Hello from the Other Side (of Election Day)

Tuesday morning at Winn Brook – it was an election to restore your faith in elections.

Summary: The right guy won in Belmont on Tuesday, Adam Dash: a better qualified and hopeful candidate with a vision. After the disaster last November, it was an election to restore your faith in elections, even as Belmont continues to struggle with low turnout in April. 

There was a moment on Tuesday morning when it seemed like it might all go sideways…again.

As I stood – wet and freezing – outside of Winn Brook Elementary, the Guy Carbone voters were out in force. There were two Carbone sign holders hugging the 150 foot “cut off” line within which political signs were forbidden. The traffic up to Winn Brook was a stream of SUVs and pickup trucks piloted by middle aged dudes, honking and flashing raised thumbs in support of Guy’s campaign.

“Please, not again! Not here!” was all I could think. In my head a highlight reel from the disaster that was November’s Presidential election looped. November, of course, was when another brash outsider drew support from the same demographic with a bag full of vague promises and contempt. Trump beat out a steadier hand. Say what you will about Hillary Clinton: she was far and away the more experienced candidate with real ideas and a track record.

Tuesday morning started out looking like November: cold, dreary and wet. Nobody was heading to the polls. It was shaping up to be another low turnout, low energy April election in Belmont, the kind that drives 18% turnout and decidedly conservative candidates to office in the Town of Homes.

As I’ve written before, low turnout April elections are a big (BIG) problem in Belmont. They create a kind of political distortion field in which conservative politics and policies become the order of the day in a community that ranks as among the bluest in the blue state of Massachusetts.

Consider November’s election: with 82% of registered voters going to the polls, more than 7 in 10 Belmontonians voted for Hillary Clinton, fully 10% higher than Massachusetts voters as a whole. We voted at or above the rest of the state on ballot questions, as well, including voting down an expansion of charter schools (62% to 38%) and – yes – voting to legalize marijuana (52% to 48%).  Yes, Belmont votes progressive when it turns out. But Belmont has a bad habit of not turning out.

And so it was Tuesday morning. I wondered: could a mainline, conservative Republican like Guy Carbone win in a blue ‘burb like Belmont? Could a blunt appeal to an older voting demographic with a “no new taxes” platform mimeographed (yes, mimeographed) from a campaign in 1978 beat out one of the most seasoned Selectmen candidates of the last 20 years? Of course not…unless? Unless…?

The Trump election gave many of us progressives a crippling case of vertigo, and on Tuesday morning, it was hitting me hard. Maybe up was down and down up? Maybe this was the New “GREAT” America, where the bros barreling around in SUVs and pickup trucks call the shots and the facts – about science or the environment or taxes – don’t matter. In this America, I worried, maybe it’s perfectly reasonable that the better financed, better run campaign behind the better qualified, better prepared candidate with the better ideas is destined to lose to the opportunist…the guy with no track record to speak of and a half completed vision for what he’d do when elected. How? Trump, that’s how.

Blessedly, it was not to be. Even by the time I left my post at Winn Brook, the parade of parents had begun. Moms and dads dropping off their kids to attend school. Many swung by the gymnasium to vote before returning to their car. All those kids make a difference – we’ve got a second grade in Belmont that is more than double the size of the second grade of two decades ago. With each of those students is a set of parents with their eyes on the future, and on the size of the class, the quality of the classroom and the ballot box.

By lunchtime, my inbox and Facebook feed were filling with entreaties to get out and vote, as supporters of Adam blasted their local network with reminders. Local progressive groups like Action Together Belmont, which have sprung up in resistance to the excesses of the Trump Administration, entreated their members to get the word out and get to the polls.  Adam’s superb campaign apparatus also kicked into gear: maintaining visibility throughout town, calling “Yes” voters to remind them to turn out and watching the poll numbers.

In the end, it wasn’t close. Adam took 7 of 8 precincts and racked up 63% of the vote, losing only Precinct 4 by only a handful of votes. Around 28% of Belmont’s registered voters came out  – not earth shattering, and but a shadow of the 82% of registered voters who turned out in November. Still: it was good by April vote standards or at least good enough.

Adam was sworn in Wednesday morning, becoming the Town’s newest Selectman and the first Selectman in more than a decade who enjoys the solid backing of the Town’s progressive community. Down ballot, as well, newer residents and progressive candidates took seats on Town Meeting – in some cases beating out long serving incumbents.

In short, it was an election to give you faith in elections: a reminder that organization and passion and good ideas and a deep bench of friends and supporters still matter in politics. There is no alchemy and Russian trolls don’t set the terms of debate. Adam’s victory was a win for Belmont’s large and growing progressive community, and a sign of the electoral muscles of progressives that are flexing in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Down was not up in Belmont. Voters came out.  The better candidate and campaign and message won, and Belmont -as a community – stands to benefit. Be proud. We did it!