Keith Chatinover will make his voice heard

The county commissioner-elect sees government as a way to better people’s lives.

Political newcomer Keith Chatinover, a recent graduate of Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, won a seat on the Dukes County Commission. — Gabrielle Mannino

Updated Nov. 16

Most 18-year-olds are applying to college, taking time off to work, or headed to the next party, but Keith Chatinover is not most 18-year-olds. Last spring, he graduated from high school, over the fall he worked on a political campaign and got accepted to Middlebury College, and now he’s become one of the youngest people ever to be elected to public office on the Island.

After running a last-minute write-in campaign for the primary election in September, Chatinover secured a place on November’s ballot and won a seat on the seven-member Dukes County commission, coming in sixth overall. As a commissioner, Chatinover will be on a panel that oversees the county’s budget, its beaches, the Edgartown courthouse, the airport, and several social services.

“I am psyched about it,” Chatinover said, “I will be really, really, really excited to get going for Islanders and Gosnold residents as well. It is really an honor.”

It was a tense few hours for Chatinover on election night. There were seven open seats on the commission, and eight people running. Gosnold’s numbers came in first — placing Chatinover in dead last. As the night went on, however, the votes started to roll in, and his lead began to grow. Chatinover got the most votes from his hometown in Edgartown, but had a strong showing in West Tisbury, where he attended the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. “It was overwhelming not only to see all the work we put in to flip the House had happened, but all the work I put in here locally paid off. It was surreal,” Chatinover said.

“He’s probably one of the youngest members ever,” Dukes County Manager Martina Thornton said. “Definitely in the recent history of the county commission.”

Chatinover graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School last spring, and spent time working for state Rep. Dylan Fernandes. He begins classes at Middlebury in February.

It was right around the end of middle school and the start of high school that Chatinover started to develop his political views. “I got into progressive activism mainly around the environment, climate change, herbicide and pesticide use; sea level rise around the Island is a huge issue,” he said. “I got involved because I thought that I had a civic duty to do so — I think everyone does. I think it manifests itself in many ways.”

Chatinover’s activism and political experience includes co-leading the We Stand Together/Estados Todos Juntos environment committee, leading the March for Our Lives bus trip to D.C., being involved in getting youth out to vote, student government at the Charter School, and being a member of Model United Nations.

Chatinover said his victory is a great way to be a voice for other Islanders who don’t see politics as a way to “climb the ladder,” but see government the way he does — as a way to better people’s lives.

“I thought perhaps a young voice might be of use,” Chatinover said. “I think it would be one thing if I was just an 18-year-old running and I hadn’t done anything. Being young is actually more of an advantage than a disadvantage.”

Chatinover said Thornton and the commission have done a good job of balancing the budget, but one of Chatinover’s reasons for running was to have a more transparent and accountable county commission. “A good example is the appointment process. When we ask for appointments, like appointing someone to the Airport Commission or another county office … there are so many other ways to involve the community rather than just picking someone,” he said. “Advertise the position more, put it out, put it on Islanders Talk, put it where people are.”

Another way he plans to be more transparent and accountable is to hold Q and A meetings in all Island town halls and Gosnold. He plans to listen to people’s concerns, advice, and input, and answer their questions. “That’s what accountability is supposed to be, so I will be there,” he said.

Chatinover knows his age sets him apart from his colleagues, but he doesn’t feel intimidated: “If you show them respect and show you have a legitimate reason to be there and you have reasonable things to say, they will view you as equal to them, and that’s what it should be.”

Commission meetings are generally once a month, and Chatinover has pledged he will be at a majority of the meetings in person, even while attending college in Vermont. He will Skype or teleconference into meetings that he can’t attend in person. “My presence will be known at every meeting, whether over the phone or in person,” he said.

“It was unbelievable to win. It was like my dream come true. Seeing people vote, seeing my name on the ballot, it was surreal that it happened, it was overwhelming, the generosity,” Chatinover said. “My first order of business — and this is the cliché of clichés — but it is to listen. To learn the process, to learn how things work. I will not be a rubber stamp, I can promise you that. I will make my voice heard early and often.”

Updated to correct where Chatinover placed. – Ed.