McCarthySun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.

DRACUT -- Not only is School Committee member Matt Sheehan's quest for a third term being challenged by a first-time candidate in Michelle McCarthy, but McCarthy is also about to become a first-time voter, if and when she casts a ballot in the May 5 election.

McCarthy, who has lived in town for more than seven years, confirmed that she registered to vote for the first time in Dracut on March 12. It is the same day she entered Town Hall, accompanied by School Committee member Dan O'Connell, to pick up nominating papers to make her first run for political office.

"This is a huge step out of my comfort zone," McCarthy said.

SheehanSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.
"I'm not a politician, nor are politics my forte."

McCarthy grew up in Billerica and moved to Dracut in 2007 with husband Dan and their two children, both of whom attend Dracut public schools.

"I'm very interested in learning the process," she said. "And I'm glad that during the override campaign, (O'Connell) encouraged a lot of people to get out to vote. I just wasn't one of them."

When asked why she hasn't voted in a town election, McCarthy cited parental time constraints and her past contentment with the status quo.

"At the time, between raising a family and doing everything we were doing as parents, why didn't I vote? Because I thought we were being taken care of as a community," McCarthy said.


"But as I looked into things more, I found that we really were not being fully taken care of as a community. So I thought, what better way to step into the ring and get involved than to dive in headfirst?"

Sheehan, when told his opponent has never voted in Dracut, predicted that such information will not sit well with voters.

"To run for public office, you need a voting record to stand on, and her never having voted in almost 7 1/2 years that she's been in town, that raises a lot of questions," Sheehan said. "I'm for everyone getting involved in the political process -- the more the better. But part of being involved is voting, going out to cast your ballot in every election. She has no history of doing that."

Others in town don't think McCarthy's voting record will be much of a factor in the election. School Committee Chairman Michael McNamara credits McCarthy for having the "gumption" to run.

"Obviously, having not voted is a circumstance the candidate has to deal with and explain, but the Lowell Sun always encourages people to get involved and, as Mrs. McCarthy discovered, to do that, you have to be a registered voter," McNamara said. "I don't necessarily see it as a negative. I'm sure others will. I'm sure Mr. Sheehan will."

McNamara has declared himself neutral in the race.

"I see the benefit of having an experienced School Committee member, but there's also something to be said for change, especially when a segment of the community feels strongly that Mr. Sheehan was opposed to the override in a negative way, and stood with the strong leaders of the 'no' vote," McNamara added.

McCarthy did not mention Sheehan's anti-override stance as a reason she entered the race.

She said she wanted to dispel "false rumors that have been circulating around town" claiming that she was recruited to run and her campaign is being financed by O'Connell, who co-authored November's ballot question requesting an added $2.9 million for the schools.

"As somebody who didn't know what to expect when I went into Town Hall to sign up, I reached out to Mr. O'Connell for advice (on the filing process)," McCarthy said.

O'Connell said he offered McCarthy guidance only after she asked. He did not want it to be misconstrued as a formal endorsement of her campaign, O'Connell said.

Sheehan is convinced that O'Connell played a major role in activating McCarthy's campaign, however.

"Dan doesn't look favorably upon me," he said. "I wouldn't call it animosity, but he's unhappy with me because I didn't support the override. My position was, and still is, that you can't tax people to death. And that's the reason why he brought somebody into Town Hall and is actively out there supporting somebody to try to get me off the seat."

McCarthy has received messages of support and offers to assist her campaign from fellow school parents and residents.

"Let me know when I can hold a sign, or help in some way," wrote Liz Pellegrino Buckley beneath McCarthy's campaign announcement on Facebook.

"Show them what you're made of!" wrote Kelly Jean Gagnon, who also volunteered to help with the campaign.

Sheehan said he is not taking the election for granted.

"I will run on my issues, pound the pavement, and work my tail off," he said.

Follow John Collins on Twitter and Tout at johncolowellsun.