21 political observers offer their views on Tuesday’s election

“1) I remember a fellow Charter Commission member claiming that the council form of government was inherently biased against women. Yet somehow we have 12 of 13 seats in the incoming Council held by women! 2) When both “sides” endorse a candidate, that candidate romps to victory. Ellisha Walker and Anika Lopes far outran their counterparts. 3) I’m sorry to see George Ryan and Evan Ross (if the 3-vote margin holds up) not return. Both have been incredibly hard-working and served the town with thoughtfulness and integrity. Amherst owes them a debt of gratitude for serving as models of public service.”

— Andrew Churchill, former chair of Charter Commission and School Committee

“More BIPOC candidates both ran and got elected than before the charter change. Money raised by Amherst municipal candidates is still not an indicator of who will win. Unprecedented personalized attacks on people, not issues, defeated incumbents in small-turnout districts, but did not impact results for incumbents at-large. The majority of voters are not angry with their municipal government. The angry obstructionists have been fully heard, and it’s still very clear the majority of residents do not agree with those angry obstructionists. Voters very much want things to be better, but they do not want things to stop.”

Alisa Brewer, former Select Board chair and School Committee member, retiring At-Large Councilor

“This resounding YES for the library has given me hope where the school vote years ago left me distraught. Yes, Amherst, we can come together and buck the trend of disinvestment in public spaces and services that are critical to countering social inequities and to improving the quality of life in our community for everyone. With a town council that has to be accountable to voters, what can we accomplish next, Amherst?”

— Melissa Giraud, co-founder, EmbraceRace

“The coalition of voters that the Amherst Forward folks put together to pass the new charter and elect a progressive town council three years ago continues to be the dominant political force in town. Successful challengers were the ones who did not rely on negative campaigning and personal attacks. The top vote getters were endorsed by both PACs. Potential problems: Will the council be able to construct 2/3 votes for zoning and borrowing? Will Carol Gray et.al. persist in trying to obstruct the library project and delegitimize the election?”

Bob Rakoff, retired Hampshire College professor and former Planning Board chair

“Last night’s overwhelming vote in support of the Jones Library renovation and expansion project was a welcome affirmation of a vision for progressive change in Amherst. The voters were persuaded by a carefully developed and carefully vetted proposal. They endorsed prudent investment in Amherst’s future. This result is really good news as the town contemplates needed investments in other capital projects. I look forward to working with other Trustees and town officials, incumbents and new office holders in the next stages of the library project. At the same time, the defeat of a couple of strong, effective incumbents running for reelection to the Town Council suggests a public appetite to bring new perspectives and new voices to bear in town leadership.”

— Austin Sarat, Jones Library Board of Trustees chair and Amherst College professor

“The success of Ellisha Walker speaks to the inclusion and leadership of young, progressive, talented people of color in Amherst politics. We see in Ellisha the triumph of intersectionality – a woman, someone who is a part of the global majority, a renter. She in her person represents the intersection of race, class, and gender. She is very thoughtful and a good listener. Her identity along with and her demonstrated leadership on the CSWG made an impact on a wide range of Amherst voters, as did her reasoned style and bridge-building approach.”

— Patricia Romney, author of “We Were There: The Third World Women’s Alliance and the Second Wave.”

“I am so gratified by the results of the election for the Jones. With over 65% of the vote coming out in favor of Town support, it feels like a resounding and positive statement by our Town that we can move forward to build a more just and equitable local community. This was a vote for rationality and common sense prevailed. The Jones represents a significant investment in our future and now the work can continue and we can bring Amherst the 21st Century Library facility that the vast majority wants, needs, and, most importantly will use for decades to come. Hard work pays off!!”

— Matthew Blumenfeld, Principal, Financial Development Agency

“I was thrilled to see the library project win by such a large margin. The Amherst
community needs this improvement to our physical and social infrastructure.
I was concerned during the campaign that misinformation and negative campaigning would prevail, but that didn’t happen, and in fact the candidate who hitched her wagon to the ‘No’ on library was staunchly defeated. This is only the second election for Town Council and there were a variety of voices represented. I’m encouraged to see new faces entering the field and I give credit to all candidates, given the challenges of running for office.”

— Connie Kruger, former Select Board member

“I’m hopeful that the new councilors will lead us into a time of greater collaboration and innovative thinking, where social justice will be a vital ingredient; where public input will create better ideas and solutions; where our town finds its right balance of families, students, professionals, and retirees. I look forward to more planning, before zoning bylaw changes are enacted. I look forward to preserving our history while entering the future.  I think the new people on the scene are aware and talented. I look forward to being a part of the conversation, with more of us at the table.”

— Ira Bryck, former executive director, Family Business Center of the Pioneer Valley

“Amherst voters’ overwhelming support for the Jones Library building project could serve as a harbinger of capital projects to come, notably the elementary school building project. Like the library, that project leverages local funds to unlock state funds. It is our best chance to finally get Amherst kids into buildings conducive to learning. Capital projects aside, talking with voters this fall showed me that there’s still work to be done to establish clearer lines of communication, accountability and feedback between our elected officials and their constituents. Our democracy functions best when citizens feel connected to the process.”

— Johanna Neumann, Field director for Amherst Forward and Planning Board member

“The resounding affirmation of the Jones Library Building Project tells me that voters do want to invest in Amherst, and is hopefully a blow to those who say no to virtually everything, such as the previous school building plan of 2016. The re-election of Andy Steinberg to Town Council, and election of Irv Rhodes to School Committee, tells me that voters care about experience and voices of reason. The election of Jennifer Page to School Committee says voters also want to hear from new voices bringing new perspectives. I think that’s a nice mix of results.”

— Rick Hood, former chair, Regional School Committee

“The most significant action by inaugural Town Council was the vote in favor of the Jones Library renovation and expansion. The subsequent voter veto process and referendum affirmed that the charter works. The voters affirmed the Town Council vote by a 2-1 margin, but then apparently voted out two incumbent councilors who were the most vocal library supporters. That shows that the voters support the actions of the councilors, if not the councilors themselves. I’m very excited by the composition of the new Town Council. Ages will range from twenty something to eighty something. Similarly, the Jones Library trustees will include a person of color, and School Committee will include three people of color.”

— Stephen Schreiber, departing Town Council member for District 4

“I do believe that the election results send a strong message to future candidates about how not to win elections. One does not win elections by persistently personally attacking other candidates and non-candidates.  One does not win elections by being consistently negative about the state of affairs in Amherst and that nowhere in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion does the word exclusion appear. Civility matters.”

— Irv Rhodes, Former (and new) School Committee member

“I think the election demonstrates that Amherst voters are dedicated to having constructive BIPOC voices in all aspects of town government and in providing current and future citizens with an energy-efficient and modern library that meets a variety of town needs. It also demonstrates that false advertising and negative campaigning don’t work with the majority Amherst voters. Now the hard work of governing and changing institutions begins.”

Susan Tracy, former professor of history and American Studies, Hampshire College

“It was deeply affirming to see the overwhelming vote for the Jones Library. After so much negativity and, frankly, stalling out on major needs in this town, it feels good to be moving forward with such an essential community building. I am very glad that there are a diverse – by age, lived-experience, gender, ethnicity – group of talented public servants elected across town boards. Let’s work collaboratively, with a spirit of openness and generosity to solve real problems together.”

Eric Nakajima, former chair, Regional School Committee

“This election brought out the best and the worst in our community. We heard residents push for a more equitable and sustainable Amherst. And we also saw misinformation used to increase divisiveness. Tuesday’s vote increased BIPOC representation to 23% in the Town Council and 60% in the School Committee. What residents also want is thoughtful leaders who can truly listen to diverse perspectives to make investments in our town that are fiscally responsible and benefit all residents, and not just the vocal residents. The overwhelming support of the library expansion (and other projects in downtown like Drake and performance shell) shows residents’ support for investment in our social infrastructures, local arts, culture, and businesses in a way that benefits all residents, especially those who are underrepresented.”

— Shalini Bahl-Milne, Town Councilor for District 5

“It was great to see that Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg, two hard-working, dedicated, and intelligent people, get reelected to the council. I was a bit disappointed that Evan Ross did not win. Nonetheless, the other candidates in District 4 seemed to run better campaigns and will do a good job for us. Will the new council tackle the following: pervasive speeding on town streets (including school zones); runaway school budget; and climate change (count the number of SUVs in the high school parking lot). I wish them godspeed. It was great to see Vince, Vira, and Greeney defeated. Overall, a good night.”

Michael Hanke, Gray Street resident 

“The election indicates that Amherst voters strongly support the current path of the Town Council, with its pragmatic efforts to boost downtown development and address other challenging issues. Despite concerns that the town is divided, it is a healthy sign that party-like slates formed to endorse candidates, which helped voters make informed decisions. While Amherst residents can take pride in having a second successful election under its new charter, we should consider additional ways to boost turnout, including stronger efforts to mobilize students who want to vote in Amherst. If half the seats remain uncontested in future elections, we might consider shrinking the size of the Town Council. The dearth of job candidates should not be surprising. Being an elected official is challenging, time-consuming, and takes a lot of resiliency in the face of much criticism.”

Ray La Raja, UMass professor of political science

“SO excited to know that we will have a 21st Century learning center in Amherst! On another note, I’ve been parsing voter turnout and am struck that while the painful battles over schools, town government and the library have created angry divisions in our community, they have also hugely increased voter participation. Town elections between 2011 and 2016 drew a low of 1,348 registered voters (2013) and a high of 2,668 (2014). In 2018 (the vote for the new charter) 6,043 voters showed up. Yesterday that number was 4,962, slightly more than turned out to vote on the school referendum (4,853).”

Nina Mankin, dramaturg, business owner and grant writer

“The strong vote for the Library shows that voters affirmed the planning process and the role the Council played in how it made the decision to endorse the project. It offers a blueprint for presenting the other capital projects to the public to build assurance that the council has sufficient information to make its decision.
Land use will be a critical issue for the council and it remains to be seen what impact the new members will have in terms of downtown development, business support, and new revenue.”

— Bernie Kubiak, former municipal administrator and Finance Committee member

“The Amherst BID is very pleased to see the democratic process at work in Amherst. We are excited to continue the forward movement for building arts & culture in our community, small business support & economic development, as well as creative ways to bring Amherst back into a post-pandemic world. We look forward to working with all 13 members of the incoming Town Council, the Town Manager, and all the collaborating partners who have brought us to where we are today. We remain saddened by the divisiveness of some candidates but we move on to build on our joint vision.”

Gabrielle Gould, executive director, Amherst Business Improvement District

4 thoughts on “21 political observers offer their views on Tuesday’s election”

  1. I do understand Irv’s admonitions about civility and negative attacks. But I think the problem lies more with a fully informed electorate, and the campaign calendar is not providing enough in the way of forums, events, and debates to permit voters to know just who these people are. So the voters are thrown back on age, gender, race, and ethnicity to make distinctions about candidates. It’s not good enough. We do not see candidates actually engage each other in a public space about their disagreements or competing visions ON THE SUBSTANCE. And I think this leads to other less straightforward ways for candidates to do messaging, with, yes, dog-whistling references to opponents, that some insiders might get and others don’t. Voting in Amherst, and getting up to speed on the issues AND the recent history of governance in town, is still an insider’s game. If you’re new to town, you’re out in the cold. That’s the problem with our campaigns right now: lack of information and face-to-face engagement. We lost two hard-working incumbents from the Council, and I’m still not sure that they got a full opportunity to defend their work and their voting in a truly fair forum. Our political system is more transparent; our campaign system as yet is not.

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  2. I am very excited about increasing BIPOC representation on our elected bodies!

    Please also note that age does matter in terms of lived experience when people are talking to us, especially in our college town. We still go up to 82, but we now have *two* under 40 instead of just one in 2018! We had six/thirteen under 64 in 2018… now we (still) have six/thirteen under 64.

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  3. Also we must acknowledge the great contribution of The Amherst Current. Nick and Sarah and friends provided excellent election coverage, including solid issue analysis and up-to-date info. The fact check posts alone were worth the price of admission! Kudos to Sarah and Nick!

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    1. Absolutely…many, many thanks are due…So…Thank you guys for putting together something wonderful for our community.
      Furthermore, what’s great is that the Current won’t take up any physical space in the new Jones Archives, leaving valuable shelf storage for other papers, documents, etc. That’s as green as it gets!

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