Reflecting on voters’ choices

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Election season is finally over. After being delayed for more than two months because of the pandemic, the last voters from West Tisbury cast their ballots on Thursday, with hand sanitizer in high demand.

Elections were a mixed bag across the Island. Some towns went with newcomers, and others went with experience — there are some lessons in both.

In Oak Bluffs, Ryan Ruley defeated longtime selectman Michael Santoro for a spot on the board of selectmen. But in the same election, one-term selectman Brian Packish was re-elected. It’s difficult to Monday morning quarterback an election. There is no exit polling to inform us, but we can speculate. Packish is a vocal leader, and voters have no difficulty understanding his position on issues. Santoro is more reserved. The fact that Ruley garnered the most votes from among four candidates might be the most telling stat from the election. Voters wanted change.

Santoro did provide a strong voice for the Oak Bluffs business community, and that will be missed. The town got its fiscal house in order during his tenure, and added solar arrays to the school and fire station, among other key accomplishments during his three terms. In Santoro’s comments after the election, he vowed to continue volunteering on boards and committees, and we hope he does lend his experience in other areas of town government.

In Tisbury, two-term incumbent Melinda Loberg was defeated by Larry Gomez, a former selectman who had been serving on the finance committee since leaving the town’s select board. (By the way, it’s awkward using different names for different towns. We hope the other five Island communities get on the gender-neutral “select board” bandwagon.)

There’s little doubt, based on some of the social media chatter, that Loberg’s decision to abstain from a vote on supporting a new school project in 2018 cost her votes in this election. After the year parents had at the Tisbury School this school year, we’re fairly certain she lost the parents-with-schoolchildren vote. Kids started the school year split up because of lead and asbestos issues in the old building, then finished the year in remote learning because of the pandemic. The latter is obviously not her fault, but angry parents let Loberg have it at a community meeting in the fall concerning Tisbury School being forced to start the school year late and close part of its building.

Loberg does deserve credit during her two terms for shining the spotlight on the town’s wastewater issues, and the health of Lagoon Pond and Tashmoo. 

Time will tell if Gomez’s “get things done quicker” approach will appeal to voters, but the town can’t continue to kick the can on important issues.

Melanie Englert also ran in the Tisbury election and though she didn’t garner a lot of votes, she showed some enthusiasm, and says she may volunteer to get involved.

On a sour note, four Tisbury voters were kept from voting as a result of a clock issue at the Tisbury polls. Town clerk Hillary Conklin has apologized, and promised to rectify the situation moving forward. Let’s hope they set the polling times based off a smartphone or computer, and not a wall clock, which adds the potential for human error in setting the time. And as the state pointed out, the doors to the polling place should never have been locked. The public has an absolute right to oversee the counting of ballots. Hopefully, some good will come from the snafu.

In Edgartown, it feels like voters missed an opportunity. Margaret Serpa, who has served on the board for more than 20 years, narrowly defeated Juliet Mulinare. Joe Monteiro also ran, but wasn’t much of a factor, although if his 55 votes were “anyone but Serpa,” they would have been enough to get Mulinare elected.

For a long time, we’ve wondered what would happen if Edgartown’s board of selectmen got some new blood, and Mulinare seemed like a good pick. She was involved in town government as the procurement officer, so she had an insider’s look at how the town operates. Too many of Edgartown’s votes are unanimous, with little discussion by the board members. Mulinare’s right about the Edgartown meetings being brief. Some might argue that’s efficiency, but the town would benefit from some spirited discussion and debate.

In West Tisbury, one-term incumbent Kent Healy was also re-elected, defeating Michael Bellissimo. Either man would have been a solid choice. Healy has given voters no reason to oust him from office, and Bellissimo has proven himself an involved citizen who would look out for the town and Island’s best interests.

Sadly, the voters in Aquinnah and Chilmark did not have a choice when they went to the polls. Nothing against Juli Vanderhoop in Aquinnah and Warren Doty in Chilmark, but elections are always better when voters have a choice among candidates. Competition always makes us stronger.

Congratulations to the candidates who won, thanks to the candidates who jumped in and added their voices to the public debate, and now it’s time to get to work.