Commissioner Brathwaite makes bid for SSA board

A veteran of state government, Brathwaite says it appears lawful to cast a vote for himself, if need be. 

Dukes County commissioner Leon Brathwaite is running to represent the Island on the SSA board. - Rich Saltzberg

Updated Feb. 3

Dukes County commissioner Leon Brathwaite has become the eighth candidate seeking the Steamship Authority board seat soon to be vacated by Marc Hanover. Brathwaite said the state Ethics Commission told him he “can participate” in the interview process of the other candidates despite his own candidacy. The crux of the logic is, Brathwaite said, that his commission seat is unpaid, as is the seat he’s seeking on the SSA board, therefore no monetary gain is at play. 

David Gianotti, a spokesman for the ethics commission, said, “We cannot confirm or deny if we’ve reviewed any matters.”

Brathwaite, who is retired, hasn’t said if he’ll actually sit in on the other interviews. “If I sat in, I would not ask any questions,” he said. Braithwaite said he believes he is also able to vote for himself, if need be. He said in the past, Dukes County commissioners applying for the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission have voted for themselves. Dukes County Manager Martina Thornton confirmed commissioners have established such a precedent. She said John Alley and Christine Todd both voted for themselves for a seat on the airport commission. Thornton said she plans to consult county counsel Michael Goldsmith on the matter irrespective of what the commonwealth’s stance is. If Brathwaite does wish to sit in on the interviews, she said, she has asked chairman Tristan Israel to schedule Brathwaite first, ostensibly so he does not gain the benefit of interviewing after hearing what other candidates say. Those interviews are slated for Feb. 5; however, the vote is a ways off.

“They will not vote on this until March 4,” she said. 

While they may not receive money, SSA board members do get perks. SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said by and large, those perks are commensurate with SSA employee travel and parking benefits. Driscoll said board members travel on SSA vessels for free, as do their spouses and children. If they are on the board for three years or more, that benefit becomes permanent. The only exception is the Iyanough. Board members must pay half the ticket cost for that ferry. For reservation or standby vehicle passage, board members received half off, as do their spouses. Whenever a board member is traveling for SSA business, vehicle passage is free. Board members enjoy free parking at the SSA’s Palmer lot for the duration of their time on the board. 

Brathwaite said he hoped his fellow commissioners would give him the votes required simply because he’s the most qualified candidate, and that he will not have to exercise his own vote. 

Brathwaite is a retiree with extensive experience in data processing. He was chairman of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for half a decade. He also worked in the state office of affirmative action. For the city of Newton, he worked in labor relations, and negotiated contracts. He also developed the city’s payroll system and labor tracking system. 

He was a labor relations and civil rights manager at Stone and Webster Engineering. At present, he is the commissioners’ liaison to the SSA, and can often be seen in the audience of the board’s monthly meetings.

Brathwaite fielded the same four questions The Times posed to other candidates. 

Should the SSA establish a fast ferry on the Vineyard route?

“It should be studied,” he said. “It could work in the summertime. It’s doable, but it would come with costs.” He envisioned those costs would come in the form of high ticket prices for the ferry and the cost of building or buying the ferry itself.

Should the SSA resurrect its New Bedford terminal?

“Right off the bat, there’s going to be about $10 million to repair the terminal” he said. Among other things, the state terminal would need beefing up to handle the weight of trucks, he said. 

“It would take more travel time to go from New Bedford to Vineyard Haven, and that would add a cost to the trucker that would more than likely be passed on to the consumer,” he said. 

Brathwaite was more bullish about barging trash than establishing traditional service in New Bedford. He noted previous studies have supported the idea, and because of major landfills near New Bedford, landside logistics might prove economical. He said trash could be vacuum-packed and put on pallets before it’s put on barges. 

What would one priority be for you to address if appointed to the board?

Brathwaite said he would “work with the leadership” to fulfill the recommendations of the HMS report, with an emphasis on training and maintenance software (SQMS and LMS). 

How would you maximize the chairmanship if appointed?

Whoever is appointed by the commissioners becomes the 2020 chairman of the SSA board. 

“I would provide transparency working with the other [members],” he said. He would work to better the board’s engagement with the public. He would also try to ensure more work is done in public sessions.

“I purposely would work to improve the online ticketing system to prevent the crash we just went through,” he said. 

Updated with additional information from the Steamship Authority. 



  1. Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General: Please investigate. The perks as stated here for SSA Board members are outrageous and likely illegal. Tickets for spouses and children? Passage for life if Board members serve beyond three years? Free parking at any time at Palmer Avenue? The Steamship Authority’s Enabling Act is very clear on reimbursement/compensation for Board members: “The members of the Authority shall serve without compensation. Each member shall be reimbursed for his actual expenses necessarily incurred in the performance of his duties.” As usual with the Steamship Authority, it’s a medieval approach. What better way to leverage at least even a little allegiance from your island Board members than with a gesture of (potentially lifetime) patronage like this?

  2. Doesn’t this position come with free travel for himself and his family, and isn’t that a “monetary gain”. These Ethics Commission opinions are based on what the applicants tell the Ethics Commission and NOT on information gained independently by the Ethics Commission.
    Just because past and present County Commissioners have vote for themselves for various appointments does not mean that this the standard the their community expects from them now and moving forward. We should not allow our elected officials to hold themselves to such a low standard.
    No member of the appointing body should be allowed to serve on a board that they, and other members, appoint!
    We can do better!

  3. Another self important individual trying to self appoint themselves to a position with lucrative ‘benefits’ package. Please change the picture by adding an eyepatch, parrot on shoulder, and a hat with a big feather… this is vineyard piracy at its best. Shame on you Braithwhite!

  4. Many of us are trying to get him and actually two other county commissioners replaced as commissioners and the last thing we want is him doing is representing us concerning our island’s “LIFELINE”!
    I say No Way in H***!!
    We are trying to `Drain the Island`s Swamp` and 0221 is a good start!!

  5. PS. I agree with all the above especially that Brathwaite needs a eye patch, parrot on shoulder, and a hat with a big feather.
    Perfect Two Inch Fangs. I watch the commissioners on MVTV regularly and I love when they forget they are being filmed and their true colors come out loud and clear! Thanks MVTV!

Comments are closed.