Election 2012 Recap: Board of Selectmen and School Committee

Some thoughts on 2012 Belmont election results for Selectmen and School Committee.

First, congratulations to the winners, and even the non-winners ("loser" is the wrong word here) of the election this week. See "" It was definitely a poster child for "every vote counts." Despite losses, all of the candidates still hold elected office going forward.

I was flattered to be asked to be on a panel by the Belmont Media Center, anchored by Susan Danseyar and BMC's Jack Kelly, for the hour after the polls closed. The next morning my daughter said she saw it on, watched for a few minutes, then decided playing Wii was more interesting. A wise choice, perhaps.

Even though I know I should not be, I'm always surprised that people are so unsure of whom they'll vote for even up to the last minute. A co-worker who has lived in Belmont around 20 years asked me what I knew about the candidates lunchtime Monday, looking for some guidance. So the last-minute "lit drops" and signs at polling places surely do have an effect.

A few thoughts:

Board of Selectmen

I was struck by how the Andy Rojas and Dan Scharfman nearly fell all over each other being so polite and positive. From their public statements and appearances, they could been candidates on the same ticket. Hopefully that mutually supportive vibe continues, building on the improved relationship between the Selectmen and School Committee.

Andy seemed to have far more "control" over what was framed as the leading issue, development at Cushing Square. Development, especially at Cushing, was much easier for voters to latch onto – you can see (or imagine) a cluster of buildings – than other issues like government structure, long-term planning and finances. With people's time and attention spans so short, this is true in any election. Yes, development is an important Belmont issue, but I thought that was more of an argument for staying in the Planning Board than anything. I voted for Dan, believing the wider range of issues I saw him stress were more important for Belmont overall.

But given the closeness of the race, Andy's superior funding put him over the top. (Does anyone have pointers to good articles exploring campaign finance at the local level? Paste in the comments, please.) At least Dan, in the spirit of Belmont frugality, got more than twice as many votes per dollar.

School Committee

I was not surprised by the School Committee outcome, but had expected it to be a bit tighter.

Anne Lougee has worked for years, largely out of the wider public eye, supporting the schools, from Wellington through the High School. That solid work means a lot and people recognize that. Add to that her professional experience and 6-month head start as a School Committee appointee and all the was left was to wonder how many votes ahead she'd finish.

I think Pascha Griffiths' enthusiasm, drive for innovation and first-hand experience as an educator really grabbed people. With tough fiscal times everywhere, school districts have been stuck in maintenance mode. Pascha will expand Belmont's thinking, and people recognized that. She did great as a relative newcomer to town and the general political sphere.

Matt Sullivan had support from people he's known for years, sometimes all his life; that helps in any election. He will continue to be engaged with the Library Board of Trustees and Traffic Advisory Committee.

One note of advice

I bring this up because more than a few people had commented to me during the campaigns about over-sensitive to criticism. When the excitement wears off, you're going to get dumped on, yelled at, ridiculed, etc. The Board of Selectmen and School Committee get far more unhappy customers than other boards. Don't take things too personally. Although not part of the job description, you should consider your role partly as a lightning rod, where the public sometimes has the need to discharge. Of course some are deliberately mean-spirited, self-centered, or just clueless. Take the valid points, if any, as they apply to the job you were just hired to do, and shake the rest off.

Coming soon: a look at stats (across precincts and years) and campaign finance.

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Bill Dillon April 04, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Rojas won and it is noteworthy because this was his first campaign for public office. And here is another "secret" . . .. he is the first minority elected to the BoS. Your article implies that Dan "got twice as many votes" per campaign dollar spent but that is a lousy metric in this race. Dan had experience running for office in Belmont and name recognition from his School Committee position. And he had the support of a well organized liberal base in Belmont. The real "surprise" in this election was that Rojas was able to actually compete and win. And when you comment on the School Committee race it might be better to make the disclosure that you were supporting Pascha . .. . at least you had the right horse in that race.
John Bowe April 05, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Good point on first time running, and it's interesting that all three first-timers won. Anne and Pascha were also new at this, though neither had Andy's experience on a fairly high-pressure appointed committee. (Matt had run in two other town-wide campaigns) Franklin - is there enough for a real story on first-time campaign experience, including candidates, campaign mgrs, etc.? Andy gets a lot done in his profession, makes a significant contribution on a high-visibility committee, had a lot of supporters on day one and a lot of money. No "surprise" in that. On the "metric" of votes per dollar, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humor
Bill Mahoney April 30, 2012 at 12:31 PM
It's unfair to say that money was the deciding issue in this race. Belmont is a small town and most people find out about candidates from their friends and neighbors, not from paid advertising. Both candidates had strong bases of support, and in the end, Andy edged out a victory because of his experience, his reputation, and his performance on the planning board. To continue to campaign against him in this article is not fair, sounds like sour grapes. Andy is not a one-issue candidate, and I think you'll find he will be a very competent Selectman.


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