A Progressive’s Guide to Tuesday’s Town Election: Top of Ticket

Some progressive picks for tomorrow’s Town Election, starting with the top of the ticket.

Hey Blogging Belmontonians! With the annual Town Election upon us, a bunch of folks have asked me in person or via social media for my thoughts and recommendations on candidates for our annual Town Election. I thought I’d take the time to write them down here.

You might also want to check out the companion post on “bottom of the ticket” Town Meeting races here.

As always: my thanks and respect goes out to everyone in town who put papers in or otherwise took steps to stand for office. Running a campaign is no easy task and we all have busy lives, so thanks for caring about Belmont and wanting to do more to make it a better place.

As for my recommendations: while I have a pretty clear view of the top of the ticket and my home precinct (8), I don’t boast an encyclopedic knowledge of every precinct in town. To supplement my own knowledge, I’ve reached out to a bunch of trusted friends and fellow progressives for their thoughts and recommendations on down-ticket races. This list represents a distillation of their thoughts and recommendations as well as my own. In some instances I may overlook someone awesome, in which case email or text me and I’m happy to update the list. 

For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to weigh in on uncontested races in some cases, nor dwell too much on choices within precincts that have fewer candidates than open slots. Life is short.

OK – let’s get started!

Moderator: Michael Widmer (uncontested)

We haven’t had change in the Town Moderator in years- let alone a competitive race for this critical position. Your choice this year, again, is Michael Widmer who has performed admirably in the role for close to a decade.

In my opinion, Mike does a good job piloting the ship that is Town Meeting and managing at times volatile issues in a sober and even handed way. He has sought out new faces for the many committees that the Moderator appoints to  – though maybe not reached as far into Belmont’s deep talent pool as I’d like.

But it goes without saying that Belmont would benefit from a contest for Moderator at the top of the ticket. The voters deserve and would benefit from a choice of visions for the Moderator. We don’t have one this year – which isn’t Mike’s fault. This year you can sleep well voting for Mr. Widmer who long ago proved his mettle. Next year, let’s hope there’s a contest.

Board of Selectmen: Tom Caputo (mostly uncontested)

I was prepared to write about another uncontested race at the top of the ticket, but it looks as if Town Meeting- and Traffic Advisory Committee member Tomi Olsen has thrown her hat in the ring at the last minute as a write-in candidate. So, let’s call this: mostly uncontested.

My pick is the same. Tom Caputo for Selectmen. I was thrilled when Tom stepped forward after incumbent Jim Williams announced he would not be seeking re-election. I think the reluctance of opposing candidates to pull papers and step into the race is a reflection of how strong a candidate Tom is: a husband, father and successful technology executive with a Stanford MBA and an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth.

I’m particularly excited about Tom’s professional background in the technology industry – a first for Belmont’s BOS. Tom is a huge “add” to the Board. His experience on School Committee has given him a great introduction to Belmont’s budgeting process, union negotiations, capital projects challenges and many of the other issues he’ll be asked to vote on as a Selectmen. His calm and thoughtful demeanor is also welcome. With the addition of Selectman Dash to the Board, we have already seen a number of steps to modernize and streamline the work of the Board and the Selectmen’s office. I’m confident that Tom will support those efforts and bring a fresh perspective to the work of the Board. Tom is a big win for Belmont and I’m excited to vote for him for Selectman.

School Committee (3 year): Susan Burgess-Cox & Tara Donner

The three candidates for the two, open 3 year slots on Belmont School Committee are the highest profile race in the Town (excepting the suddenly contested BOS race!). I’m backing the incumbent, Susan Burgess-Cox and Town Meeting member Tara Donner for the two, open 3 year slots.

First Tara Donner: this is a strong “yes.” Tara is a full time educator in the Winchester public school, a longtime Town Meeting member, a mom and a reliably strong and independent voice in town. She’ll be a wonderful advocate for our kids and for quality education on School Committee.

From my own experience on School Committee, I can say that being an independent voice can be challenging. In Tara, I see someone who will be a team player and also a voice of reason: raising important questions to the administration and the broader community.Thrilled she’s running. Psyched to vote for her.

In backing Susan Burgess-Cox, my thinking on this is simple enough: Susan is an experienced hand at School Committee, having just completed a 3 year term. She’s an attorney with a career working in the public sector, a mom with kids in the system and a Belmont native who brings a deep love and understanding of the Town and its schools to the job.

Having spent time on School Committee (admittedly: just a year) I can tell you that experience counts. The school system and the issues School Committee members must wrestle with are complex. New members – no matter how good – need a full year just to learn the ropes. Susan’s tenure on School Committee will allow her to hit the ground running in her second term and retain important experience and perspective on a board that is already losing two strong members: Murat Bicer and (in all likelihood) Tom Caputo. I’m thankful that Susan is willing to stand again for School Committee.

Many of my progressive friends in town have sung the praises of Jill Norton. While I haven’t had the chance to meet or speak with Jill, I have no doubt that she, also, would make a great addition to the Committee. I’m hopeful that, with a spot likely opening on the Committee immediately following Tuesday’s vote, whoever comes in third in this race (Susan, Jill, Tara) will consider putting her hat into the ring to fill that 1 year spot.

School Committee (1 Year): Lisa Fiore

Lisa has done an amazing job on School Committee, including most recently as the Committee Chairwoman. She’s standing -unopposed – for the 1 year spot the opened up when Murat Bicer vacated his position. Here’s hoping Lisa stays on as the Chairwoman in her final year and stands for re-election to a new three year term next year.

Board of Health: Stephen Fiore (Uncontested)

While the race for Board of Health is uncontested, its worth noting a changing of the guards. After 30 years as the head of Belmont’s Board of Health David Alpert decided not to run for re-election. That has opened the door to a new entrant: Stephen Fiore, an attorney and partner at the firm Foster and Eldrige.

While not a physician, Fiore represents hospitals and providers in medical malpractice cases and is the vice president of the Board of Directors for the Cambridge-Arlington-Belmont Bar Association. In the past, Fiore chaired the Massachusetts Bar Association Health Law Section Council.

Fiore has signaled an interest in using the Board of Health position to focus on issues related to adolescent health and to help guide Belmont’s response to both the opioid epidemic and marijuana legalization. You can read more over at the Citizen Herald.

Board of Cemetery Commissioners: Ellen O’Brien Cushman (uncontested)

Ellen is running uncontested, but it’s worth calling attention to the fine work Ellen did advocating for the interests of lot owners and abutters in regard to the Belmont Day School expansion project. That project, which involves the addition of an access road that abuts the cemetery. Ellen fought tirelessly with the town’s Planning Board for transparency around plans to construct the road even as the Board, then under the direction of Chairwoman Liz Allison and member Barbara Fiacco, who seemed heedless of the interests of the Town they were pledged to represent. Ellen is promising to use her position to advocate to mitigate the effects of the Belmont Day School expansion and preserve the pastoral beauty of Highland Meadow Cemetery. Belmont is well served by Ellen on the Board of Cemetery Commissioners.

Board of Assessors: Martin Millane (uncontested)

Nothing to add here.

Member of the Housing Authority: Gloria Leipzig (uncontested)

Nothing to add here.

Trustees of the Belmont Public Library: Elaine C. Alligood and Corinne McCue Olmsted (uncontested):

The race for Library Trustee is also uncontested with just two candidates for two open slots. Fortunately for us, we have two great candidates standing for re-election: Elaine Alligood and Corinne McCue Olmsted. I’ve had the chance to work with the Trustees as their representative on the town’s IT Advisory Committee. I’ve been impressed throughout with their professionalism and vision, as they look to guide our most used public facility into the 21st Century, manage short term challenges and shepherd a long term vision to expand and modernize the facility.

Nowhere was their professionalism on display more than during the tense weeks of uncertainty caused by the reckless Planning Board proposal to relocate the Library – a plan floated without any effort to involve the Board of Trustees or the Library community. Outrageous and ham fisted as that ill begotten plan was, the Trustees including Eliane and Corinne exhibited poise and professionalism throughout: patiently challenging the flawed logic of the library in the car wash idea and advocating for the Library community. You should feel good voting for both Eliane and Corinne.