Our annual town election is upon us. If you’ve been counting lawn signs and following the contested races – particularly those for Selectman and School Committee – you know that its going to be a close election. So, with the polls set to open bright and early tomorrow, I thought it was the right time to make Bloggingbelmont’s pick for the major, contested races.
First off: the Board of Selectman race. This is a two-person contest to replace outgoing Selectman, Angelo Firenze. I’ll be voting for Dan Scharfman to take Angelo’s place on the Board of Selectman tomorrow.
I should start by saying, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have volunteered for Dan’s campaign and helped design and run the campaign Web site. I should also add that Dan is a good friend of mine: a frequent partner on long runs out on the Minuteman Trail or (Dan’s preference) up and down Arlington Heights. Running gives you lots of empty hours to talk. Dan and my talks have run the gamut: kids, marriage, marathoning and – of course- town politics. We’ve both served on School Committee (though I’d note that Dan’s tenure has been both more distinguished and less rocky than my own).
Looking at this objectively, though, I think there’s an abundance of evidence that Dan is the right choice in the Selectman’s race, and what Belmont needs to move the Board Of Selectman (and Belmont) into the future. His intelligence, patience, work ethic, and his preference for facts over ideology will be a welcome addition to our understaffed and overtaxed Board. Dan’s talent for bridging political divides and finding consensus among opposing constituencies may mean that he’s nobody’s darling, politically. But it also makes him a perfect fit for the job of Belmont Selectman. When it comes to qualifications: Dan has already spent two years on School Committee – a highly visible, elected town-wide office. His service there is proof, if any was needed, of his professionalism, commitment and attention to detail – key qualities in a political environment in which there are no easy choices to be made.
As for the race: both Andy and Dan have run clean campaigns and both have articulated a positive vision for the town’s future. It’s heartening that both candidates for Selectman recognize the need to diversify the town’s finances, maintain the excellence of its school system and make government more efficient. Read between the lines, however, and there are real differences between the two Selectman candidates.
Dan has spoken repeatedly of the need for a long-term vision and plan for the town. He has made the case, forcefully, for the need to reform the way Belmont does business. For Dan, this doesn’t mean slashing services to reduce the tax burden. It means having a plan for the future that Belmontonians support and then putting people in the key positions, town-wide, to get us there.
Dan sees his role as Selectman not as an opportunity to impose his vision on the town, but as an opportunity to devolve responsibility from the Board. By putting the town’s business in the hands of smart, competent executives, administrators and professionals – rather than part time, underpaid Selectman – we can find the efficiencies and the new revenue sources we need. Therein, we’ll find a path out of the budgetary and political woods. Dan’s three decades of experience as a technology consultant helping cash-strapped non-profits implement money saving technologies has been great preparation for the work ahead as Selectman.
Mr. Rojas, on the other hand, is offering more of what we’ve had for the last six years with retiring Selectman Angelo Firenze. There are promises of big savings through “consolidation” of services like IT, public works, and building services. This, even though repeated assessments of such proposals over the years have found slim savings – and, in some cases, higher costs- through consolidation in those areas. This is a far cry from the millions needed to repair Belmont’s structural budget deficit.
There’s the requisite line about the need to “support the schools.” (You don’t get elected in Belmont without saying that.) I think, in Mr. Rojas’s case, the “I support the public schools” line is directly contradicted by the same “earn your override” intransigence that has led to the steady degradation of our public school system and town services under Mr. Firenze’s tenure.
What Belmont needs is a Board of Selectmen that is interested in doing what it takes to make Belmont a better place to live five years from now than it is today. We need leadership to move us beyond the chaos of budget gaps, one time funds and “level service” budgeting. We need leaders who will preserve what makes Belmont great, while beginning to move us towards those things that will make us even greater. If you care about Belmont and its future, then your choice is clear. Vote Dan Scharfman for Selectman at the polls tomorrow!