April elections can be sleepy affairs. Many voters who turn out for presidential- and state-wide contests stay home for local elections in April. That’s really too bad, as the people you elect to local boards and offices have a much bigger say in your day to day life than does, say, Barack Obama.
But this April in Belmont, we actually have some choices on the ballot and a good number of competitive contests – including in 6 of 8 precincts for Town Meeting. That’s amazing! It also leaves voters with many choices.
Quite a few of you have reached out to me in recent days for my thoughts, so I thought I’d use Blogging Belmont to talk about who I’m planning to vote for and why. In some cases, where a race is uncontested and/or I feel like I don’t know the candidate well enough, I’m going to keep mum and not say anything. As a rule, I vote proactively – so I vote for people who I like and whose ideas I support, not just because their name is on a ballot. That’s true even in an uncontested race. Blank is always an option. I know many of you do the same.
So, going down the ballot:
Moderator | Board of Select(wo)men | Town Clerk | Board of Assessors | Board of Cemetery Commissioners | Board of Health | Housing Authority | Trustees of Belmont Library | School Committee | Precinct 8 Town Meeting
Moderator – Michael Widmer (unopposed)
My thoughts: Mike is running unopposed but deserves your vote anyway. Speaking personally, he was a huge asset to me, Bonnie Friedman and others over the summer when a dispute arose with the Selectmen over the Town Center Reconstruction. Mike was always very accessible and worked cooperatively to make sure the Special Town Meeting in August went off without a hitch. I felt like he heard both sides in the debate and kept discussion of the issue focused, even though tempers had flared on both sides. He’s done a great job introducing electronic voting to Town Meeting without going overboard (the technology has its pros and cons). I’d like to see more diversity in Mike’s committee appointments, with a focus on getting some new blood onto important committees like Warrant Committee, Capital Budget, Planning, etc.
Board of Select(wo)men – Mark Paolillo and Alexandra Ruban
My thoughts: Alexandra Ruban is your choice here. I’ve written about why I’m backing her before, and invite you to read what I’ve written. In brief: she’s a mom, a businesswoman (MBA from Babson) and a problem solver by nature. I think she’s smart and insightful – a quick study who knows her mind and won’t get wobbly knees when confronting tough, politically fraught issues. Political insiders in town have decided that her lack of time in their company makes her unqualified, but history in our Town of Homes suggests otherwise: she wouldn’t be the first Selectman to bypass a route up through the various, powerful committees to the top office. Given the sclerosis that currently plagues our town government, that’s not such a bad thing.
Alexandra is bringing a fresh perspective and a fresh set of eyes to the job of Selectwoman – just as it took her fresh eyes to note (at much personal cost) the town’s decision to renew its solid waste contract without soliciting competing bids.
Given the myriad of challenges facing the town, among them: a continued structural budget deficit, a ~$200 million capital budget backlog and a fast growing student population – new ideas and a new perspective are very much needed on the Board. Everyone’s attention is focused on Belmont High (its a huge project) but the other problems pressing down on our Town of Homes won’t go away while we figure out what we’re going to do with the High School. Having a Board that can “walk and chew gum at the same time” (so to speak) will be a tremendous asset. Alexandra can get us to do that. Vote for her!
Town Clerk – Ellen O’Brien Cushman (unopposed)
My thoughts: like Mike Widmer: Ellen runs unopposed, but you should vote for her anyway. She and her staff do a great job, and they do it with a smile. The town is lucky to have her on the job – and its not an easy job, by any stretch. Our town elections go off smoothly and communications to the community from the Clerk are frequent. The town has much more work to do bringing both new and historical data online and making it available in a format that is easy for residents to access and understand. We’re still too reliant on email and (alas) paper rather than leveraging social media and the web to their fullest potential. But Belmont’s not alone there, and its not Ellen’s job alone to make it happen – it needs to be a government/town-wide initiative. More on this later.
Board of Assessors – Charles Laverty (unopposed)
My thoughts: This is one where I haven’t done as much homework as I should – in part because Charles is running unopposed. I leave it to readers to comment or provide their thoughts on this post and Charles as a candidate.
Board of Cemetery Commissioners – William Chemelli (unopposed)
My thoughts: Another unopposed race without much information to go on. As with Board of Assessors: I leave it to readers to comment or provide their thoughts on this post and William as a candidate.
Board of Health – Julie Lemay (unopposed)
My thoughts: I’m going to cast a vote for Julie for Board of Health. I haven’t had the chance to speak with her, but her background in environmental health and experience working on public health issues will be a big asset to the town and nicely complement the work and backgrounds of other BOH members!
Housing Authority (5 Year Term) – Anne Barrington Mahon (unopposed)
My thoughts: She’s running unopposed, but I’m voting for Anne all the way. Housing Authority is a little noticed, but really important agency within town that oversees our affordable housing developments and stock. Given the importance of the job, aging house stock and fickle financial support from the State government, we need a staunch and outspoken advocate for residents and for Belmont taxpayers. Passage of the CPA has made more funds available to begin making improvements to our public housing, but the town also needs to make sure that its using its CPA dollars widely, while still demanding that state fulfills its obligations. Anne will be a huge asset. Vote for her.
Housing Authority (3 Year Term) – Paul Rickter and Tommasina Anne Olsen
My thoughts: I’m voting for Paul Rickter in this race. Paul is a neighbor of mine in Precinct 8 and a super smart and competent guy. His professional background and experience are in software engineering and he’s shown an engineer’s mindset in this campaign: working with diligence and attention to detail, canvassing large parts of the town and becoming well versed in the BHA’s history, current status and future plans. His answers at the League of Women Voters night were balanced and insightful. Vote for Paul for Housing Authority.
Trustees of Belmont Public Library- Mark Carthy and Mary Donahue Stearns (unopposed)
My thoughts: Mark and Mary are running for the two open spots, so there’s no contest here. I’ll say that I liked Mary’s statement in the League of Women Voters publication quite a bit. She was alone in talking about the future (and future importance) of libraries as community information centers – a resource for students, seniors, the self employed and anyone in search of information but unable (or unwilling) to pay the hefty subscription fee that comes with it. Mark spoke about increasing hours and the library, especially on weekends, which I also support and about making the library a more accessible resource for school children. Vote for both Mark and Mary!
School Committee (3 Year Term) – Sabri Murat Bicer, Kimberly O’Mahony and Andrea Prestwich
My thoughts: I’m voting for Murat Bicer and Andrea to fill the two, 3 year seats on School Committee. Both have impressed me with their resumes (Bicer is a venture capitalist, Prestwich an astrophysicist) and their thoughtfulness about the public schools and the job of School Committee impressed me. Prestwich describes herself as a serious nerd and numbers person who has rallied support in town for starting the High School day later to give students time to sleep late. The Belmont administration has indicated, along with other Middlesex districts, that they’re on board with starting the school day later, too, but the devil will be in the details, and we’ll need Andrea on the Board to manage those details. Murat seems both cautious and open-minded. His background in finance and business will be a huge asset on the Board, especially as the Belmont High project rolls forward, and as new negotiations with the various teachers and school employee unions loom. This is a no-briner: Murat and Andrea are your choices for School Committee.
School Committee (1 Year Term) – Elyse Shuster (unopposed)
My thoughts: Elyse has been a tremendous asset to the Board for the past three years. Her youngest child is getting ready to leave the Belmont Public Schools, so she is running for an open, 1 year spot rather than re-upping for another full term. Having her experience on what will be a fairly new and inexperienced School Committee will be invaluable. Voter for Elyse for the one year School Committee position!
Town Meeting elections happen every year, with one third of each precinct’s 36 members up for election each year – each serving three year terms, unless a partial (1 or 2) year term is open. I’m a Precinct 8 resident so I’ll be voting for a crowded slate of 18 candidates. Here’s how I see it:
Town Meeting – Precinct 8
We have what might be considered an “embarrassment of riches” here in Precinct 8, where its more typical that we have just enough candidates to fill the 12 slots. This year we have 18 candidates for those 12 positions – so it will be a tight race. There are a number of explanations for this: many P8 incumbents re-upped (me included). Other residents were activated by the Town Green dispute with the Selectmen this summer and owe their candidacy to that. The Community Path is also a big issue in 8, where it has great support (esp. the pedestrian bridge to BHS), but where it directly affects abutters on Channing Road.
Long and short: there are more than 12 great candidates for Town Meeting in P8 (the author included). Many I know personally or have gotten to know in the course of this campaign. I’d like to call out a couple who may be lesser known or who are “alphabetically challenged” and will appear down on the ballot. They are:
Gi Hyun Yoon-Huang, Winn Street – I first met Gi this summer while we were working together to try to get the Selectmen to reverse their decision to restore the cut through road to Belmont Center. She was a quiet but insistent advocate for the original plan (Plan A), sitting patiently at late night Board of Selectmen meetings – often with young children in tow – to make sure her voice was heard. She’s a physician and a mom and would be an amazing asset to Town Meeting.
Michael Crowley, Farnham Street – I hadn’t met Michael face to face until very recently, but he’s been a regular commenter to this blog. A 20+ year government employee, he spent much time in the Office of Management and Budget and has a great head for policy and an equally good head for numbers.He’s got a great command of many of the complex issues facing town – from the schools to the budget and pension obligations to the Community Path. He’d be a great addition to Town Meeting.
Steven Saar, Alexander Ave. – A longtime Belmont resident (he moved here in 1998), Steve is taking his first stab at Town Meeting, but he’s been politically involved for a long time. You may have seen him out with his chocolate lab, festooned with Yes for Belmont signs. A great guy, husband of School Committee candidate Andrea Prestwich and a Ph.D physicist for the Smithsonian.
Marty Bitner, Claflin Street – Marty is the father of two young boys (Bruno: 7 and Nico: 1) and has been very involved in the Winn Brook community. He’s also a Ph.D astrophysicist who is working as a software engineer. Super great guy focused on long term financial viability. Pro Community Path, pro Solar. A big “yes.”
The full list of awesome candidates for TM in P8 follows – this time in alphabetical order:
- Kathleen “Fitz” Cowing, Cross Street
- Christine Kochem, Jason Road
- Anne-Marie Lambert, Chilton Street
- Roger Read, Munroe Street
- Paul Rickter, Cross Street
- Paul Roberts (Me!), Cross Street
- Ann Rittenburg, Farnham Street
- Marty Bitner, Claflin Street
- Michael Crowley, Farnham Street
- Sonia Hraiz, Plymouth Ave
- Melissa MacIntryre, Winn Street
- Diane Beckley Miller, Statler Road
- Steven Saar, Alexander Ave
- Robin Whitworth, Cross Street
- Gi Hyun Yoon-Huang, Winn Street
I’m happy to take other recommendations/endorsements from others (and other precincts) via comments or e-mail: paul (at) bloggingbelmont (dot) com.