Monday, March 28, 2011

Run-up to the Amherst Spring Election

Redevelopment Authority Vice Chair (and blogger) Larry Kelley signs Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe's election papers shortly before a Select Board meeting in mid-January
The big election is now just two days away, and so far, it has furnished surprisingly (gratifyingly?) little drama.

As always, there are still uncontested slots for Town Meeting.  The two Select Board candidates standing for re-election are running unopposed.  The Bulletin summarized Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe's view of the matter:  "the lack of challengers either indicates she and fellow incumbent Diana Stein are doing a good job or no one else wants to do the job." Select Board meetings lack drama, in the sense of the tensions of days of yore.  There's work to do, and we do it. As I've said before:  boring, that's the way we like it.

A few months ago, a betting man would have predicted that the School Committee would have been the site of knock-down, drag-out fights, but Catherine Sanderson at the last minute chose not to run for re-election, ceding the field to new aspirant Katherine Appy. This week, instead of seeing opposing platform statements and clashing letters of support in the Bulletin, we were treated to a lengthy and largely sympathetic profile of Sanderson, detailing the controversies surrounding her term in office, but also offering a portrait of her as mother and professional, who cites the toll that the political career took on home and career.

And, although the Jones Library Trustees were for a time a source of even greater controversy than the School Committee, not only has that body achieved a productive modus vivendi.  Even the race for the two open seats has generated little heat.  Incumbents Pat Holland and Chris Hoffmann as well as first-time candidate Michael Wolff are all campaigning as general advocates of the Library rather than positioning themselves against one another, and one would have to listen closely to catch the subtle differences in emphasis.  (An unexpected third vacancy arose when Trustee Kathleen Wang resigned due to the weight of outside commitments, but because the notice fell short of the legally required advance time for posting an election notice, the seat will be filled by a joint meeting of the Select Board and other Library Trustees at the beginning of April.)

As it turns out, the race for the open seat on the Amherst Redevelopment Authority (ARA) has proven to be the most interesting one, pitting incumbent (and Select Board member) Aaron Hayden against longtime Town Meeting member and activist Vince O'Connor.  Although the ARA normally garners little attention, it has been in the limelight—and crossfire—lately due to its role in the surprisingly controversial joint effort by the Town and University to create the mixed-use "Gateway project" or district on and around the former "frat row" on North Pleasant Street. Most of the controversy has centered on the chimera of undergraduate "student housing" and its presumed threat to neighborhood character and quality of life. That issue has also now been largely put to rest.

O'Connor's objections to the project are different and, one wants to say, more conceptual or substantive. Between O'Connor and Hayden, at least, there are some clear differences of philosophy concerning both the nature or reach of the Redevelopment Authority, and thus, the areas of town to be targeted for new projects.

This sort of debate is not only lively; it is salutary.  Many of our political and electoral controversies—as we know all too well—generate more heat than light. It would be a welcome thing if a calm debate unfolding here would help to clarify the issues for citizens and lead to sounder policies with more public buy-in.

That's probably too much to hope for, given that a single candidates' night is the main forum for electoral discussion and information-sharing.

Still, all in all, a far better situation than the alternatives. Sometimes, it is the modest things that one is most grateful for.

No comments: