Cariglia of Worcester.
About a half-hour after the polls closed last night, Mr. O'Day called his son, Kevin, 22, who was waiting with campaign workers and supporters at Cheoy Lee II restaurant in West Boylston, with the news.
"We won!" Kevin O'Day shouted over the din of about 30 revelers, and an exuberant celebration began in earnest.
Mr. O'Day's supporters had arrived earlier at their hoped-for victory party with cautious optimism. Their candidate raised more than $20,000 and received help from his union, SEIU Local 509, and the grass-roots group Neighbor to Neighbor. But in a special election with low voter turnout predicted, nothing was certain. Of the four candidates, Mr. O'Day was third in fundraising. Topping the field in money was Worcester District 2 City Councilor Philip P. Palmieri, who knows something about winning close elections.
But Mr. Palmieri won barely more than 25 percent of the vote, finishing behind runner-up Paul J. Shea, who amassed 28.5 percent of the 3,421 votes that were tallied. Just 879 votes were cast in West Boylston. Ms. Vescera finished last, with 5.5 percent of the vote.
Mr. O'Day told his supporters that his victory reminded him of Deval L. Patrick's November win, which ended 16 years of Republican governorships in Massachusetts. Those years were not good ones for his union brothers and sisters, said Mr. O'Day, regional vice president for the Department of Social Services union.
"I've spoken to the legislators, not always nicely," he said. "And I'm not making any promises now that it's going to be nicely."
As Mr. O'Day spoke, Mr. Shea entered the room to offer congratulations. The two embraced and Mr. O'Day noted that he had known the Shea family a long time. "It's difficult to be in a race where you know people, but you're a gentleman, Paul," he said.
Mike Grunko, president of SEIU Local 509, said Mr. O'Day proved to be a likeable candidate with natural Irish charm who brought together a wealth of friends and co-workers into the campaign.
Neighbor to Neighbor put more than 50 people to work yesterday, said Carl Nilsson, the group's campaign director.
Allison Kennedy, an organizer with the group, said volunteers and workers identified 900 O'Day supporters in the campaign's final hours.
"These 900 supporters are all residents of Lincoln Village and Great Brook Valley, most of whom would be unlikely to vote without Neighbor to Neighbor's program of voter registration, leadership development and issue education," she said. "In a special election where turnout is likely to be very low, this bloc of voters could provide the margin of victory for O'Day."
As it happened, Mr. O'Day was 622 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Mr. Shea.
"I've never seen the members of Neighbor to Neighbor so motivated to work for someone as they were for Jim O'Day," Mr. Nilsson said.
Mr. Shea said he gives all the credit to Mr. O'Day for running a superior campaign, but would have preferred if the rest of the candidates had followed his lead and refused any money from outside the district.
"I just came off a great campaign where whoever raised the most money didn't win the race and that's when Tommy Foley won the governor's council race," he said of his candidate's November victory.
Mr. Palmieri said he appreciated the issue-based nature of the campaign.
"I'm certainly disappointed, but I congratulate Jim O'Day on his very good victory and certainly I will be supportive of him in the general election. I also want to congratulate all of the other candidates who ran a great race," he said.
Contact Richard Nangle by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CUTLINE: The James O'Day family - sons Tyler, 12, left, and Matt, 9, and Mary Beth O'Day - share a group hug at Mr. O'Day's victory party last night at Cheoy Lee II restaurant in West Boylston.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA
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|Title Annotation:||LOCAL NEWS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Mar 21, 2007|
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