ATTLEBORO — Paul Heroux remembers campaigning in the heat of a weekend day last summer when he knocked on 225 doors in one afternoon to meet voters.
When he got home, he looked at Facebook and saw his election opponent, Mayor Kevin Dumas, had spent the day vacationing in Newport.
Heroux said he got the feeling right then that things were going well in his quest to unseat the 14-year incumbent.
In fact, he said, things felt right from before he even started his campaign to become mayor.
The year before when he was running for re-election for state representative, he said voters kept urging him to run for mayor.
People wanted a change, he said.
At first he wasn’t interested, but following a school budget crisis, he was turned off by reports that Dumas had offered to restore funding for school crossing guards if the city council would restore his aide position that had been cut.
“That was the point when I really said ‘wow.’ I really felt an sense of obligation,” he said.
The summer day of door knocking re-enforced to him that he was running a bottom up campaign while Dumas was running one from the top down.
“I was going to the voters. He thought the voters would come to him,” Heroux said of the difference in the two approaches.
Endorsements from a number of city and state officials, even Gov. Charlie Baker, did not help Dumas and maybe solidified the impression that he was running as an insider, Heroux said.
“I didn’t have one single endorsement,” he said.
Heroux eventually beat Dumas by a margin of 53-47 percent, a result that shocked many of the mayor’s supporters, but was no surprise to Heroux and his campaign.
He said throughout the campaign he was confident he would win, unlike previous elections when he said he was a nervous wreck running for state representative.
And what a campaign it was.
Time and again people said it was the craziest they had ever seen in Attleboro.
It involved Heroux getting bit by a dog and knocked off his bike by a passing car while door knocking.
It included revelations that five candidates for city office, including Heroux, had been arrested at some point in their lives, with three of those candidates winning.
There were also stories about Heroux telling an ex-girlfriend he didn’t want to be mayor.
Then, the day after winning, Heroux announced he wanted to be mayor and keep his job as state representative.
After a public outcry, he said he would resign from the Legislature and put all his energy into being mayor.
Despite all the turmoil, Todd Kobus, who won a race for city council, said he couldn’t draw any big conclusion from the election.
Although people voted for change in the mayor’s office, they kept every city councilor who ran for re-election except one, so there was no consistent message from voters.
Still, change is coming.
Kobus and Laura Dolan won open seats and will be new to the council while Diana Holmes defeated incumbent Shannon Heagney to make it three rookies on the 11 person council.
Long-time Council President Frank Cook retired so the council will have new leadership too.
But, it was the mayor’s race that captured the public attention.
Bill Bowles, who helped manage Heroux’s campaign, said a school budget crisis in 2016 was a key factor in Heroux winning.
It got people openly looking for an alternative candidate.
“I think educational funding played a major role in the eyes of the voters. Thirty teachers were laid off. That was a major element in the election,” Bowles said.
Bowles said the two mayoral campaigns were models of contrasting style.
Dumas ran a classic incumbent campaign with several events involving political insiders while Heroux went to great lengths to reach out to residents on the outside.
Dumas and campaign manager Sue Blais declined to comment.
Bowles also said social media played a larger role in the 2017 city election than ever before.
At least four Facebook pages ran election commentary with Voter Attleboro and Attleboro for Education endorsing city council candidates.
An even bigger factor, Bowles said, was candidates creating their own Facebook pages to communicate directly with voters.
He said the campaigns would track how many likes and comments to try to get a sense of how the election was going.
When Facebook friends of the candidates shared what the candidates said, it reached a whole new audience.
“It really helped get the message out, especially with young people. That’s the way they get their news,” he said.