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Get ready for another great election year

December 29, 2011

Next year will be an exciting political year not only for the town of Walpole but also for the country. There will be three important elections in 2012. The first is the Republican Presidential Primary in March (which only registered Republicans and Independents will vote in), the second is the June town election, and the third is the November presidential election. There is actually also a fourth state primary election in September, but it doesn’t look to be particularly competitive.

There will be two seats open on the Board of Selectmen in 2012, assuming neither of the two incumbents, Chris Timson and Nancy Mackenzie, decide to run for re-election. Neither Timson nor Mackenzie have made their plans clear as to whether they each intend to run for another three-year term. Mackenzie didn’t respond to either a phone message or email from 180. Timson didn’t say whether he would run again, when 180 inquired.

Timson has been on the Board longer than any of the current members, since 2006, and there is a strong chance he may not run again because Selectmen haven’t usually stayed for longer than two terms in recent Walpole history.

On the other hand, Mackenzie was only elected in 2009, so she could still have some energy to stay on. However, she has weathered intense criticism during her first term primarily over conflict-of-interest issues, and those concerns could haunt her if she decided to try again. Mackenzie’s husband works in the Walpole Police Department, and many feel she should not have participated in the town’s search last year for a new Deputy Police Chief (she did eventually refuse to vote on a final candidate for the position.)

A growing number of residents are upset about the direction the town is going in, and are expected to come out to the polls to vote against the override and probably also vote against Mackenzie and Timson. This race will depend on turnout, as most town elections do.

In any case, the Selectmen’s election will depend a great deal on whether or not each of the incumbents decides to run for re-election.

If at least one of the two does not run for re-election, it would present a significant opportunity for conservatives to pick up a seat on the Board.

The school-backed override on the ballot will be a very controversial issue in the spring leading up to the election. Expect that to become the signature issue on the ballot in June. That will draw the conservative, anti-tax voters, including the seniors, to the polls, along with the school voters (otherwise known as the school machine).

There is also talk of two other overrides, one for the municipal budget, and another to purchase Sunnyrock Farm, being put on the ballot. This could be a record number of overrides for one ballot. Why not throw in a fourth override for a new police station just to make it an even number? For that matter, let’s just throw all of our overrides onto the same ballot and see which ones stick and which ones don’t.

Here is the list of people to watch for as potential candidates for the Board of Selectmen in 2012:

Cliff Snuffer, III – Sources say Snuffer III is exploring a run for Selectman in 2012, a year after his father, Cliff Snuffer II, left the Board. The elder Snuffer (who shall hereafter be called “Snuffer II” to differentiate between the two) was a conservative, and Snuffer III’s political views are probably similar.

Snuffer III has made a name for himself in his own right in Walpole as a member of the Ponds Management Committee that has worked during in the past few years to revitalize the town’s ponds. Snuffer III, like his father, is also a Town Meeting Representative.

Snuffer III would have a couple definite key advantages in the race: his father’s advice from a successful campaign of his own and, of course, his name. Uninformed voters who go to the ballot box might be fooled into thinking they’re voting for Snuffer II, since his father was widely liked by many in town and was relatively popular among conservatives. Little would they know they are actually voting for the son, but it’s not likely the two have different views on the issues.

Despite the advantages, Snuffer will have to prove himself as a candidate who can think for himself and is not merely running as his father’s stand-in.

Snuffer II had left the Board to honor a commitment to his wife that he would only serve one term.

Patrick Shield – Shield recently got a job as an aide for State Senator Jim Timilty. He ran for Selectman in 2009 and 2010, and lost both times by only small margins. Shield has remained in tune with the issues, and continues to have wide name recognition. He was at Fall Town Meeting this year despite not being an RTM, showing that he wants to stay involved.

Shield couldn’t be reached for comment on the speculation he could run. Although Shield doesn’t claim to be a conservative, he could be a key swing vote for conservatives if he was elected to the Board.

Shield declined to run in 2011 despite encouragement from many supporters, but his continued interest in local issues has only continued to feed speculation he may run again in 2012.

David Sullivan – A former selectman, who lost a re-election bid in 2010 and then lost a second bid to reclaim a seat on the Board last year, Sullivan might run again this year. He isn’t as conservative as he claims, and tends to have inconsistent opinions on the issues that seem to change depending on which audience he’s talking to. Regardless, he can capture the senior, anti-override vote, which will be big in 2012 with the school override on the ballot. You can be sure that conservatives and anti-override seniors will be coming out in droves to vote against the override, and if Sullivan is on the ballot, he can definitely tap into that.

Bill Hamilton – Another former Selectman who has remained involved in town issues and continues to attend Selectmen’s meetings regularly, Hamilton has failed in his efforts to win any elected offices in Walpole these past few years. Hamilton was on the Board of Selectmen during the early 1990s. He ran for Selectman again twice between 2009 and 2010, losing both times. He then ran for the Planning Board last year, and lost again. But he is still seen at many Selectmen’s meetings, and he shouldn’t be ruled out as a possible contender for 2012.

Russell Jones – By far the only person on this list who would be an immediate frontrunner if he decided to run in 2012, Jones ran last year, and finished a surprisingly strong second. Had it not been for a split in the conservative vote, against Sullivan, Jones would have won decisively over the eventual winner, Mark Gallivan.

Jones told reporters after the election that he was interested in running again. During the summer, Moderator Jon Rockwood said Jones was in top contention for a seat on the Finance Committee, but he withdrew his name late in the selection process due to work concerns. It is unclear if those work concerns will affect his ability to mount another campaign this year.

Jones has wide name recognition thanks to his first campaign, and is highly regarded by many Walpole conservatives for espousing many fiscally-conservative, fiscally-prudent philosophies during his 2011 run. He could run a serious campaign in 2012, and could win even against an incumbent. In fact, he probably represents the biggest threat to Mackenzie and Timson if they choose to run again. Despite practically disappearing from the local political circuit since his June loss, he is someone to watch for in the coming months, and if he doesn’t run, it would be surprising.

He told 180 earlier this month that he hasn’t made up his mind yet as to whether he will run. But he indicated there is a very strong possibility he is jumping into the race.

Dark horse/mystery candidate – Last year, Jones’ surprisingly strong campaign, that resulted in an extraordinary second-place finish, proved that it is possible for a mystery candidate whom no one has ever heard of to have a serious chance of winning a seat on the Board. So don’t be surprised if someone with zero name recognition runs a campaign this year, and don’t count them out too quickly.

Other races on the ballot that will be interesting to observe:

For School Committee, both Brian Walsh and Bill Buckley will be up for re-election. Walsh will probably run for re-election. Buckley told 180 he is planning to announce a bid for re-election in early 2012, but nothing is definite. Christine Coury, a Swan Pond resident who ran for election to this board last year but lost in a three-way race for two seats, could run again for one of these two seats.

For Planning Board, Ed Forsberg will see his term expire in 2012. Don’t expect this race to be competitive, unless the Planning Board has a shocking change-of-heart and supports the casino or the Kraft developments. Occasionally, the race for Planning Board can be exciting, especially when it comes to their decisions involving the town Master Plan, town land and town facilities. But it doesn’t look like town facilities will be a big issue this year, as it has been in the past. The Planning Board is also firmly touting the populist message against the casino and MBTA train line through South Walpole. Forsberg is well-known in town and would be tough to run against. If he decided not to run for re-election, the race could be interesting, but there is no indication Forsberg is ready to leave.

For Assessor, incumbent Edward O’Neil will be the only member up for re-election. O’Neil took out nomination papers to run for Selectman in 2010, but didn’t return them with enough signatures by the deadline. He’s not particularly well-known in town, but he could be someone to watch for in a race for higher office. Otherwise, don’t expect this race to be competitive, even if he decides not to run for re-election.

For Sewer & Water Commission, Patrick Fasanello and Ken Fettig are up for re-election. This is not a controversial board. But in the last few weeks before the 2011 election, the race for Sewer & Water was briefly somewhat interesting as Birch Street resident Dan Bruce launched an ultimately-failed write-in campaign for one of two open seats. Bruce has since been appointed to the Walpole Finance Committee, but it will be interesting to see whether he or anyone else is interested in a seat on this board.

For Library Trustee, Hunt Bergen and Beverly Marston will be up for re-election. This is not a very controversial town board, so don’t expect much competition here. Both will probably run for re-election. If either or both decide not to run again, it could be tough to recruit new candidates.

For Housing Authority, no one will see their terms expire in 2012.

For Town Moderator, incumbent Jon Rockwood‘s one-year term expires. Rockwood is probably one of the most powerful people in Walpole thanks to his authority to unilaterally appoint every member of the Finance Committee, Personnel Board, and Capital Budget Committee (three of the most influential boards in Walpole when it comes to recommending to Town Meeting where money is spent and recommending Town Meeting articles). He appears to be poised to run for another term, although 180 hasn’t contacted him to confirm.

In 2011, Town Meeting Representative John O’Leary tried to oust Rockwood but only registered 33% of the vote. O’Leary was a weak candidate who ran a very low-budget campaign, but if a stronger contender steps forward in 2012, they could give Rockwood a run for his money. A total of 1,766 voters out of 4,253 (42 percent) voted either blanks or for O’Leary in that race, showing that even against a weak candidate Rockwood isn’t as solid as he should be and against a tougher candidate might do worse.

There are still many people in Walpole upset over Rockwood’s decision to remove five members of the Finance Committee in 2010, and many of the people he appointed to replace them haven’t been particularly conservative in their votes. With the override as the leading issue on the ballot, and the conservatives coming out to the polls in force, Rockwood might be knocked off if a serious challenger runs against him.

Rockwood himself doesn’t typically express his political views on local issues because he is supposed to be neutral as an overseer of Town Meeting. He insists his appointments to the Fin Com are not purely based on political philosophies. But fiscal conservatism isn’t just a philosophy – it’s the most prudent way to run town government and look out for taxpayers – which is exactly what the Fin Com is supposed to do but has not been doing lately in the eyes of many.

It should be noted that Rockwood is a registered Republican who ran for the State Senate in 2008 and tried to free the state legislature of its Democratic Party super-majority. But Rockwood’s appointments to the Fin Com have definitely alienated some key conservative constituencies, who now align him with the school voters.

Don’t hold your breath on anybody running against Rockwood, but there is no doubt that he can be vulnerable if running against a strong candidate in a year like 2012. If a solid candidate comes forward, this could be one of the more exciting races on the ballot.

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