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Pittsfield Mayoral Recount Confirms Tyer Win

The first recount of a mayoral election in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in a decade has affirmed the victory of incumbent Linda Tyer.

The November 5th contest ended months of contentious campaigning with a win for Tyer. The first Pittsfield mayor to serve a four-year term, the former city clerk was sent back to the corner office by more than 500 votes against city councilor Melissa Mazzeo. But a week and a half later, Mazzeo filed a petition to see the count reexamined, alleging election irregularities like unauthorized Tyer allies being present in the registrar of voters office and potential voter fraud. The move triggered a daylong return to the ballots for city election workers. By Monday night, city clerk Michele Benajmin announced the results of the election all over again.

“Mayor Tyer’s total is 6,185," read Benjamin. "Councilor Mazzeo’s total is 5,657. There were 37 write-ins, and there were 82 blanks.”

As it turned out, Tyer actually gained two votes.

But for Mazzeo, that came as no surprise.

“Well the next step would be taking our challenges to superior court," she told WAMC. "That’s your next step, which is originally where we wanted to go but you have to exhaust your remedies first. I’m not oblivious to the fact that making up 590 votes or 526 votes, we’re never expecting that, and we didn’t expect it. Our thing over all has always been to count the ballots and count the absentee ballots.”

Petitioning for the recount, Mazzeo drew attention to two issues – one, the allegation that the number of absentee ballots was suspiciously high, and two, that an unauthorized person had been in the registrar of voters office on Election Day.

“It was Barry Clairmont," said Mazzeo. "Being the husband of the candidate, I think it would be the last place you would want to find yourself.”

Mazzeo framed her efforts as a test of the city’s election systems.

“If we’re all done with this and it comes up and shows everything was done perfectly, then it’s probably going to be a good thing for the public to know that when they go cast their ballot that it’s done with the utmost carefulness and integrity," said the city councilor. "But if it’s not, I think it’s time that people realize that if things aren’t going well or done right and correctly, then we need to fix it.”

But contesting every absentee ballot for Tyer was just the beginning of her campaign’s protest. Her attorney, Andrew Hochberg, explained why entire boxes and bags of ballots were protested en masse by the Mazzeo campaign.

“These boxes have to be kept under lock and seal," said the attorney. "So when they’re under lock and seal, they’re sealed on both sides. There were three boxes from the precincts that had questionable seals – either broken, missing, or another issue, and that was I believe in 4A. They’re also blue transfer bags of the unused, unvoted ballots. And there were on three of the bags there were issues with them.”

“The reason why I’m not concerned about these irregularities is because the recount has validated the results from November 5th,” said Tyer. “There was not 526 votes found in favor of Melissa Mazzeo. So that’s why I’m not concerned at all about this issue with the seals, because those ballots have been protected from the moment they left the precincts on November 5th and they were locked in a vault until today.”

The mayor accused the Mazzeo campaign of attempting to disenfranchise voters who cast absentee ballots for her, and described its protest as “nonsense.”

“Fortunately, the board of registrars didn’t agree with that and counted all of those ballots for me as they should have because it’s very obvious that those ovals were filled in next to my name,” said the mayor.

If there’s a next step in the examination of November 5th’s vote, it has been safeguarded by a letter of protest distributed by Hochberg to the board of registrars, the city solicitor, and the Tyer campaign referring to the boxes of ballots the Mazzeo campaign says could have been tampered with.

“I’m challenging all the ballots, and I’ve told them that I’m challenging all those ballots but those ballots also went through the tables and individual ballots may or may not have been challenged and I know obviously, and you’ve  watched that there have been challenges," said Hochberg. "People have raised their hands and there’s been challenges going on throughout the day. This is just an overall challenge and that can be dealt with at a later point if there’s a legal action filed.”

Hochberg says that he will not represent the next phase of a potential Mazzeo suit. He said the campaign has spoken with law firms in Boston about such an action, but has not yet selected one.

Secretary of State William Galvin’s office confirmed to WAMC that it has been in touch with the Mazzeo campaign over the allegations.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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