Town elections: an appeal for more diversity turned down

Voter turnout for 2014 town elections May 6 was fairly low: around 11 percent town-wide. In the only contest for a town-wide office, incumbent Nancy A. Daly and challenger Benjamin A. Franco won for Board of Selectmen. Challengers Brooks A. Ames and Arthur W. Conquest, III, made a joint appeal based on increasing diversity in Brookline’s work force. However, unlike Mr. Franco, who advertised endorsements from Brookline PAX and from many well known current and former office-holders, they did not campaign vigorously and finished well behind.

In the uncontested elections for other town-wide offices, incumbents tended to finish ahead, but there were no large margins separating candidates. Slates of town meeting candidates won in Precincts 1 and 6. Those contests were partly stimulated by Thomas J. “Tommy” Vitolo moving from 1 to 6. He campaigned tirelessly in his new precinct, where there was a single open seat, and led the vote count. Newly minted Dr. Vitolo, a B.U. systems engineering grad who is now at Synapse Energy Economics, has been described as eager for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, perhaps as soon as next year.

As in several past elections, Precinct 6 proved dynamic. Unofficial results from election evening indicate challengers Brian R. Hochleutner and Jocina D. Becker displaced incumbents Arthur W. Conquest, III, and Kerry O’Donnell. In Precinct 3, challenger Heather A. Hamilton appears to have won a town meeting seat, displacing incumbent Gregg D. Shapiro.

Otherwise, and as usual, incumbent town meeting members mostly won re-election. In the other town meeting contests, the following new candidates appear to have won: Bettina Neuefind in Precinct 1, Eric D. Berke in Precinct 4, David J. Knight in Precinct 5, Edward L. Loechler and Jeanne A. Mansfield in Precinct 8, and Carol B. Caro, Francis G. Caro and David Micley in Precinct 10.

Spirited contests for town meeting stimulated voter turnout. Precinct 6 was at the top with 20 percent. Precincts 5 and 16, which usually see high turnouts, were next at 16 percent and 14 percent. Precincts without town meeting contests tended to have low turnouts. At the bottom were Precincts 2 and 11 with 7 percent and Precinct 7 with 8 percent.

Election losses by Mr. Ames and Mr. Conquest, who also lost a seat in town meeting he held since 1997, should probably be read more as a reflection on Brookline’s election campaign customs than on the platform they promoted at Candidate’s Night, April 16. Diversity in town employment has been a perennial issue in Brookline since at least the 1960s. Progress has been slow, with the schools achieving somewhat more than other local agencies. Surprisingly, however, they did not mention that issue in a postcard mailed to voters.

An issue-oriented campaign has occasionally made headway. In 1971, for example, Haskell A. Kassler won for Board of Selectmen, promising to make rent control effective. Usually though, as seems to have happened in 2014, vigorous personal campaigning proves to be the winning card.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 7, 2014

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