REPUBLICAN REP. SHAUNNA O’CONNELL always seems to be one step ahead in the race to succeed Thomas Hoye Jr. as mayor of Taunton.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito in January broached the idea of Hoye leaving the mayor’s post to become the interim register of probate in Bristol County. But the appointment wasn’t officially announced until August 5, one day before nomination papers were due in the mayor’s race.
O’Connell, given a heads-up by the Baker-Polito administration before the announcement, was ready. The Taunton rep announced her candidacy for mayor within an hour of the announcement and even sent out a robocall to voters. Other candidates for mayor, who had no inkling the popular Hoye was stepping down, had to scramble to get their nomination papers in on time.
O’Connell also enjoys a big advantage in fundraising. She transferred all the money in her state rep campaign account into her mayoral account. She also went on a fundraising tear this year – a year in which she wasn’t up for reelection – raising $30,237 in the first six months of 2019 and $34,708 between July 1 and September 6, for a total of $64,945.
That amount is nearly $29,000 more than she raised all of last year when she faced a challenge from Emily Farrer for her state rep seat. And it’s nearly $21,000 more than she raised in 2017, a non-election year.
O’Connell has spent $48,880 this year – $28,501 since July 1 – and still has a balance in her account of $29,235 as of September 6, the end of the most recent reporting period. Her three rivals have far less. Estele Borges, a Taunton city councilor, has raised $8,092, spent $4,300, and had a balance of $3,806 as of September 6. Firefighter Mark Baptiste has raised $847 and spent $517, leaving him with a balance of $329. Peter Bzdula hasn’t raised any money at all.
It’s unclear whether O’Connell’s aggressive fundraising this year is a sign she has known for a long time that Hoye was preparing to step down as mayor. Administration officials confirmed O’Connell was consulted on who should fill the position, which had been vacant since November 2018, but it’s not clear when the consultation was held or how much information was shared.
In the most recent campaign finance reporting period – July 1 through September 6 – O’Connell appears to have held a fundraiser raising $8,980 on July 25, 11 days before Hoye was nominated for the register of probate job. Nearly all of the rest of the money raised during the most recent reporting period came in after O’Connell announced her run for mayor.
O’Connell’s fundraising report also shows some coordination with the Massachusetts Republican Party. Between August 23 and September 4, she reported three reimbursements to the party for a total of $13,750. The reimbursements were for payments to Get Set Marketing of Springfield for what appear to be campaign mailings.
There hasn’t been a debate yet in the mayor’s race. The closest thing was a forum on September 12 where candidates separately made statements but no questions or candidate interactions were allowed.
The preliminary election for mayor in Taunton is September 24, with two candidates advancing to the final in November.