Vote For Change: My Picks For The April 2nd Town Election

We all know that old adage: “when you’re in a hole, stop digging.” For Belmont residents, I’d like to offer a variation on that, which is “when you’re in a hole, start voting!”

As I write, in late March, 2024: our lovely town is indisputably in a hole. We’re staring down the barrel at a roughly $8 million structural budget deficit – the inevitable byproduct of our Town’s deep reliance on property tax revenue to fund the vast majority of our town and school operations (commercial taxes make up just 4.5% of our revenues), and the state’s Reagan-era Proposition 2 1/2 law that limits the net growth in a community’s property tax levy to just 2.5% a year – well below the rate of inflation for local governments.

Because of that, we’re being asked to approve Question 1, an override of Proposition 2 1/2 that would generate $8.4 million in additional tax revenues and bring our operating budget in line with our expenses…or face draconian cuts to our town- and school services.

(Read my post on 3 reasons to vote Yes on Question 1.)

Vote for Change Belmont
Yard signs in Belmont MA ahead of an April 2024 Town election.

But there are other looming challenges: years of anemic revenue growth and the resulting “level service” (read: “level funding”) budgeting has slowly eroded both Town and public school services. Among other things, that’s led to increased costs for things like state-mandated special education, with Belmont’s bare bones K-12 system resulting in more of its students with special needs being sent out of district for services than any of its neighboring towns, according to a recent study.

That’s not a “record of success” that any politician would be eager to run on. And this April, for the first time in years, voters have the opportunity to enact sweeping changes to Belmont’s Town government. It’s not an opportunity we should pass up.

Change is on the ballot, Belmont – new faces and new ideas. Join me in voting for them!

With that, here are my recommendations for the contested races in this April’s Town Election. As for the uncontested races? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The biggest of those are the Assessor and Town Clerk, but its likely that the days of these positions being elected are drawing to a close. In fact, Question 2 on the ballot on April 2nd would make the Assessor an appointed rather than elected position. (Vote YES on 2). A similar ballot measure for the Town Clerk will almost certainly adorn a ballot in the near future.

Use the links below to check out my picks for the various Town-wide and Town Meeting races.

Town-wide racesTown Meeting precinct racesBallot measures
Town Moderator: Vote For Mike Crowley

Select Board: Vote For Matt Taylor

School Committee: Vote For Matt Kraft and Angus Abercrombie
Precinct 1
Precinct 2 *competitive*
Precinct 3
Precinct 4
Precinct 5
Precinct 6 *competitive*
Precinct 7 *competitive*
Precinct 8 *competitive*
Question 1

Question 2

Town-Wide Races

Town Moderator: It’s Time For Change. Vote for Mike Crowley!

It has been an astounding 16 years since voters in Belmont actually had a choice for who they want to be their Town Moderator. That’s astounding because the Moderator position is actually one of the most powerful in our Town government. This year, longtime resident Mike Crowley, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 8 and former School Committee and Warrant Committee member, is challenging our longtime moderator Mike Widmer for the seat.

I’m voting for Mr. Crowley.

Crowley: New Ideas To Make Town Meeting More Fair and Democratic

Mike Crowley is running to modernize Belmont’s Town Meeting and make it more democratic and fair.

As Mr. Crowley has made clear in his campaign: 16 years under the same leadership has created a lot of opportunities for meaningful improvements both at Town Meeting and on the various committees that the Moderator appoints members to. (Check out this video for Mike Crowley’s short, concise explanation of the role of Moderator!) Those improvements include everything from publicly vetting the Moderator’s candidates for appointment to committees (right now appointments are all done behind closed doors), to deploying a timer so that Town Meeting and the public can see how long a given Town Meeting is allowed to speak. (Currently, the Moderator alone watches the clock, and time seems to run faster for the Town Meeting members the Moderator would rather not hear from.)

Sure, Mr. Widmer is promising Belmont that this is his last stint as Moderator. (Though he’s said that before, as Steve Rosales ribbed him about in his Belmont Media Center interview.) Widmer also suggested that the April 2nd election will disrupt “an orderly transition” of the Moderator position (??!) It sounds as if our Moderator thinks he should be free to abdicate a year from now- handing the scepter to his chosen replacement – rather than face the will of voters.

Alas, Mr. Moderator, the last time I checked, Belmont is a democracy and voters get to choose their leaders. It’s my opinion that we can’t and shouldn’t wait for change, and that Mike Crowley is the change we need now. I urge you to join me in voting for Mike Crowley to be our next Town Moderator!

Select Board: Matt Taylor Is The Right Choice!

The Select Board is our Town’s executive. (Kind of.) It’s a very powerful board that – more than almost any other – sets the priorities, tone and direction of Town government.

That’s why I’m voting for Matt Taylor to be our next Select Board member.

Matt’s a high tech professional with deep experience as a software engineer and tech industry senior executive managing complex operations. He has made it his goal to use his skills and talents to make Belmont work better. For examples of that, check out, the community blog he set up and the Town budget visualization tool he designed from scratch.

Matt Taylor Brings A Data Driven Approach To Belmont’s Problems

Matt has shown his chops as a member of the Warrant Committee* and Town Meeting where he combines a facts and “data first” approach to problem solving with an intense focus on making the workings of Town government transparent, accessible and explainable to residents.

Matt Taylor is my pick for the Select Board.

Among Matt’s key proposals is – within a decade -to increase the share of Belmont’s operating revenue derived from commercial/industrial taxes to 10% from its current level of 4.6% (an incredibly low number and a full percentage point decrease from a decade ago). With more commercial tax revenue, Belmont will be less reliant on contentious ballot measures to override Proposition 2 1/2 and also have more leeway to strengthen and expand town services.

I also dig Matt’s holistic approach to improving and modernizing our Town. Matt is a father of children who attend BPS and he’s a big advocate for our public schools, but its not either/or. He also sees the need to improve services for _all_ stake holders, including our town’s seniors, vulnerable Belmont residents populations, Town employees, and more.

As I noted above in my argument for Mike Crowley for Moderator: Belmont needs more transparency and accountability from our elected leaders. In voting for Matt, I feel very confident that those of us looking for more transparency and a more informed, results oriented approach to Town governance will have a strong ally on the Select Board with Matt. I hope you’ll join me in voting for Matt Taylor to be our next Select Board member!

School Committee: Vote For Matt Kraft and Angus Abercrombie

In the race for School Committee, Belmont voters are also fortunate to have a choice among three strong candidates for two open positions: incumbent chair Meg Moriarty, as well as candidates Matt Kraft and recent BHS grad and Town Meeting member Angus Abercrombie. In this race, again, my advice is that Belmont needs to change.

I’m going to cast my two votes for Matt Kraft and Angus Abercrombie. I ask you to join me.

I had the chance to meet- and speak with both Matt and Angus and think that electing both to Belmont’s School Committee is a great way to build out that Committee to meet the fast-evolving needs of our community – figuring out how best to allocate additional funds from a passed Question 1, or dealing with the fallout from a failed override.

Teacher, Economist, Dad: Matt Kraft Brings A Lot To School Committee

Matt Kraft – a former teacher and new a Brown economist specializing in education funding – is a great pick for School Committee.

Matt is a Belmont resident with young children attending Burbank and a stellar resume: a Harvard trained economist specializing in education, and a former secondary school teacher who started his career working as a tutor and substitute teacher and then moving on to teach high school humanities before completing his doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and scoring a job as a professor at Brown University where he teaches the economics of education and education policy analysis. Matt’s area of expertise: what kinds of policies and investments are the most effective in improving educational outcomes.

As a candidate, Matt has advocated policies that I think are critical for our district, among them reforming how we teach math and literacy, with more cross-district coordination and a focus on data-driven approaches to teaching. Matt has also called out the need to re-invest in our World Language program at Chenery and introducing foreign language instruction at younger ages when children are better suited to picking up new languages.

Matt has a great combination of classroom and professional expertise and a great vision for the future of Belmont’s public schools. He’s my pick for School Committee!

Angus Abercrombie Speaks For Students Needs and Priorities

Angus Abercrombie brings a valuable perspective to School Committee: first hand experience of the practical impact of policies on students and learning. He has my vote.

Angus Abercrombie brings a different perspective to School Committee than Matt: he’s a recent BHS graduate and Emerson College undergraduate, as well as a recently elected Town Meeting Member. Angus’s super power is his membership in Gen Z and close connection to the current student population. Unlike any other current (or former) Belmont School Committee members, Angus has experienced the impact of School Committee and Administration decisions – including those made during the COVID pandemic. His goals as a School Committee meeting – not surprisingly – focus on the need to prioritize students’ mental health, for the BPS Administration and School Committee to communicate clearly about the budget and policy plans, as well as to address Belmont’s student transportation issues: promoting safe and (ideally) car free modes of transportation to and from school.

That’s why I’ll be using my second vote for Angus for School Committee. I hope you’ll join me!

Ballot Measures

Question 1: Override Prop 2 1/2 to add $8.4 million to our Operating and Capital budgets

Vote Yes. I already wrote an extensive blog post on why it is critical for us to pass Question 1. I won’t repeat it here, but to sum up the main points: a YES vote will maintain critical services such as public schools, public safety, senior services, and town functions. Conversely, a NO vote would lead to severe cuts in these essential services, including layoffs and closures.

I also noted that while the proposed increase for Question #1 might seem burdensome, the costs of a NO vote far outweigh the additional taxes paid should Question 1 pass (around $14/week or $740 a year for the owner of a property valued at $1 million). Belmont residents would face significantly higher expenses to privately replace the lost publicly funded services, including trash pickup, senior transportation, sports, and recreational activities.

Finally, its long past time to see Proposition 2 1/2 for what it is: a 4-decade old, Reagan era “government is the problem” law that pins property tax revenue growth in communities below the rate of inflation, leading to hamstrung local governments that wrestle with perpetual deficits and service cuts in communities – like Belmont – that lack considerable commercial sectors. The harm is real.

Vote YES to keep Belmont strong.

Question 2: Switch to an appointed Board of Assessors

Vote Yes. Given the huge stakes of Question 1, Question 2 has received much less attention this election cycle. But it is an important item that moves our Town a little bit more down the way to having a streamlined and functional local government. Historically, Belmont has had a 19th-century style, de-centralized government with multiple, elected positions scattered throughout the Town government. That has left us open to putting people in key positions – like Treasurer, Town Clerk or Assessor – whose only qualification was that they won a low-turnout April election. When the Collins Center issued its report on how to improve Belmont Town Government, transitioning these elected positions to appointed ones was one of the group’s main recommendations. Doing so will allow Belmont to hire professionals based on their resume, and have clear lines of accountability.

Join me in voting Yes on Question 2!

Town Meeting

Town Meeting is Belmont’s legislature -holding the power of the purse strings and the ability to approve Belmont’s Town Budget. We have only a few competitive precincts in this spring’s election. Remember: Town Meeting seats go to the top 12 vote getters, so concentrate voting on candidates your support and don’t waste a vote on candidates you don’t know or don’t support!

Precinct 1

There are 12 candidates for 12, 3-year spots in Precinct 1, which covers the neighborhood between Concord Ave. and Washington Street (roughly). We also have a write-in candidate for an open, 2-year slot. Here are my picks for the open spots:

Mark Patrick Carthy
Nicole A. Dorn
Alisa L. Gardner-Todreas
David Alexander Lind
Holly Hart Muson
Henry McFarlan Ogilby
Emily A. Peterson
Breda Zimkus
Martin Tropper November
David Quyen Tu Thu
Joseph Melville Wright

Vincent Paul Lisanke (write-in 2 year term)

There are 12 candidates for 12, 3-year spots in Precinct 2, which covers Belmont Hill, as well as three candidates for one 1-year spot and two candidates for one 2 year spot. Here are my choices for the open slots.

Leslie J. Aitken
M. Patricia Brusch
Ronald H. Geiger
Anne K. Helgen
Lydia L.W. Kogler
Anne-Marie Lambert
Robert E. McLaughlin
John S. Robotham
Suzanne H. Robotham
Rosemary B. Burke
(1 year term)

Precinct 3

There are 12 candidates for 12, 3-year spots in Precinct 3, which is bounded by Beech Street, Trapelo Road and Concord Ave, as well as the border with Waltham, as well as 1 candidate for a one year term. Here are my choices for the open slots:

Adeshina Ayodeji Baptista
Joseph John Bernard
Jolanta K. Eckert
Bonnie L. Friedman
Juliet Blau Jenkins
Diane Beckley Miller
Vincent P. Stanton, Jr.
Michelle A. Young
John P. Alcock
Meryl Ann Junik
Kate B. Vigour
(1 year term)

Precinct 4

There are 12 candidates for 12, 3-year spots in Precinct 4, which covers the neighborhood around Waverley Square Beech Street (roughly) as well as one candidate each for a one and two year spot. Here are my choices for the open slots:

Debra Deutsch
Eileen Lizette Hanson
Gitanjali S. Rege
Daniell G. Stevens
David Michael Webster
Rachel M. Watson
Jonathan Richard Bridges (1 year term)

Andrew Whitman Schultz (2 year term)

Precinct 5

There are 10 candidates for 12 spots in Precinct 5 (including one write-in candidate), which covers the neighborhood between Common Street and Beech Street (roughly). Here are my choices for the open slots:

Jessica J. Barnard
Claus Christian Becker
Roger P. Wrubel
Kristen Lynn Cahalane-Petchar
Laurie Ann Cahalane-Petchar
Evelyn Gomez, 22 Creeley Road (write-in)

Mary Bradley, 12 Leslie Road (write-in)

Note: for write in candidates you need to provide both the name and address of the write in candidate! Don’t forget!

There are 13 candidates for 12, 3-year spots in Precinct 6, which covers the neighborhood around Payson Park Reservoir. There is also one candidate each for open 1- and 2-year spots. All 13 in Precinct 6 are OK by me (sorry!). Here are your choices:

John Joseph Bowe
Christine M. Doyle
Theodore Dukas
Stephen A. Evans
Priya Adhikari Licht
Gail S. Mann
Melissa A. McKenna
Katherine Oates
Aaron B. Pikcilingis

Doug Koplow
Matthew Lennon
Kenneth E. Lind
Brian S. Saper
Mary Angela Carini (1 year term)
Erin K. Rowland
(2 year term)

There are 14 candidates for 12, 3 year spots in Precinct 7, which covers the neighborhood around Grove Street playground, as well as one candidate for a one year spot. Here are my choices for the open slots:

Carol Ann Kennedy Berberian
Geoffrey George Lubien
Alexandra Elizabeth van Geel
Glenn Patrick Teen Ch Wong
Deanna Earle
Susan Rebecca Titus
John F. Avilla
(1 year term)

There are 13 candidates for 12, 3 year spots in Precinct 8, which covers the Winn Brook neighborhood (roughly). Here are my choices for the 12 slots:

Carolyn A. Bunyon
Michael F. Crowley
Guanghua “Michael” Gao
Melissa Ann Irion
Mark Kagan
Stephen M. Kerins
Melissa Macintyre

Mark Paolillo
Roger H. Read
Paul C. Rickter
Erica Zidel
Gavin Tieken-Zidel

(*) Correction: an earlier version of this story mis-identified the committee that Matt Taylor serves on. It is the Warrant Committee – PFR 3/27/2024