Welcome, Spring!

By Elisa Campbell

At this time, when so many members of our own species seem to have become completely insane, I have found it even more calming and delightful to see wildflowers and turtles doing what flowers and turtles do.

Because I live within walking distance of the Rail Trail, and the mix for forests, meadows, swamps, and streams along it between Station Road South East Street is so diverse and beautiful, that’s where I usually go. As I write this, there are Trout Lilies and Wood Anemone starting to bloom, beaver activity, ducks, geese, and herons in the larger bodies of water, and numerous Eastern Painted Turtles seeking logs and other places to soak up the sun they need to warm themselves. In mid-April I saw 18 turtles between the two entrances to the Rail Trail by the Ken Cuddeback Trail. We have more turtles than logs for them to sun on – those beavers should get busy!

Trout lily. Photo by Elisa Campbell

The Rail Trail is officially the “Massachusetts Central Rail Trail/Norwottuck Branch.” It’s part of a rail trail intended to cross the whole state, using mostly former railroad rights of way. The right of way, the construction, and the maintenance are a part of our state parks system, within the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

In Amherst, we have another DCR park in town – the Mount Holyoke Range State Park. Given the size of towns in Massachusetts, that park extends over five towns – Amherst, Belchertown, Granby, Hadley, and South Hadley. From the ground, or looking at the Range from a distance, we tend to imagine that the whole Range is protected by the state park, but it’s not. I recommend you go to the DCR website and download the map of the park to familiarize yourself with what is protected and by whom. Much of the Range in Amherst is protected by the town, as conservation areas. Some of my favorite places aren’t officially protected at all, but nevertheless have some beautiful wildflowers, including Round-leaved Hepatica and Marsh Marigolds.

Town of Amherst

There are many trails on or over the Range. The Ken Cuddeback Trail going up past the water tower above Bay Road continues to Rattlesnake Knob, with two different views:  one east toward Long Mountain, Belchertown, Pelham, and even the tall hills east of Springfield; the other view north over Amherst and Hadley, up to Vermont and, on a clear day, Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts.

Muskrat in Hop Brook. Photo by Elisa Campbell

Or, from west to east, you can hike on the New England Scenic Trail along the ridge line over Mount Norwottuck from the Notch on Route 116 to Harris Mountain Road. The Sweet Alice Trail near Kestrel Land Trust’s new headquarters on Bay Road is less strenuous and beautiful. Bring a map if you don’t want to risk taking a wrong turn and a longer hike than you had in mind!

While we in Amherst are lucky to have many other conservation areas in town – and even more in nearby towns – I want to focus right now on those managed by DCR, because DCR needs our help. For decades the agency has been underfunded, losing operating funds and staff to take care of our state forests and parks. The underfunding has been even worse since the Great Recession after the collapse of the housing bubble more than a decade ago. DCR’s operating budget in the current fiscal year is $4 million less than it was in FY2009 – not counting inflation, actual dollars allocated. It has 300 fewer employees than in FY2009.

Hepatica. Photo by Elisa Campbell

The state is currently in good financial shape; in addition to federal money given to states to help them deal with the consequences of the pandemic, we have a surplus of state taxes. Now is the time to make up, to some extent, for the terrible cuts to DCR during and after the Great Recession.

The Massachusetts House budget includes an increase for DCR, so the next step is to advocate for strongly for a larger amount in the state Senate.

We owe it to these places we enjoy so much, and to our fellow humans who also enjoy these places

Pied-billed grebe. Photo by Elisa Campbell

Emily Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd lived nearby but their lifestyles were far apart

This watercolor by artist Victoria Dickson shows how she imagined the Dickinson Homestead to look in 1880, just before Mabel Loomis Todd moved to Amherst.

This is the second in a series of posts about the Amherst Writers Walk, a self-guided tour of the houses where 12 renowned writers lived. Here’s a link to Part One.

By Nick Grabbe

Emily Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd lived in houses that were only one block apart, and while the two women were a study in contrasts, their connection resulted in a major contribution to American literature.

One woman stayed in her family’s house during most of the second half of her life, while the other was a world traveler. One woman was known for extreme social distancing, while the other was gregarious. One woman was modest while the other was attention-seeking. One woman was virtually unknown in her lifetime but is now recognized internationally as a major poet, while the other woman, who was gifted in many areas, is little known today.

And even though Mabel Loomis Todd was key to bringing Emily Dickinson’s poetry to the world’s attention, and carried on a 13-year love affair with the poet’s married brother, the two women never met face to face.

The basics of Emily Dickinson’s life are well known. Born in 1830 to a prominent Amherst family, she retreated to a severely sequestered life sometime after age 30. She never married or had children. She wrote about 1,800 poems, but only a few were published in her lifetime. She died in 1886. Her poems were discovered, edited, and published in three editions in the 1890s.

The Emily Dickinson Museum includes the house at 280 Main Street, where she lived, and The Evergreens, the house just to the west, where her brother and his family lived. The museum was visited (before the pandemic) by about 15,000 people every year. Built in 1813 by the poet’s grandparents, the Dickinson Homestead may have been the first brick house in Amherst.

About 15,000 people a year visited the Emily Dickinson Museum before the pandemic.

Many people around the world know about Amherst because it’s where Emily Dickinson lived. Her life has been the subject of a play (“The Belle of Amherst,”) a novel (“Miss Emily,”), a coming-of-age TV series (“Dickinson”), a movie (“A Quiet Passion”), many books and countless scholarly essays.

Here’s how the museum’s website summarizes Dickinson’s image and influence:

“Often caricatured in popular culture as a white-clad recluse who poured out morbid verse in the sanctuary of her bedroom, Emily Dickinson was a serious artist whose intellectual curiosity and emotional intensity are revealed in concise and compelling poems that capture a range of human experiences.”

Emily Dickinson

The Dickinson Homestead is currently closed for renovations and restoration, but may reopen this summer. The museum is now engaged in fundraising for the final phase of the work, which will include the kitchen, laundry and servants’ quarters.

Programs related to Emily Dickinson continue. This Saturday at 11:30 a.m., there will be a virtual reading and walk to mark the 136th anniversary of her death. Volunteers will read from her works, and poets will share Dickinson-inspired poems they have written. At her grave at West Cemetery, “we will share reflections and a light-hearted virtual toast.” The annual walk used to be in person but, as a virtual event, it reaches many more people around the world.

Interest in Emily Dickinson remains high almost two centuries after her birth. When the museum invited people to create postcards with greetings to the poet (“The World Writes Back”), it received about 1,000 (many of which are shown on the website) from 21 countries. The website includes a virtual syllabus, Spotify playlists, printable coloring sheets, and even a color-by-numbers Emily Dickinson portrait.

There has been much speculation about Emily Dickinson’s life. Did she suffer from epilepsy or some other medical condition? Did she have a love affair with her married neighbor, William Smith Clark (a theory advanced by Ruth Owen Jones of Amherst)? Why did she retreat from the outside world? No one knows for sure.

But we do know that her life intersected with that of Mabel Loomis Todd, who moved to a house at 97 Spring St. in 1881 when she was 25. (In 1907, the house was moved to 90 Spring St.) Emily Dickinson was 51 at the time, and her brother Austin, a respected lawyer, was 53.

This house on Spring Street was the home of Mabel Loomis Todd.

Mabel Loomis Todd was an accomplished singer, painter, writer, editor and lecturer. She traveled to Japan, Russia and Chile, and may have been the first Western woman to hike up Mt. Fuji. She wrote or edited 12 books and hundreds of articles, and gave lectures all over the country. She was a co-founder of the Amherst Women’s Club and the Amherst Historical Society. A play about her life, “A Woman of the World,” was staged off-Broadway in 2019.

She seems to have had an open marriage with her husband, David Peck Todd, a professor of astronomy at Amherst College and an expert on eclipses. In her diaries, she recorded her many sexual encounters with both her husband and with Austin Dickinson. A Washington Post story about these liaisons was headlined “Amorous in Amherst.”

Austin Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd exchanged love letters, went on private trips, and spent time together in Boston. A book by Dickinson scholar Polly Longsworth called “Austin and Mabel” (UMass Press, 1999) details their affair, which lasted until Austin’s death in 1894.

She came to the Homestead to play the piano and sing for Austin and his sister Lavinia. Emily apparently heard Mabel sing but didn’t make an appearance. The two women exchanged notes and conversations between rooms. Mabel wrote in her diary, “She writes the strangest poems & very remarkable ones.”

Mabel Loomis Todd, “Woman of the World”

Mabel sent Emily a painting she did of an Indian Pipe flower, and Emily wrote back in appreciation, “Dear Friend, I cannot make an Indian Pipe but please accept this Humming Bird,” and included a poem called “A Route of Evanescence.”

Mabel referred to Emily Dickinson as “a lady whom the people call the Myth,” and wrote that she “seems to be the climax of all the family oddity.” When Dickinson’s poems surfaced after her death, Mabel Loomis Todd was one of the few people who recognized her genius.

The poems had “a wonderful effect on me, mentally and spiritually,” Mabel wrote. “They seemed to open the door into a wider universe than the little sphere surrounding me.”

She spent nine years assembling the poems and editing them, regularizing some of Dickinson’s unorthodox syntax and punctuation, changing some rhymes and adding titles to conform to contemporary literary tastes. Since then, scholars have largely restored the original versions.

The Jones Library’s Special Collections Department includes some of the books that Mabel Loomis Todd wrote, plus her diaries on microfilm (the originals are at Yale). The library has a copy of the first edition of Emily Dickinson’s poems, illustrated on the cover with Mabel’s Indian Pipe painting. The Amherst Historical Society has her swimsuit, dresses and some of her artwork.

Mabel Loomis Todd contradicted the image of a prim 19th century woman with few options outside the home. She died in 1932, in Maine, and her daughter donated land there to the Audubon Society, forming a wildlife sanctuary six miles east of Damariscotta. Her husband, who was frustrated in his attempts to view eclipses and tried to communicate with Mars, was institutionalized in 1922 and died in 1939. Both are buried in Wildwood Cemetery.

Emily Dickinson and Mabel Loomis Todd, though different, were both extraordinary women who defied the conventions of their times. Their lives came together over poetry and their sensitive outlook, noticing beauty and the subtle details of life.

Amherst artist Victoria Dickson, the Emily Dickinson Museum, and Cynthia Harbeson, curator of special collections at the Jones Library, provided insights and information for this post.

Aging and dementia: Looking at Amherst through a different lens

By Sarah Marshall

I bet you know someone with dementia. I know several people with dementia, Alzheimer’s in many cases, and it is painful to see these wonderful people fade, cognitively. And I have a sense of the emotional, physical, and financial tolls these diseases inflict on family members.

If you don’t know someone with dementia, I bet you know someone who, due to advancing age, is having more difficulty with mobility, vision, or hearing. That person might even be you! Few of us will be fortunate enough to age without experiencing these limitations directly.

Photo by Eduardo Barrios on Unsplash

How well do you think Amherst’s infrastructure and programs serve residents with impairments due to aging or dementia? Is Amherst “friendly” to these sectors of our community? Will you be able to continue your daily activities if you join these fellow residents in disability? Is your current home a good option for “aging in place?” Can you continue to live independently? Will you want different services from the Town?

These are some of the issues being explored by the Age and Dementia Friendly Community Project. A working group, led by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), has been meeting monthly since January. The three main phases of work are to gather information about how friendly Amherst is to people with disabilities of aging or dementia, to devise an action plan for making us friendlier, and to make and monitor our progress. The goal is to produce an Action Plan for the town by the end of December.

During the first phase, the working group is conducting numerous outreach efforts to residents of any age, but particularly those at least 55 years old, via an on-line survey, paper questionnaire, and in-person assistance with the survey. The goal is to hear from a diverse set of residents. Thus, the group will reach out to people at apartment complexes, the Senior Center, the Survival Center, the libraries, congregate meal sites, churches, the farmers’ market, community events, and other locations. Questionnaires have been printed in Spanish and Portuguese, and volunteer translators for other languages are sought.

If you haven’t yet taken the survey (it took me eight minutes to complete), you can do so here, before the end of April. Links to the survey in languages other than English are here. Hard copies are available at the Bangs Center and the Jones Library.

Why become an Age and Dementia Friendly Community now, you may wonder, Is there some urgency? Approximately 10% of Amherst residents are at least 60 years old. About 30% of Amherst residents over 65 live alone, and about 12% of residents over 65 suffer from dementia of some kind. Nationally, the population of people who are at least 65 years old is expected to exceed the 18-or-under population by 2035. The presence of the university and colleges, and related factors, may accelerate this trend in Amherst. Many older residents would like to continue to live in Amherst, if that is feasible.

What makes a town friendly (or not) to people with dementia or disabilities of advancing age? This slide, from a presentation by Becky Basch of the PVPC, gives a broad answer:

But, to be more specific, an age-friendly community must address inclusivity and accessibility in many aspects of public and private life, such as:

  • Housing – e.g., availability of smaller, one-level units, local long-term-care options, safe neighborhoods;
  • Transportation – e.g., public and private, by several modes including walking, signals that give adequate time to slower walkers to cross streets, and loud signals for the hard of hearing;
  • Outdoor spaces and buildings – e.g., accessible, signage visible to the vision impaired;
  • Communication, information and technology – e.g., are appropriate means used and available to people with a range of skills;
  • Access, equity, and inclusion – e.g., local workers trained to work with impaired customers, support groups;
  • Civic participation and employment;
  • Public safety – e.g., personnel who know where residents with dementia live and how to respond to them; and
  • Services – e.g., health, community, business.

After the survey concludes, the working group will schedule monthly public meetings to get ideas and feedback on these topics. The first is likely to be held in May; in-person and virtual modes are under consideration.

Other Pioneer Valley communities participating in this Age and Dementia Friendly Community initiative include Belchertown, Hadley, South Hadley and Northampton, all at different stages of the process. You can read Northampton’s draft community assessment and action plan, which identifies assets, challenges and recommendations, here, and South Hadley’s here.

As the dates for public discussions of the topics listed above are announced, we will post them on our “On our radar” page.

Remembering Baer Tierkel

Editors’ Note: The Amherst Current invited readers to share their thoughts and feelings about Baer Tierkel, who died last Thursday at age 61. He lived in Amherst from 2003 to 2019. A brief report on the ceremony at Wildwood Cemetery on April 12 appears in the Comments section.

Baer was a mindful, heartful genius, who inspired and helped me and many people. On July 4, 2018, I met him for guidance in my political campaign, and took the photo shown below. He provided a deep understanding of the issues in town while enjoying his beverage at Amherst Coffee and playing music. He had the capacity to be deep, wise, funny, and helpful all the same time! We were both practitioners of mindfulness, which fostered a deep connection, not just between us but also with other people in the community whom he introduced me to. Baer inspired me and so many others to live life wholeheartedly, and when it’s time to leave our physical bodies, to do that with love, humor, and grace. – Shalini Bahl-Milne

Baer galvanized many parents of young children — most of us too insular and over-focused on our own families — to consider the idea that we might change local government if we joined Town Meeting. Later, he joined the Survival Center and managed to transform the distribution of monthly food supplies. While taking a tour, I saw him working alongside high schoolers to restock shelves and thought, “If Baer can give a few hours a week, so can I.” As it turned out, he volunteered every day. “I’m the son of a grocery man. I grew up keeping nice shelves. I love doing this stuff,” he told me. I volunteer to this day because Baer showed me that the joy in giving a little is multiplied when you give more. – Cammie McGovern

You knew when Baer was in the room. He had a contagious energy that he exuded. My heart goes out to Alison and their children as they feel his absence. Most of my memories of Baer are from local Amherst politics, where we were often aligned. When I ran for Select Board, he met with me to check out my positions and then signed on to my campaign committee. He offered to set up my web site and I remain grateful for his support. Baer generously contributed his time, skills and resources to so many causes he believed in. He will be missed. – Connie Kruger

When I was new to Town Meeting (and Town), Baer was a welcoming presence – always there with a cheerful “hi,” an update on the happenings in Town, and an invitation to gather with other residents after long nights. He was generous with his time – designing campaign literature, offering advice to first-time candidates, and encouraging “the younger generation” to get involved. He loved Amherst and believed in its potential. We didn’t know each other well, yet I knew Baer would be there if I needed advice or had any questions. — Mandi Jo Hanneke

When we worked on political campaigns, Baer had a unique way of drilling down to the essential connecting message. He was so skilled at identifying the authentic heart of what an individual or group was trying to communicate, understanding what the voters were in fact actually really concerned about, then stripped out the extraneous detail — of which some of us always had a lot 🙂 — and somehow found a way to present an eye-catching and often humorous message, yet still very sincere and true to our core values. Our community is poorer without him to help us tell our story. — Alisa Brewer

Thank you for changing this town: sharing your business brain when I felt lost; introducing me to a life-changing bff; and for the enlightened outlook and spirit you manifested sharing your story over the past year. You will inspire us forever to be better thinkers and doers. – Cinda Jones

What a wonderful spirit Baer brought to all of us. He showed us how to live each day to the fullest, and made us feel more alive and more hopeful about it all. If we all close our eyes and listen hard, I think we might just hear the distant sounds of a jam session happening where he is. So much love to you and the kids, Alison, and to all his co-conspirators here in the Valley and beyond. Thank you for including us in the journey. — Carol Sharick

Baer and I worked together on the Amherst for All campaign. The term “year-round democracy,” to describe the vision of a responsive, accountable town council that met and deliberated year-round, was his turn of phrase. Baer was a creative thinker, an iconoclast, someone who believed in walking to the beat of his own drum, especially if it had a good beat. He didn’t care if anyone else had ever played that particular song before. He loved his friends, he loved a good campaign, he loved live music and he loved this town. I will miss his spirit, warmth, twinkling eyes, warm smile. – Johanna Neumann

I don’t remember the first time I met Baer, but early on he suggested we start a business together because, as he put it, “between you and me, I think we know everyone in town.” For sure, everyone knew Baer. He convinced many of us to join the “rationalistas” on Town Meeting, brought people together over the poker table, and shared his encyclopedic knowledge of music with us all. His, and Alison’s, Zen acceptance of what was happening to him left me in tears, not that I would ever show them, not when being with Baer was so much fun. – Nina Wishengrad

I’m absolutely certain that if there’s any justice in the cosmos, Baer is reincarnated as a Red Sox center fielder who changes “Sweet Caroline” to “Iko-Iko” and chats between innings with fans about what’s really important in life. – Scott Goldman

When I think of Baer I think of music, celebration and good people.  Baer had vision and radiated joy. Everywhere you went in Amherst where something new and fun was happening, Baer was there, often as the architect. He truly gave so much to our town. Baer will be missed. – Kate Atkinson

Once his “joy & possibility computer analysis” pointed the family van to Amherst, he arrived and uplifted the town. Baer loved Amherst, and he brought tremendous life to every single happening he joined or organized, and with Oliver Broudy it was my privilege to work with Baer to bring life to “Amherst Live,” a living and breathing on-stage showcase of local personalities, fixations and apocrypha celebrating our town’s many selves. Baer had a big life and sought to enlarge ours. He represented the best of energies and ambitions for our town, his friends and his family. – Thomas Porter

I didn’t know Baer that well, but we played guitars once or twice at house parties. We talked about playing together, and then he got his diagnosis… Last time we communicated, he sent me a really nice home-mixed version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Sitting Around Waiting to Die.” I don’t think I realized at that time that he had already gotten a death sentence. I asked him how he mixed that clip up. In his own gracious way, Baer told me everything he had learned about home mixing boards, and the best, cheapest one. – Jon McCabe

Back in the ’90s, I worked with Baer at PeopleSoft in the Bay Area, and by sheer coincidence we moved to Amherst about a year after he and Alison did, and for many of the same reasons. I was quite familiar with Baer’s creative thinking, larger-than-life personality, and contagious enthusiasm – he had started a rock band at PeopleSoft – so I wasn’t surprised that Baer became passionate about making Amherst better and roped so many friends (including me) into town politics. – Ellen Lindsey

Baer’s essence: Sincerity, Heart, Optimism, and Wit. Baer’s utterly sincere, heart-wrenching, uplifting, and hilarious posts on CaringBridge written over the past year of his illness have taught me more about dying and death than all the books on the topic. For this I am deeply grateful. Love to all the Curphey-Tierkel family from ours. – Ali de Groot

Andy Churchill, Baer Tierkel and Clare Bertrand when they wrote a monthly Bulletin column.

Baer was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met: a software guy with a Buddhist-hippie streak, an endless curiosity, and a special ability to connect people. He brought data, accountability, and clear communication to Amherst politics: among other things, creating a spreadsheet to track the votes of Town Meeting members. He recognized that busy people with kids and jobs were underrepresented in our government, so he recruited them to participate. He co-wrote a Bulletin column with me and Clare Bertrand (shown in photo above) that presented a centrist viewpoint. And when it became clear that the current system wasn’t working, he threw himself into marketing for the new charter campaign. He made participating in Amherst fun. And he truly loved the place. – Andy Churchill

Baer and Alison were the first couple we met when we moved to Amherst in 2003. We had both recently moved here and connected through close common friends on the West Coast. They arrived at our door to go to dinner and then to a drum show up at Amherst College. There was an instant connection. This introduced us to their family’s sphere of joy-filled kindness, love and laughter that has been shared with so many others. Our friendship lasted all these years – so many wonderful memories! Words cannot express our gratitude and sadness. – Margaret Shea O’Connor

Baer was a transformative soul, who wholeheartedly embraced Amherst and acted on his vision of what he thought was possible. He was a positive political force and increased participation in Town Meeting while it existed. He left his mark on the Survival Center, and he was an inspiration in the creative Amherst Live programs. We wish we had known him better personally and planned to. Sadly, his sudden health problems interfered. Alison knows that we will always have the Panhandle. We will always have fond memories of Baer’s joie de vivre. His life and dying are an inspiration. – Jeff and Marilyn Blaustein

I was lucky to enjoy many lively gatherings, delicious meals, and electrifying performances with Baer (often organized by Baer!). I also turned to him for advice: Buy or rent? How to grow my business? How to vote in local elections? (I would create ‘crib sheets’ from our discussions and carry them into the polls.) It became a joke between Scott and me: What would Baer do (WWBD)? In the wake of this loss, I find myself applying this question to larger issues of joy and service from Baer’s outstanding example of A Life Well Lived. WWBD, indeed. – Meg Bouvier

August, 2018. Fresh Grass, MASS MoCA. We hadn’t planned to meet, yet there we were, lawn chaired side by side as dusk settled its purple light and Trampled by Turtles did their thing on the big stage. A train went by, mournful and eternal. I swear the conductor waved. Fare thee well, curious child. — Mat Lebowitz

I met Baer in 1983. We were housemates for five years in Watertown. My fondest memories: sitting with Baer in those incredible Section 34 bleacher seats, row 1, seats 1 and 2. Funny how I never got a chance to sit in seat 1. Baer was a main character in 34. Me, a frequent visitor. Beware, if you ventured into 34 and stood up for the “wave”! Last time I saw Baer before his diagnosis was Sept. 8, 2019, section 36, seats 1 and 2, versus the dreaded Yankees. Alison was watching and has a video of us sitting in the bleachers! — Michael Cellucci

In quintessential Baer fashion, we met in the waiting room of the Cooley ER and went on to become close friends and business partners years later. While he jovially tried to improve everything he touched in the public sphere, from town politics to local businesses, he also quietly worked to improve himself. In the end, Baer’s inspirational ability to meet death with grace and humor was the direct result of years of mindfulness work, to temper his reactive nature, something he was proud of and immensely grateful for. May his generous love inspire each of us to do the same!– Mike Giles

I’m in NYC on Halloween 2019 with Woody Sherman and Baer to see Dead & Co. at Madison Square Garden. This is big for me, returning to MSG, where I saw the Dead for the first time in 1979. As we’re leaving for the show, Baer pulls out this mask and says, “Here ya go, Scottie, put this on.” When I did, things changed – walking through NYC, dancing at the show, after parties, walking back to the hotel – was a Halloween blast wearing that mask. That was one of Baer’s gifts – making good things great with wisdom and love. — Scott Auerbach

Town lifts mask mandate

From the Town of Amherst

In response to declining public health COVID case numbers, a high vaccination rate of 88%, and in alignment with the recently updated CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) guidance, the Amherst Board of Health, on the recommendation of the Public Health Director Jennifer Brown, lifted the mask mandate for indoor public spaces at its meeting on March 10th, effective immediately. 

Masks will no longer be required in Town buildings and facilities. Businesses and other organizations may determine their own paths forward regarding masks to protect staff and patrons and may choose to continue with their own masking requirements. 

The Amherst Regional Public Schools will adjust their masking protocols on Monday, March 14, 2022. 

Public Health Director Jennifer Brown said, “I understand that people may be concerned about these changes to mask requirements. Individuals may choose to continue wearing face coverings whether it is mandated or not. I ask that we each respect the choices we each make about our health and well-being. I fully anticipate that there will be many who choose to continue to mask. I simply ask that the community and visitors to be kind and respectful as people evaluate their risks and make choices to protect themselves and those around them.” 

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

Editors’ note #11

The Amherst Current will not be endorsing any candidates in the Nov. 2 election. Now, we are extending that policy of not favoring any candidates to the comments section of the blog.

From now until the election:

  • We will accept respectful comments that criticize or commend positions that candidates have taken, but we will reject comments that include personal attacks, innuendo, hearsay, speculation about motives and gratuitous insults. Amherst people don’t like negative campaigning, and we won’t tolerate it.
  • All comments must directly pertain to the blog post they are attached to. Please do not send us comments that are unrelated to the subject under discussion.

Nick Grabbe and Sarah Marshall

Editors’ note #9: Greeney back on ballot, gets prime positioning

Robert Greeney has rescinded his withdrawal of candidacy for an at-large seat on the Town Council, and so his name will appear on the ballot on Election Day Nov. 2 after all.

Greeney filed the required number of signatures with the town clerk on Sept. 13, but withdrew his name from the ballot on Sept. 27. On Sept. 29, the day before the deadline, he rescinded that withdrawal.

Town Clerk Susan Audette said she checked with town counsel to make sure that, despite the unusual circumstances, it was legal to include Greeney’s name on the ballot

Greeney was a candidate for an at-large seat in the first Town Council election three years ago. He came in last of the six candidates, receiving 1,982 votes. The three candidates who were elected to at-large seats received more than 4,000 votes each.

When Audette drew lots for ballot position on Friday, Greeney’s name was the first one drawn. So his name will be the first one voters see on Nov. 2.

— Nick Grabbe

Editor’s Note

Sarah Marshall, my partner on this blog, has taken out nomination papers for the post of Elector under the Oliver Smith Will, which will be on the ballot in the Nov. 2 election. I have concluded that it is not a conflict of interest for her to seek to serve the town in this capacity and still work with me on this blog, since the Oliver Smith Will does not involve issues that pertain to Town politics. Still, in our coverage of the upcoming election, we will avoid any mention of the Oliver Smith Will position.

— Nick Grabbe