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Conservative candidates making push for top seats

April 18, 2012

Despite hopes that townwide re-precincting would encourage more citizen participation in town government and cause major changes in the town’s fiscal policies, very few conservative candidates appear to be mounting campaigns for Walpole’s legislative body this year.

Instead, a number of conservative, anti-override candidates seem to be setting their sights a little higher – forgoing campaigns for Town Meeting in order to wage runs for top town boards like Selectmen and to a lesser extent the School Committee. The great news is that these candidates have the ability to win – if Walpole’s notoriously conservative electorate can turn out the votes on Election Day.

After the 2010 annual census, town officials made changes in the town’s precincts map to reflect population changes, meaning that every incumbent Town Meeting Representative has to run for re-election again – many of them in different precincts than before. The changes meant that newcomers would conceivably have an easier time running against incumbents who themselves would be running against each other.

Despite a late plea on the editorial page of The Walpole Times two weeks ago encouraging citizens to run, not many non-incumbents submitted papers to run for RTM by yesterday’s deadline. At least one of those who did, John F. Robinson, Jr. from Precinct 4, is a fiscal conservative.

There continue to be many open seats for Town Meeting in many precincts. An example is Precinct 4, where only 13 people have turned in papers to run for 19 seats (meaning Robinson is likely a shoo-in). That means in just Precinct 4 alone there are potentially six opportunities for people to wage write-in campaigns. Many vacancies remain in other precincts as well, opening up the potential for many new faces, or more likely many incumbents may have failed to pass in nomination papers and will have to rally support for a write-in campaign in the next month or so.

While the race for Town Meeting might be relatively quiet, this year’s Selectmen and School Committee races are an entirely different story. Both incumbent Selectmen, Chris Timson and Nancy Mackenzie, submitted papers to run for third and second terms respectively. They will be opposed by a host of conservative candidates vehemently opposed to the status quo at Town Hall.

Other than the incumbents, every single candidate in the race for Selectmen appears to be anti-override and against higher taxes and more spending. Christopher Donovan is mounting a campaign that he says is built on saying “No, no, no, no, and no” to spending, overrides, and more taxes. Russell Jones, who ran a strong campaign for Selectman last year based on fiscal conservatism, will try again in 2012 on the same platform. Former Selectman Bill Hamilton, who has publicly opposed revenue increases in the past, will run his third campaign for the Board in four years. Retired MBTA inspector Robert Luce, who told the Times that he was opposed to the override, also submitted papers yesterday.

Donovan, an Oak Hill Drive resident and 20-year resident of Walpole, said he’s running because he is, like many of us, fed up with the fiscal calamity currently engulfing Town Hall.

“I think the government is out of control,” Donovan told 180. He has never held or run for elected office in Walpole before, but said he does have a handle on what’s going on.

“I do pay attention to everything,” he said.

Donovan spent 22 years working for the Mass. Dept. of Corrections and currently operates Boston Executive Helicopters, a charter helicopter service based out of Norwood airport. He is a military veteran who has served in combat in Iraq.

According to a campaign flyer obtained by 180, Donovan is committing to serving just one term in office if elected. He will also refuse to support any fee or tax increases “with no exceptions for any reason,” according to the flyer.

“If you are happy with the way things are going in our town, do not vote for me,” Donovan said on the flyer. “We have plenty of money.”

Jones, who came in second place among three contenders for one open seat on the Board last year, says his views on the issues are no different today than they were then. In the months since the 2011 loss, Jones had been urged by many of his supporters to run again. He took out nomination papers on the last day they were available last Thursday, as he was expected to do.

Luce is the least-known candidate in this year’s race because of his apparent lack of previous involvement in town politics. Hamilton, however, served as a Selectman in the early 1990s and has frequently weighed in on major issues, most recently being the proposed Kraft developments and MBTA expansion in South Walpole. He isn’t expected to win but could help steer the discussion in the Selectmen’s race when it comes to South Walpole issues, although he’s not known for his conservative stances on spending.

In the School Committee race, Patrick Shield and Christine Coury are the main frontrunners for the two open three-year seats left by Bill Buckley and Brian Walsh. Neither Buckley nor Walsh will run again this year – Buckley to focus on his graduate school studies, and Walsh for personal reasons. The other candidate for the two open seats is Endean Drive resident Jennifer Geosits.

An additional one-year term on the School Committee will be made available because of John Desmond’s resignation to move to Cape Cod. There are currently two candidates running in that race: Mark Breen and John Sheehan. 180 did not have information on either of these candidates as of press time.

While Shield appears to be leaning towards supporting this year’s override, he has publicly expressed a moderate view on spending issues in the past and is in favor of significant reforms in personnel costs and collective bargaining. He is a frontrunner in the race because of his past two campaigns for Selectmen that have given him a large base of support in the community.

Coury ran for the School Committee last year on a platform that was far more fiscally conservative than the other candidates in the race. Although she lost the race, she has still followed town issues and has publicly expressed opposition to the override this year. Last year, she was the only candidate in a three-way race for two seats on the Committee who publicly expressed concern about the philosophy that higher class sizes in Walpole hurt student achievement.

The next month and a half leading up to the June 2 town election should be very exciting as both incumbents for Selectmen face significant opposition from legitimate, well-spoken and passionate conservative candidates. It will be interesting to see whether the conservatives gang up on the incumbents and run as a unit hoping to topple the incumbents together, or whether the high number of conservative challengers will end up splitting the conservative vote and only knocking off one or even no incumbents.

Other notes about the 2012 town election: Moderator Jon Rockwood will run unopposed, despite continued opposition from some in town over his decision in 2010 to remove five members of the Finance Committee. There are no competitive races for Planning Board or Housing Authority.

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