Oak Bluffs selects newcomers Vail, Santoro as selectmen

In a seismic shift of the Oak Bluffs government landscape, voters Thursday, April 14 elected local businessman Michael Santoro and retired mortgage finance executive Walter Vail to the five-member board of selectmen. The two political newcomers easily outdistanced two-term incumbent and former town moderator Duncan Ross, and two-term incumbent Ron DiOrio.

In the official vote count released the morning after the April 14 election, Mr. Santoro finished with 704 votes, Mr. Vail with 653, Mr. Ross with 387, Mr. DiOrio with 265, and challenger Abraham Seiman with 88.

“It’s an honor,” Mr. Santoro said shortly after the town clerk announced the unofficial election results Thursday evening. “The people have spoken. My whole campaign was about a fresh new voice, and change. In order for the town to move forward, they want to have people they can trust, who will be a voice for them.”

“I’m in awe,” Mr. Vail said just after the results were announced. “It’s a strong statement from the voters. They want change. I hope I can live up to everything they’re looking for.”

The newcomers take office immediately, they were sworn in at town hall Friday morning after the election. Their first meeting of the board of selectmen will be on Tuesday, April 26.

In a phone conversation on Monday, Mr. Vail said the election has already changed his life. “The phone rings a lot,” he said. This week Mr. Vail has been busy meeting with department heads and getting up to speed on town operations. He credited an enthusiastic organization for getting out his vote.

“I’m a neophyte when it comes to politics,” Mr. Vail said. “I don’t consider myself a politician, I consider myself a change agent. I like diving in.”

Among the first action required of the board is election of a chairman. Mr. Vail said that election will indicate how well the board will work together. He said he will not seek the chairman’s gavel.

“I’d kind of like to see Gail (Barmakian) have a chance,” Mr. Vail said. “That vote is going to be a very interesting thing. I’m trying to keep an open mind on that. What I don’t want to see the board do, is get divisive over that issue right out of the starting blocks and that could happen if we’re not careful.”

Ms. Barmakian declined comment when asked if she would seek the chairmanship. She did offer some opinions on the election results.

“The people sent a message for sure,” Ms. Barmakian said. “It might be a reflection of the the issues the town faced, and how they were addressed. In going around and talking to people, I was hearing that the board was somewhat out of touch with the public, not listening and not responding.”

Selectman Kathy Burton congratulated the newcomers, citing Mr. Vail’s corporate and finance experience and Mr. Santoro’s local business perspective as assets to the board. Ms. Burton, a businesswoman, is currently vice-chairman of the board of selectmen. In a phone conversation with The Times Monday, she spoke about the chairmanship.

“I would be happy to do it, if they would like me to do it,” Ms. Burton said. “If they would rather have someone else, that’s OK, too.”

Mr. Ross, who served two terms on the board of selectmen said Monday he would like to remain active in the joint committee on Sengekontacket Pond. Mr. Ross represented selectmen on that committee, and has led the political effort to restore the health of the pond.

“It’s also going to give me more time to devote to the animal shelter,” Mr. Ross said. He is the chairman of the board of directors of the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard.

Mr. DiOrio declined comment on the election results but said he would play no role in town government. He served on several town boards and committees, representing the board of selectmen. He was the chairman of the affordable housing committee.

“I was there as the selectmen’s representative,” Mr. DiOrio said Monday. “I’m no longer in that role.”

There will also be a large turnover on the finance and advisory committee. Four candidates ran for three seats.

Maura McGroarty topped the ballot with 722 votes, followed by Mr. Seiman, who ran for both the finance and advisory committee and board of selectmen, at 581 votes. Commercial fisherman William Alwardt got 580 votes. Those three will take seats on the committee. Oak Bluffs and Edgartown wastewater department manager Joe Alosso fell just short with 549 votes.

Oak Bluffs Inn owner Erik Albert survived a challenge, in a two-way race for the planning board. Voters reelected him with 480 votes, in a close race with zoning board of appeals chairman Kris Chvatal, who got 458 votes.

Ms. Barmakian easily won reelection to the wastewater commission with 746 votes. Challenger Mark Wallace got 370 votes.

Amy Billings (904 votes) won a seat on the parks commission, running unopposed.

John Tiernan (781) was elected cemetery commissioner, also unopposed.

Jesse B. Law was elected moderator with 897 votes against no opposition.

School committee member Priscilla Sylvia (879), town clerk Deborah Ratcliffe (931), board of health commissioner Patricia Bergeron (956), and water district commissioner Ray Moreis (894) all sought reelection unopposed.

The town clerk said that 1,166 voters out of the town’s 3,359 registered voters went to the polls, a 35 percent turnout. There were 112 absentee ballots cast.