Monday, February 26, 2024

Samuel Gebru listens early Wednesday for results from his run for City Council. School Committee incumbent Patty Nolan, in a purple boa, can be seen at left. (Photo: Marc Levy; below: John Hawkinson)

A daylong hand count of “auxiliary” ballots from Tuesday’s election denied challenger Sean Tierney a seat on the City Council and gave Craig Kelley a seventh term.

Councillor Craig Kelley watches.

The count affirmed preliminary results released early Wednesday – after a two-hour delay resulting from a problem with three voting machine memory cards – in which challegers Sumbul Siddiqui, Quinton Zondervan and Alanna Mallon made it onto the City Council, joining the incumbents seeking to return to their seats: Kelley, and E. Denise Simmons, Marc McGovern, Jan Devereux, Tim Toomey and Dennis Carlone.

Tierney, accepting handshakes and hugs, said he wanted to see the numbers and “see what happens.”

Polls closed in the city’s 11 wards and 34 precincts at 8 p.m., and boxes of ballots arrived between 8:55 and 10:15 p.m. to the counting room at the Citywide Senior Center in Central Square. The memory card problem thinned ranks of watchers, and there were fewer candidates than usual on hand to watch. Challenger Samuel Gebru was on hand for nearly the entire night, and toward the end he was joined by School Committee incumbents Patty Nolan and Kathleen Kelly.

Observers and election workers went home shortly before 2 a.m. with Kelley seemingly returned to council, but only a three-vote margin between Kelley and Tierney, a young Cambridgeport resident (and Cambridge native) who now serves as research director and legal counsel for the Legislature’s Committee on Housing.

The hand count also didn’t change the election for the School Committee election. Only challenger Laurance Kimbrough was preliminarily as announced as joining – again – all incumbents running to regain their seats: Nolan, Manikka Bowman, Emily Dexter, Fred Fantini and Kelly.

The biggest winners of the night were E. Denise Simmons, returned to the council with 2,615 No. 1-ranked ballots that put her well above the 2,251 “quota” of votes needed for council election this year, and challenger Sumbul Siddiqui, another young Cambridge native who uses her law degree to help the low-income and elderly and got 2,530 No. 1 votes; and, on the School Committee side, Nolan, whose  3,455 No. 1-ranked ballots were well above the 2,957 “quota” of votes needed.

Challenger Sean Tierney reacts to news of City Council election results Wednesday. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Election Commissioners pulled the preliminary results from 22,509 ballots considered valid for City Council, and 20,695 for School Committee. With a large number of candidates and potentially a post-Trump bump, voting was up by up about 16 percent from the previous municipal elections. They returned to the Senior Center on Wednesday for a hand count of auxiliary ballots – those that polling-place machines didn’t accept, for reasons ranging from having four No. 1 votes to including a write-in vote – that took until 7:30 p.m. to debate and tabulate, and another 45 minutes calculate for final rankings.

On Tuesday night, election commissioner Polyxane S. Cobb hesitated after reading the eighth name, adding suspense to the announcement. On Wednesday night, she read off eight names, than looked at the sheet and said “This isn’t the right one,” before finally reading off that Kelley was the ninth name and had retained his seat.

After the deadline for overseas absentee ballots passes Nov. 17, vote counts will be made official.

There were 26 candidates for City Council this year, the highest since the 29 who ran in 1993, including six incumbents. Leland Cheung decided not to run after three terms; David Maher will serve full time as president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce after eight terms; and Nadeem Mazen is leaving after two terms with an eye on a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The council hasn’t had so many incumbents’ seats left open for an election since 1989, but that hasn’t prevented big turnovers – in 2013, four challengers were elected after two incumbents opted not to run.

There were 12 candidates for School Committee, with only one incumbent leaving his seat – Richard Harding decided to leave the committee after four consecutive terms to run this year for a council seat, a gamble that didn’t pay off.

A disappointed Gebru sent an email early Wednesday to supporters. “A mentor of mine once said to me in 2012 that as a first-time candidate you have to be willing to run twice,” he wrote. “We didn’t get the results we were hoping for tonight, but I’m proud of the journey that led us here.”