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New faces elected to town boards after added 2 months of contention

Arlington Fights Racism, Martyn statements among those added

UPDATED, June 14: The postponed 2020 town election, extending the campaign season for a contentious two months, was held Saturday, June 6.  The winners for key boards are:

Jo Anne Preston, housing candidate, 2020Preston

Juli Brazile, clerk candidate, 2020Brazile

Liz Exton, School Committee candidate, 2020 photoExton

Lenard Diggins, Select Board candidate, 2020Diggins

Select Board: Diane Mahon, 6,634 (34.94%) and Len Diggins, 6,208 (32.69%);

School Committee: Elizabeth Exton, 7,524 (28.65%), Paul Schlichtman, 6,577 (25.04%) and Bill Hayner, 6,544 (24.92%);

Town Clerk: Juliana Brazile, 4,014 (39.28%);

Board of Assessors: Mary Winstanley O'Connor, 5.657 (58%); and

Housing Authority: Jo Anne Preston, 6,782 (66.85).

Full, unofficial results from town website >> 

Main takeaways

The tallies among seats for main offices showed voters choosing the town's first African American Select Board member (Diggins, who edged by 88 votes Michaiah Healy, also black), a School Committee newcomer who outpolled two incumbents and mixed results for a slate supported by Arlington Fights Racism, a group that emerged following the controversy about Lt. Pedrini's racist published comments in 2018.

As to the latter, its main candidate -- Lynette Martyn, for School Committee -- lost, with 5,572 votes (21.21%), but a significant number of group-supported Town Meeting candidates won.

Further, a first look at the results shows new faces for the clerk's office and on the Housing Authority board. In the latter race, newcomer Preston dealt incumbent Joe Daly, 88, a resounding defeat.  

The turnout was 34.8  percent, the highest this century. Since 2000, the turnout for town elections has averaged about 21 percent.

Precinct-turnout map of June 6 election (by Schlichtman) >>

Asked about a comparison of mail-in ballots to those cast at the polls, Assistant Clerk Jenice Weber wrote June 9: "We did not have to enter these into the computer per the [state] Elections Division .... We do not have a breakdown." 

Arlington vote logo

After the polls closed at 8 p.m. results were awaited until 2:33 a.m. June 7 for 15 candidates seeking eight seats among five key offices as well as a variety of Town Meeting seats. A town email reported the results.

ACMi, the cable-TV station, had no live coverage reporting returns, as in the past, because of Covid-19 and smaller staffing at Town Hall coupled with the mailing of ballots. 

Marking the lengthy campaign were challenges by Arlington Fights Racism, which backed its own candidates, including those for Select Board, School Committee and Housing Authority. Those challenges came to a head in the last week of the campaign amid protests, here and worldwide, following the death of a black man held by Minneapolis police.

Asked to comment

All candidates for key offices have been asked to comment. Healy and Preston have not yet responded.

Mahon, the elder stateswoman of the Select Board, in office since 1999, updated her comments June 12:

"Now that I have been reelected to Arlington's Select Board -- for which I am so thankful -- it's time for all of us to work on our community's issues at hand.\

"Arlington, like America is in pain. First, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has drastically affected all our lives, and now the tipping point of police violence against black people across the country. It is critical that the residents and employees of the Town of Arlington, our town manager and police chief, our Human Rights Commission, as well as me and my colleagues on the Select Board take comprehensive action to end this injustice of systemic racism that has plagued our society far too long.

"I appreciate and have heard loud and clear the anger, upset and concerns about policing in America and Arlington, and more specifically about police violence against people of color. I am committed to stand with everyone and be an advocate for change at the federal, state and, more importantly, the local level. I am calling on all of us to roll up our sleeves and work together and not against each other.

"With regard to our own Arlington Police Department (APD), I sincerely believe that it embodies a model for what police departments should be  across the country. The APD is a true community policing department that understands that it is the community that "authorizes" its policing authority. The APD has for many years been a national leader in the offering of a jail-diversion program, having a clinician on staff and also offering a nationally recognized opiate outreach initiative that has helped countless people suffering from opioid addiction as well as their families. More recently, the APD has been an integral part of a multi-disciplinary team that works with homeless residents in Arlington. This team helps these residents access services and ensures that they have the resources they need.

"The APD is also a pioneer in training on progressive and community-oriented strategies. The APD trains in de-escalation, implicit bias and procedural justice, as well as fair and impartial policing. Additionally, the APD has just completed all of the eight of the "8 Can't Wait" policies in place as recommended by former President Obama's Campaign Zero effort. The "8 Can't Wait" campaign encourages departments to adopt restrictive use of force policies, including banning choke holds and strangleholds, requiring de-escalation, requiring officers to provide a verbal warning before shooting, exhausting all alternatives before shooting, implementing a duty to intervene, banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring a use of force continuum and requiring comprehensive reporting of all incidents that resulted in the threat or use of force.

"In regard to the matter of Lt. Pedrini, I and others (including our town manager) agree that it reflects poorly on the APD and the town, but I think it can serve as a guide in regard to some of the many changes that need to be made. I have come to terms with the fact that some people won't ever accept the Pedrini decision, but I sincerely hope that in this national moment of opportunity that we can focus on the systemic changes that are needed. I'm hopeful that we can capture the moment that this country is facing and make real change, but we can't make that change if we can't stop fighting with one another.

"I also acknowledge and accept the need to continually address providing even more training, to assess our staffing models and ensure that they continue to meet the demands of Arlington in 2020 and beyond. And Arlington WILL do that as we do in every endeavor when we are faced with challenging matters and that will be to come up with a plan after thoughtful and analytical approach.  

"I, along with my colleagues on the Select Board, commit to working with all of you together with all our employees, the town manager, Police Chief Flaherty and our Human Rights Commission in having this conversation with the community and collectively creating a path forward for not only the APD, but for all of Arlington as a whole. I hope everyone will join with me and the town in engaging in a dialogue that can bring true improvement to join the calls for reform by Black Lives Matter and the broader civil-rights movement we need here in Arlington and for all its residents I care so deeply for and want to be part of creating a safer, equitable and better community for future years to come."

Diggins, who rose from taping Select Board meetings on ACMi to winning his first term on that board, commented to YourArlington on June 10:

"The more I campaigned, the more I appreciated how much Arlington is a welcoming community. The fact that someone like me was viewed as more of an establishment candidate says volumes about how accepting and inclusive Arlington has become.

"Though I tried to run a campaign that was not based on identity politics, many of my nonobvious characteristics were no secret. There was no need to hide my sexual orientation any more than there was to cover up my tattoos. I felt as comfortable campaigning in a T-shirt as I did a dress shirt.

"Ultimately, what mattered to the residents of Arlington was that I lined up with them on their important values. That was/is easy! The tension in this community (and perhaps more so among us liberals/progressives) is determining the path that we should take toward the goals that manifest our values.

"A big impact on me was seeing how much residents of Arlington care and the energy and intellect that they bring toward creating solutions. A larger impact on me is knowing that those who supported me and those who supported my fellow candidates are allies upon which I can call when I want ideas, advice and feedback.

"The greatest impact on me is the confidence I now have that we Arlingtonians have what it takes to become an even stronger community that is also a brighter beacon and a more prominent leader in the region. The confidence that community has given me is the confidence that I want it to help it have more of in itself."

Exton responded to YourArlington request for comment June 10:

"Thank you so much for turning out to elect me as the newest member of the Arlington School Committee. Our message of community and inclusivity clearly resonated with our neighbors, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work for all of our students and families.

"Thank you to my fellow candidates for a spirited campaign season. I am looking forward to working with Bill Hayner and Paul Schlichtman, and the rest of my School Committee colleagues, as we plan out the next phase of socially-distanced schooling, hire a new superintendent, manage a difficult budget, and take on other challenges.

"Thank you to Lynette Martyn for engaging us all in important conversations about race and equity in our schools. I hope to be an effective collaborator in centering these important ideas." 

Martyn posted a statement to her campaign Facebook group on June 8. Read part of it here:

"Thank you to all who supported me during my campaign to be one of your representatives on Arlington’s School Committee. Although I did not win, I vow to continue working from my position as an engaged citizen, to uphold my promise to Arlingtonians to be communicative and transparent, to engage residents, students, and families, to continually question whose voices are being represented in the decisions being made, and to speak truth to power when I see injustices or inequities that we need to address.

"The messages I have delivered are not ones that everyone is comfortable hearing. I have been charged with accusing our town and school leaders of 'not caring.' This is simply not the case.

"Acknowledging the problems that are here today is not an indictment of the people who have come before me. Countless administrators, teachers, volunteers, residents and students have worked hard, laying the path for a community grounded in anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion. I am grateful for their work and their vision. In particular, as we navigate education during this unprecedented time of distance learning and social distancing, I am in awe of the hard work and challenges our current School and Town leaders have been presented with.

"I ran for this office because I wanted to create a space to have these difficult conversations. Thanks to our campaign, Arlington is now talking about disparities, inequity, civility, representation, engaging citizenry, and public participation. While these conversations were happening before the terrible tragedy of Mr. Floyd's death, now residents are even more engaged. Sadly, there has also been a backlash. Many residents are threatened by the idea that institutional and systemic racism exists in Arlington and, their reaction has been to become defensive and to effectively tone police, labelling these voices divisive.

"During this campaign it was said 'we have not reached a race-blind panacea' here in Arlington. I would counter that we need to instead reach a place where we all understand that the goal is not to be race-blind. On the contrary, we want to see our mosaic of residents through a lens where we celebrate the unique traits of each student, caregiver and teacher; where each individual’s color, culture, and heritage is valued in our community. We want to be cognizant of the implicit biases we bring to our classrooms, our PTO meetings, our school district. We must recognize the privileges some in our community walk into their school with in the morning, as well as those that do not.

"As to the election, I am proud to have supported many new Town Meeting members that won election, including eight candidates of color. Their election greatly increases the representation of residents of color on this governing board. Though we still have a long way to go, Town Meeting will now be more closely aligned to represent our community demographics. This gives me faith that we are moving in the right direction. I’m hopeful that we, as a community lean into these difficult conversations, to really see each other, to offer listening spaces for families with kids of color to share their truths, and to sit with and acknowledge the disparity gaps in APS so we can begin to come up with concrete solutions and measurables."

Read the full statement, including a list of supporters, here >> 

Elizabeth Dray, one of the co-chairs of Arlington Fights Racism, pointed June 8 to the group's lengthy statement on Facebook.

In summary, it says: "This election season has been like nothing seen before in Arlington. For the first time, a group of people came together to make change in a unique way, to challenge the election landscape to build a more welcoming and inclusive environment, one that embraces it’s changing demographic, rather than simply tolerating it.

Arlington Fights Racism logo

"We invited and supported the first ever campaign of a large group of candidates, united against racism, who share the goal of increasing the representation of people of color and other marginalized groups in positions of leadership in Arlington. Some complained that what we were asking for was too much. Some complained that what we were doing was not the right way to do it. Some did not take us seriously. Some fought us, some derided or slandered us. Through it all, we stuck by our belief that Arlington could be a town where all voices and perspectives are identified, invited and included in town government.

"While we are disappointed with some of the results, we are proud to have played a significant role in increasing voter participation, bringing new voices and perspectives into our town government and centering the campaign conversation on inclusion, representation and equity.

"We are proud of the thoughtful race that Michaiah Healy ran for Select Board. Her message calling for transparency, civic participation, mutual respect, collaboration and accessibility is one much needed in Arlington.

"We are grateful to School Committee candidate Lynette Martyn for her courage to talk about difficult topics for APS, including disparity gaps in discipline, MCAS scores and graduation rates for students of color, English language learners, special education and economically disadvantaged students. AFR believes that Lynette’s commitment to listening to families and improving the district’s communication and transparency would have benefited all APS students and families.

"Both the Select Board and the School Committee would have been stronger with the voices of Michaiah and Lynette. Despite running as outsiders without establishment endorsements, they lost by narrow margins, 0.463 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively. AFR thanks them for their courage.

"During our journey, we grew from a group of people who barely knew of each other, to a family of activists committed to a movement that is helping shape the future of our town. We faced attacks on many fronts, some from corners expected, and some from those we had counted on as allies. But we pressed on, we persevered, and we rose above.

"AFR would like to share some impressive statistics for a first time, grassroots campaign. 44 Town Meeting candidates committed to support the ideals and values expressed in AFR’s Inclusion Platform and two-thirds of them won, half of them first time candidates and half of them incumbents, 25 percent of them identify as people of color.

"This more closely aligns with the representation of our community demographics and we hope will set a new standard for future elections. AFR supported 10 candidates of color, nine of them first-time candidates, and eight won. AFR endorsed 64 percent of all first-time candidates and just under half of them won their seats, many in highly contested races. AFR candidates ran in 90 percent, or 19/21, of Arlington precincts and won seats in 79 percent (15/19) of them. Of the 88 seats up for election, AFR candidates won 32 percent."

Read the full statement here >>

Brazile, the first candidate to be elected town clerk from among those outside of the office in years, commented June 10:

"I ran for town clerk to bring a collaborative vision to the clerk’s office that puts the needs of residents first and focuses on service and clear communication. I have worked with Town Hall for many years as a volunteer and have always been impressed by the caliber of our town employees and their dedication to the people of Arlington. That has been demonstrated daily during the current health crisis, and I'm looking forward to joining that team and doing my part.

"My work as a volunteer was about building partnerships and increasing connections. I believe that government -- especially at the local level -- works best when people feel connected to their government and part of the process. The clerk's office is one of the places where people can connect with government to access information and services. My primary goals are to expand our efforts so people have the option to pay a fee online or upload a form if that's more convenient for them and to provide as much information as possible about elections and to collaborate with other officials and organizations to increase voter turnout.

"Thanks to everyone who participated in this election -- candidates and voters alike."

Schlichtman, who was reelected to the School Committee and who has served 14 years, added his comments June 8:

"I want to thank the 11,146 Arlington voters who participated in the record-setting local election last Saturday. We shifted to offering mail ballots to all voters, and the 34.8-percent turnout is the highest for a town election in this century.

"The unsung hero of this election is Assistant Town Clerk Janice Weber, who managed a difficult transformation in our voting methods with a reduced work force. Arlington has proven the benefits of an election where every voter is offered a convenient method of requesting a mail ballot. I hope this is the start of a movement that will make voting by mail the centerpiece of future elections.

"I also want to thank the 6,577 voters who chose to reelect me to the Arlington School Committee. I look forward to continuing the work ahead with my six excellent colleagues. I want to also congratulate Liz Exton and Bill Hayner, who won School Committee seats in this election, and thank Lynette Martyn for her gracious phone call on election night.

"This was a very challenging year to run a campaign. We filed our nominating papers in a very different world, and plans for door-to-door campaigning were shelved when the virus made its presence known in Arlington. A sprint toward Election Day became a marathon through uncharted territory, and one Election Day was transformed into whatever day absentee ballots arrived in the mail. The tradition of the League of Women Voters’ debate became an exercise in staring at a Zoom-infested computer screen, offering my cat an opportunity to appear as a participant.

"The tasks ahead are challenging. The School Committee must plan for uncertainty based on a virus and diminished state funding for our schools. When students return to the high school, we must bring everyone together in the midst of a construction site. The School Committee is also going to be spending the next six months searching for a new superintendent. As I said when we started the campaign in February, I am energized by this work and grateful for the opportunity to continue.

"I know that I speak for all of us who earned a role in our town government on Saturday, we thank you for the honor you bestowed upon us. We take our responsibilities seriously, as we work to make Arlington an even better place for all." 

Hayner, a veteran School Committee incumbent who won his fourth term, noted June 7:

 

"It was the most interesting campaign season that I have been involved in. I am glad so many people took the opportunity to vote.

"I am truly grateful for all the people who helped in my campaign, especially my wife, Bonnie.

"I am very glad it is over. As a teacher, I want to congratulate everyone involved in our democratic system. Everyone be safe and well."

 

O’Connor, who topped two challengers for a seat on the Board of Assessors, something she had not faced, offered comments June 10:

 

"This town election featured contested races for all major offices and many town meeting races. I would suggest that based upon the election results in the race for a seat on the Board of Assessors, the majority of Arlington voters determined that the responses provided by me during the campaign to questions concerning the operation of the assessor’s office, the feasibility of a residential property tax exemption, the impact of classification of property, and the quality work performed by the assessor’s office and the board, among other issues, resulted in my re-election because the information provided was impactful for voters and represented their respective positions on these issues.

"During the campaign, I was able to address changes in policies proposed by the other candidates, such as the implementation of a residential property taxpayer exemption and classification, which is two property tax rates, one for residential real estate and the other for commercial and industrial property. Though these policy issues are issues to be decided by the Select Board, I responded with facts that disputed the suggestion by the other two candidates that a residential property tax exemption for certain homeowners was and is a positive policy for the town as a whole.

"The reality is that a residential property tax exemption, which has only been adopted by 15 cities and towns in Massachusetts, five of which towns are vacation home communities on Cape Cod, would likely: (a) have a significant negative impact on many senior citizens, who continue to reside in larger homes; (b) cause a substantial reduction in the availability of rental opportunities for people who desire to live in Arlington but cannot afford to buy in Arlington, by causing the conversion of the remaining stock of two and three-family homes into condominiums to avoid the increased taxes from a residential exemption; (c) have an adverse impact on renters, many of whom are seniors, due to increases in rents in apartment buildings; and (d) cause a devaluation of homes valued in excess of the residential property exemption.

"These are some of the reasons only 16 communities out of 351 communities in Massachusetts have adopted a residential exemption. The reality is that those communities that have adopted a residential exemption, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Somerville and Waltham, among others, have a significant number of nonowner-occupied properties and a substantial commercial tax base, neither of which Arlington has.

"I believe that the voters concluded that the focus in Arlington should continue to be on the provision of real estate tax exemptions and deferrals particular for senior citizens to allow them to remain in their homes. In Arlington, the income threshold to qualify a senior citizen for the deferral of real estate taxes until the sale of the home or the taxpayer’s death is $88,000 annually; substantially more than the Massachusetts threshold.

"Another issue during the campaign was the issue of “classification” or two separate tax rates – one for commercial and industrial property and the other for residential property. The assessors annually provide the Select Board with the information on this issue to enable them to make a decision as to whether Arlington should have two separate tax rates.

"The information provided to the Select Board by the assessors for fiscal 2020 established that if Arlington, with its relatively small commercial and industrial real estate tax base of 5.45 percent of total taxable property, adopted classification and taxed business property at 150 percent of its value, the maximum permitted by law, the residential homeowner would save approximately $251 per year on a home valued at $800,000 and a business owner would pay $4,424 more per year in real estate taxes on commercial real estate valued at $800,000.

"My campaign discussed the issue of classification and the impact it would have in our community. It appears that the majority of voters agreed that classification would not likely help in bringing or retaining small businesses in our town, would likely result in more unattractive empty store fronts and would negatively impact the small businesses we rely on in our community. Many people expressed to me that the relatively small savings in income taxes, $21.00 per month, though not insubstantial, is outweighed by the adverse impact classification would have on businesses already struggling in these times.

"Finally, I believe my campaign clearly articulated the fact that the Board of Assessors is not a politically partisan group, but acts as a jury to decide whether the assessed values are fair and equitable or whether the taxpayer/homeowner has provided evidence to dispute the assessment and receive an abatement. My campaign highlighted the efficiency and transparency of the assessor’s office. We have a hardworking and dedicated staff of four individuals, who are responsible for: (a) valuing $12 billion dollars of residential, commercial, industrial and personal property; (b) assisting taxpayers with questions regarding tax exemptions, deferrals and abatements; (c) ensuring that the board of Assessors has all the taxpayer backup information necessary to rule on tax abatements, exemptions and deferrals; and (d) answering taxpayer questions. The suggestion by candidates in the assessor’s race that the assessor’s office, which plays a substantial role in the financial viability of our town with a modest budget and a dedicated and hardworking group of employees, is not efficient, effective and transparent, is blatantly untrue and was rejected by the voters.

"I am grateful to the voters of Arlington for considering my candidacy and my re-election. I pledge to continue to use my education and experience to serve the Town that provided me a top quality education and provides a welcoming, diverse, safe and well-run community in which to reside." 

Gordon Jamieson, a longtime Town Meeting member making his first run for a townwide office, the Board of Assessors, received 2,020 votes. He commented June 7:

 "Many thanks to those who supported my candidacy, and congratulations to all who won election/reelection. I look forward to continuing to work with the Board of Assessors, the director of assessments and the town's Finance Department to increase the transparency and effectiveness of the town's property assessment process."  


Dec. 4, 2019, through June 6, 2020: 2020 town election background 


This news summary was published Saturday, June 6, 2020, and updated June 14.

 

 

 

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