Write-in candidate overcomes long odds in Oak Bluffs

Social media and shoe leather helped Kathryn Shertzer to a decisive win for Oak Bluffs School Committee.

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Kathryn Shertzer won the Oak Bluffs School Committee position through write-in votes. — Gabrielle Mannino

Last November, selectmen unanimously voted for Kathryn Shertzer to the Oak Bluffs School Committee to fill the seat of Michael Hoyt, who was stepping down before the end of his two-year term. Shertzer had served on the school advisory committee for five years, and worked on the school strategic plan and on the principal search committee.

She intended to run for a full two-year term this year, but when she went to file papers at town hall in early March, she found out she’d missed the deadline by two weeks.

“Because I was appointed in November, I was unfamiliar with the political process of filing papers, and when I went to file papers, the clerk told me I missed the deadline by two weeks,” she said. “I was also told I’d be sent paperwork that I never received, so it was kind of a double whammy.”

Shertzer said after two days of contemplation and consultation with friends and family, she decided to take on a write-in campaign, the political equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy haul, but I wasn’t ready to stop doing the job I was already working on,” she said. “After talking about it with my husband and my kids, I went back and filed a letter of intention for a write-in and started the process.”

The process involved getting out the word using Facebook, word of mouth, and yard signs. “There were many hurdles,” she said. “It was a complicated write-in because it had to be very specific to the two-year position on the ballot. We had to make that clear.”

In the end, Shertzer won the race in convincing fashion against William Engler, 503 votes to 315 votes.

“In the 20-plus years I’ve been working here, I never saw a write-in candidate win a race against a candidate on the ballot,” town clerk Laura Johnston told The Times in an email.

Shertzer said part of her motivation to charge ahead was to set an example for her three daughters, Lila, Clara, and Ava Mikos. “Not to sound corny, but I wanted them to see me working hard and trying to accomplish something, as far-fetched as it seemed,” she said.

Looking ahead, Shertzer said shoring up the schoolhouse is a top priority.

“The biggest focus is to be sure we have a dry building for our students to learn in,” she said. “I’m excited the process has started, but we still have to navigate a very leaky roof for 14 or 15 months.”

Shertzer said even though some people refer to the school as “the new Oak Bluffs School,” it’s 25 years old and needs attention. “I want to see us spend time and energy to take care of the building, so we’re not looking to replace it down the road,” she said.

The STEAM program (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) is also a priority. “We’re one of the few schools on the Island with a STEAM program, and we’re working hard to develop it,” she said. “We are incredibly lucky to have Leah Dorr teaching it. She is so passionate, and she’s not just doing it in the classroom, but also in clubs like robotics club, and STEAM summer camps.”

Shertzer has a track record as a skilled multitasker. Prior to moving here in 2004 from New York City with her husband Joe, she worked on feature films in the high-pressure job of assistant director — the person on the set who keeps the trains running on time.

For the past five years, she’s worked at Stefanie Wolf Designs.

“Joe and I were married here in 1999, and we met so many wonderful people that we knew we wouldn’t live in Manhattan for the rest of our lives, and we wanted to raise our children in a small-town community, which is where we both grew up,” she said.

She’s also passionate about fishing, evidenced by the picture of her holding a false albacore on her campaign literature. It was taken at last year’s Derby, where, again, she beat the odds.

“The albie wasn’t big enough to weigh in, but I did get a daily pin and a women’s weekly pin for a bluefish,” she said. “I think it was 14.33 pounds.”