Annual town meeting season on Martha’s Vineyard wraps up next week in Aquinnah. On Wednesday, May 13, voters go to the polls to elect town officers. The only contest is for one seat on the three-member board of selectmen.
Incumbent Beverly Wright faces a challenge from Julianne Vanderhoop. Both women are members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) (WTGH/A) and will square off against a backdrop of uncertainty over how tribal efforts to pursue casino gambling will affect the town.
The tribe insists it has the legal right to convert its long-unfinished community center into a Class II gaming facility. The town of Aquinnah and Governor Deval Patrick take the view that the Wampanoag Tribe cannot operate a gambling casino in Aquinnah because the lands described in the state and federal legislation that led to federal recognition are subject to the zoning regulations in effect at that time.
Beverly Wright is intimately familiar with the issue of gambling. A former five-time chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe from 1991 to 2004, she unsuccessfully attempted to secure a gambling facility on the mainland when state law and the political currents did not favor casino gambling.
Ms. Wright is married to Robert B. MacDiarmid, a tribal member, and has two children. She is on the board of the Aquinnah Cultural Center, a member of the tribal health committee, and chairman of the Save The Gay Head Lighthouse committee.
Julianne Vanderhoop is the owner of the Orange Peel Bakery, a popular stop for visitors from around the Island. The mother of two children, she has been a commercial shellfisherman for more than 20 years and has served on a number of boards, including the Aquinnah Parks and Recreation committee, Chilmark School advisory committee, and the Tri-town ambulance committee. She has also served on the Aquinnah Board of Health and the Wampanoag tribe education committee for the past seven years.
This week, The Times asked each candidate why she is running for office, their position on a casino, and what issues the next selectman is likely to face. Their emailed responses are reproduced below, edited slightly for style and conciseness.
Why do you want to serve on the board of selectmen?
Ms. Wright: Three years ago I saw that the board of selectmen were not working well together and I wanted to be part of changing that atmosphere. I think that has been accomplished; there are still disagreements, but they are worked out in a professional manner. The employees and the selectmen all have the same goal of providing the best service to the residents of Aquinnah. It is gratifying to see that issues are handled with respect, efficiency, and dedication. I would like to continue to be a part of this ongoing process. Also, the board of selectmen now has a cooperative working relationship with the new administration of the WTGH and that is a good thing for Aquinnah.
Ms. Vanderhoop: I am running for the office of selectman in the town of Aquinnah because as a lifelong resident I feel a responsibility as a person of my generation to step up and into the arena. As a selectman I can help give back to my community. I know this land historically and care for our fragile ecosystem.
The issues that I hope will come in front of the board of selectmen include some familiar ones, like the need for affordable housing lots, and some new. For example, there is a large movement to promote farming on the entire Island. I hope to see Aquinnah support the growth of farmers and agriculture and once again look at our short- and long-term plans for housing and open space and so that our community can help promote sustainability.
If elected, would you be prepared to support legal action to block tribal efforts to create a boutique casino in the tribe’s unused community center?
Ms. Wright: This question is easy to answer. First, throughout my political career with the WTGH/A as chairman I have never advocated for a gaming facility to be on our traditional homelands in Aquinnah. Our elders worked all their lives and gave their lives so that future generations of Aquinnah Wampanoags would have a place to call home. A home that represents all the good qualities of our native heritage, a home where
our young people can know the feeling of walking in the woods to gather berries, nuts, grapes. A home to gather knowledge of fishing, quahoging, and the feel of our beautiful clay in their hands.
Secondly, as a selectman I represent all the residents of Aquinnah, tribal and nontribal. Not one person has spoken to me in favor of a gaming facility. As selectman, without hesitation, I would support legal action to block tribal efforts to create a boutique casino in our community center.
Ms. Vanderhoop: I do not support gaming in Aquinnah. I will support all efforts on Martha’s Vineyard to prevent the transition of the tribal community building to a gaming facility.
What issues do you think town leaders will need to confront in the future?
Ms. Wright: The board of selectmen has already acknowledged some of the issues that will be forthcoming. A capital expenditure committee has just been established and at town meeting on May 13th the voters will be asked to create a capital expenditure fund and to deposit free cash in the newly created fund.
Aquinnah is growing and the selectmen must find ways to fund growth without continually raising taxes. What is needed in the future is a DPW facility, a new police station, enlargement of our fire station and more office space in the town hall, plus vehicles. These projects, along with others, will be discussed by the committee and brought to the attention of the voters so they will have advance notice and input. Funds will be available to at least conduct a feasibility study and to give the voters a heads up as to what they will be asked to fund at upcoming town meetings. The biggest issue is growth and the means by which this growth is funded with the least impact to the taxpayers.
Ms. Vanderhoop: There are needs within the community of Aquinnah and as these arise I think that we need to have some creative thoughts go into how to address them. The people within our community must come together with our knowledge and create a community that works for everyone.Trying to control budgets but also trying to stay up to date with the new technology that surrounds the world. If we can move our lighthouse then that should be the beginning of a movement to enlighten and strengthen us within our community.