My Thoughts on Tuesday’s Election: Town-Wide Offices

If its April, it must be another election to fill seats on our town government here in the Town of Homes. It is critical if you’re reading this to get out and vote. You can find all the information you need on polling locations and take a peek at the ballot you’ll get in your precinct on the Town’s website. And, by all means: VOTE TUESDAY, APRIL 2nd!!

Belmont voters have some great choices in the Town’s annual election. Vote April 2nd.

In contrast to last year, we have a hotly contested race at the top of the ticket this year for Belmont Board of Selectman. That should drive interest and turnout which is great. Often these April elections have sub 30% turnout (sometimes sub 20% turnout) which means that a small minority of the Town is choosing who runs the town. I’ve long been an advocate of holding local elections in November, when turnout is consistently over 50% and often upwards of 70% here in town. But don’t get me started.

Every candidate deserves a spot here, but for the sake of simplicity and brevity, I’m not going to expound on candidates for uncontested races. If that’s you – thank you for standing for election…and congratulations on your victory! 😉

Here are my picks for contested offices on the Town Ballot.

Vote Bennett for Selectwoman

We should maybe get in to the habit of calling it the Select Board and its inhabitants Select People. That’s especially true if my pick for that office wins: Belmont’s own Jessie Bennett.

I have known and worked alongside Ms. Bennett for many years, including on the Board of Directors for Belmont Education Foundation. Jessie is a smart, thoughtful and collaborative professional. She is the mother of two children in the Belmont Public Schools and a staunch advocate for the schools, for safe streets and for a community that values diversity in all its forms.

Jessie’s candidacy for the town’s top office is historic, and not just because she would be the first woman in almost two decades to hold that position (and the first woman ever not-named-Ann(e)). What I like about Jessie as Selectwoman is that she comes to the office from Belmont’s grass roots. She’s a mother who has worked with the town’s PTAs, the FBE and as a community advocate on the Town’s Safe Routes to Schools Committee. In short, she has skin in the game.

That’s critical, especially compared to a candidate like Roy Epstein, who has stated often that “Selectman is the last job you should do, not the first.” That’s a cut at newcomers to town and young professionals like Jessie and a suggestion that only establishment figures and éminence grise have earned the right to sit at the table.

To hell with that!! Belmont needs young professionals like Jessie at the helm. We need the perspective of a woman – yes. More important, we need someone with her eyes open to new ideas and her ear to the ground who will listen to what voters – moms and dads, seniors, newcomers and lifelong residents have to say. Jessie has made her mark in areas like education and safe streets. But she has a wealth of new ideas and approaches on issues like housing, transportation, fiscal management and climate action.

I’m voting for Jessie because I know she’ll bring energy and a fresh perspective to the Select Board. She will be a steady voice for change, transparency and fiscal responsibility in town government. Crucially, she has the skills, charm and political savvy to make change happen. I urge you to vote for Jessie Bennett for Belmont Selectwoman.

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Cassandra Page for Housing Authority

I’m so thrilled to see Cassandra Page run for Belmont Housing Authority and urge you to vote for her.

For those of you who don’t know, Belmont Housing Authority is a public agency that manages the towns 256 units of subsidized housing. That includes 100 housing units for veterans and families, 154 units for seniors and physically disabled persons and 2 units for developmentally disabled persons. The Housing Authority administers a number of vouchers including Massachusetts Rental Vouchers, Alternative Housing Vouchers, Section 8 Rental Assistance Certificates and Section 8 Housing Voucher Certificates. In short: Housing Authority is a significant responsibility that has a tremendous impact on the lives of hundreds of residents who live in Belmont Housing Authority-owned property.

Paradoxically, residents have been voiceless in the management of the agency that controls so much of their lives. Cassandra Page comes to Housing Authority as a life long resident, a mother and someone who has first-hand knowledge of the challenges and needs of residents in BHA-run residences.

Cassandra’s core message is that tenants in BHA properties need to be heard and that an attitude of respect needs to grow on both sides. That starts with getting BHA focused on the quality of life, maintenance and improvement efforts that will do the most to improve the quality of life in BHA properties. It also requires BHA tenants to become more engaged in the decision making process – something Cassandra hopes to do by building a bridge between management and the tenants.

Her opponent, Tommasina Olson, has served BHA dutifully – but cannot offer the same “boots on the ground” perspective that Cassandra does. Tommi is also a seated member of the Belmont Housing Trust, another town agency with affordable housing in its mandate. Housing Authority demands the full time attention of its members and a singular focus on operational issues facing these developments. That’s why I urge you to vote for Cassandra Page for Belmont Housing Authority!

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Prestwich and Checkoway for School Committee

Belmont School Committee has kept a low profile of late, as the Belmont High School Building Project and the debt exclusion to fund that project sucked all the air out of the room around discussions of school funding, class size, curriculum and…pretty much everything else.

That’s all changing now that the town and state have given the BHS project a green light and shovels stand at the ready to start the largest capital project this town has ever undertaken. In the coming months and years, expect to see the conversation shift from “where” we’re educating our kids (that is: classroom space) to how we’re educating them.

That’s why I know that Andrea Prestwich and Amy Checkoway are the right picks for the two, three year spots on Belmont School Committee.

Prestwich: after school programs a focus in second term

First, I urge you to vote for Andrea Prestwich, who is returning for a second, 3 year term on the Committee.

My reasoning? Look, not every town can brag about having a Ph.D astrophysicist on School Committee. Belmont can. Andrea’s “day job” is at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, where she works in the Director’s Office at the Chandra X-ray Center. So…yeah. Andrea’s got this.

On School Committee, Andrea’s signature issue for her first term was the school start time – especially for middle- and high school aged children. And, during her tenure, Andrea was able to see through a change so that no BHS class will start before 8:05AM. Previously, classes started at 7:35. That’s a big achievement, though short of what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends (starts of 8:30 or later). If the data proves correct, we should see improvements in student performance as a result. The more important thing is that, beyond knowing a thing or two about Extra-galactic Infra Red Spectrocopy, Andrea has shown that she can work cooperatively and patiently to advocate for an important policy change and get things done on Committee. That really, really matters.

For her second term, Andrea has said she’s focused on seeing the Belmont 7-12 school construction through to completion, with a focus on keeping it on time and on budget. But she’s also deeply concerned about after school programming for students, where there is far more demand than supply, and in supporting diversity and diverse learning styles on the Belmont Public Schools. Vote for Andrea!

Checkoway: an expert on harnessing public dollars for the best educational outcomes

I had the pleasure of a coffee and 1:1 meeting with Amy Checkoway and am enthusiastically backing her for the second, three year spot on School Committee.

The amazing thing about Belmont is the deep bench of talent we have at our disposal. The folks stepping up for unpaid, volunteer positions like School Committee are often experts in their field whose hourly rate we almost certainly couldn’t afford if we had to pay it.

Amy’s an example of this. The mother of 6th and 3rd graders in the Belmont public schools (Chenery and Wellington), Amy is an education policy researcher by profession who leads large scale education studies for state and federal agencies. So literally she’s an expert on how to best use public resources to obtain excellent educational outcomes. I’m thinking that’s a good skillset to have on School Committee. You?

This isn’t Amy’s first volunteer assignment either. She has served on  Wellington PTO and the Wellington After School Program previously. She has a strong track record as a volunteer and has been deeply involved in school affairs. She helped implement the Wellington International Family Mentoring Program through the PTO which paired new international families with mentor families for a year to ease their transition to a new culture.

With after school programming likely to be a key issue in town going forward, Amy’s background working on after school offerings there will be invaluable. Finally, her professional experience managing large teams and working with educators and policy experts to maximize educational outcomes will be a huge addition to Belmont School Committee. Vote Amy Checkoway for the second three year spot!

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That’s it for the town-wide races. I’ll follow up shortly with my thoughts on the competitive Town Meeting precincts. Stay tuned!