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A key city's voters find little to love

Marlborough sees candidates' limits

By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff, 10/21/2002

One in a series of occasional articles on voters' concerns in 2002.

MARLBOROUGH - It is a phrase no candidate wants to hear, but from Bumpy's cafe to Delaney's tobacco store,
Marlborough residents are speaking it. Unable to work up much enthusiasm for either the Republican or Democratic
candidate for governor, voters interviewed last week kept describing their picks as ''the lesser of two evils.''

''Right now, it's an even race, as far as I'm concerned,'' said Eileen Graham, 40, a bank teller. ''You hear the slinging
back and forth and after a while, you tune it out - till it comes to the ballot, and it comes down to the lesser of two

Conversations with two-dozen voters in this town of 36,000 last week yielded a surprisingly large group who had not
yet committed to any candidate in the gubernatorial race. Voters found enough to like or dislike in both Democrat
Shannon O'Brien and Republican Mitt Romney that, a few weeks before the election, they were stumped.

And even among those who have made up their minds, neither candidate has sparked much passion. The lively
political discussions - and arguments - that typically mark the few weeks before a big election in this city are not

''It's weird,'' said Mayor William Mauro Jr. ''It's very dull. There's been plenty of press on both of them, lots of ads on
TV, but it's very quiet on the street.''

It's not apathy, however. Many Marlborough residents have been paying attention to the governor's race, catching at
least some of the three major debates televised so far. Many are ready with strong opinions on the issues. But the
governor's race hasn't struck strong chords here, partly because some residents see state government as remote from,
and relatively powerless to affect, their biggest concerns.

The voters of Marlborough, surrounded by high-tech and financial companies that have laid off workers, know the
sting of the economic downturn firsthand and feel themselves at the mercy of forces much larger than Massachusetts,
and beyond the man or woman who will lead it. The back-and-forth between O'Brien and Romney about the best way
to spark economic development in Massachusetts, and their weeks-long bickering over whether large, out-of-state
companies should be considered ''dinosaurs,'' has not registered with voters here at all.

''It's the state of the economy. People are more concerned about survival than politics,'' said Richard Callaghan,
owner of Callaghan Fire Arms, on Main Street. ''How are they going to address companies having layoffs? Companies
lost contracts. No governor has control over that. Fidelity is not doing that well. What's the solution to that? Talk
people into investing more money in the stock market, when the economy is so bad?''

The lack of enthusiasm in Marlborough should concern both O'Brien and Romney. Perched near the junction of the
Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 495, in the state's high-tech corridor, Marlborough is the kind of city a
candidate needs to win convincingly to pull out a comfortable victory on Nov. 5. Home to blue-collar, longtime locals
and newer, white-collar employees of the many corporations that give this city its healthy tax base, Marlborough is in
many ways a snapshot of the state. Traditionally Democratic, the city has voted Republican in recent state contests.
Those results were largely attributed to former governor Paul Cellucci, who hails from nearby Hudson.

This year's candidates know the city counts for much. When Romney began criticizing O'Brien for calling big
companies from other states dinosaurs, he chose to do it before employees at the Fidelity Investments company here.
And O'Brien will hold a town meeting in Marlborough next week. Each of them has plenty of ground to make up.

''They're fighting with each other about who has done what to whom and that's not my issue,'' said James DiMauro,
61, who is undecided. ''My issue is taxes. But they're calling each other names. That turns me off a lot.''

''I don't like either of them,'' said John Shays, 41, a data manager at Raytheon who is worried about layoffs and was
eating breakfast at the counter at Jake's last week. ''The games they're playing, the ambiguity. If everybody could just
tell the truth, we could make a good, easy decision. But they can't. You don't know what's the actual facts.''

Shays has decided to vote according to ''their history of what they've done,'' and on that count, he said, Romney
seemed to have more experience. But though he usually votes Republican, he was still having trouble making up his

''I'm not enthusiastic about Mitt Romney,'' he said. ''You get a feel, you don't trust people. I'd lean more toward
Shannon in that regard.''

''Mitt Romney would probably be OK, but he's got that cookie-cutter image about him I'm not that crazy about,'' said
Art Domings, a 59-year-old insurance broker eating lunch at Bumpy's. ''He reminds me of [former governor Michael S.]
Dukakis: not a hair out of place, and he never said a thing that meant anything.'' Domings said he would probably
vote for Romney anyway, saying Republicans are ''better at creating jobs.''

Callaghan, who a couple of months ago was a diehard O'Brien supporter, had begun to take a more critical view of
the Democrat last week, largely because of what he called her overly aggressive debate performances. For example,
he said, she accused Romney of promising jobs to supporters, then failed to name those supporters.

''She started the mudslinging,'' Callaghan said. ''Don't say those things unless you have proof positive of what you're

Few of the themes the race has spotlighted so far are resonating here. Though Romney has been trying for months to
cast O'Brien as too much of an insider to institute government reforms, most Marlborough residents interviewed said
the insider/outsider debate will not be a factor in their decision. Only one resident interviewed had heard of the
dinosaur controversy (though that might change because the Romney campaign launched a TV spot on the theme
late last week).

Patrick Bresnahan, a 23-year-old who works at a large company in Marlborough, was familiar only with the fact that
the Romney campaign had spliced together an O'Brien quote in the first version of the ad, creating controversy.
Bresnahan said he wouldn't vote in this election because he ''wouldn't really support either candidate.''

One issue that has resonated here, strongly, is bilingual education. Romney and O'Brien have been sparring for weeks
over a ballot initiative to replace bilingual programs with English immersion, and voters in Marlborough have been
hearing them.

They are particularly attuned to the arguments because of the city's large population of Brazilian immigrants. About
7,000 Brazilians have moved into Marlborough during the past decade, and most do not yet vote. Most of the voters
interviewed, who were not from the immigrant community, agreed with Romney's position, that immersion is better
than bilingual classes. O'Brien supports both approaches, but opposes attempts to do away with bilingual classes. The
bilingual issue is what most of the talk is about at Bumpy's, said owner Randy Scott, 48.

Voter after voter cited health care as their most pressing issue, and complained that neither the GOP nor the
Democratic candidate had proposed meaningful plans for making care for the elderly, and prescriptions, more
affordable. That's despite the fact that both Romney and O'Brien have outlined detailed health care plans.

Not that they could do much, anyway, Scott said. ''That's bigger than the state,'' he said.

That theme, of problems being too big for state government, was sounded repeatedly among Marlborough voters.

For Anne Marie Martin, a Raytheon software programmer who said she has seen too many of her friends laid off, the
decision came down to gender and trustworthiness, which she said led her to favor O'Brien. But as far as jobs and the
economy were concerned, neither candidate would make a difference, she said.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 10/21/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.