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Time for Hamilton to step aside

June 4, 2013

In four of the past five town elections, Bill Hamilton has campaigned for Selectman on an un-inspirational and broad platform of helping the town avoid mistakes it has made in the past.

And in each of those elections, Hamilton has failed spectacularly, even when voter turnouts range as low as 11 percent, like this year, and as high as 48 percent, like last year. The most votes he has ever garnered in a campaign is 1539, in the contentious 2012 school override election. He always finishes in dead last or close to last place.

The remarkably low turnout in Saturday’s town election, with only three candidates running for the Board of Selectmen and no major override on the ballot to unite his opponents’ voters, prompted speculation among some political observers that Hamilton could manage to win a seat on the Board.

Yet Hamilton still could not pull it off, finishing far behind the top vote-getter former Selectman Cliff Snuffer and incumbent Selectman Michael Berry. Hamilton garnered 23 percent of the vote, with 720 votes, to Snuffer’s 1164 votes and Berry’s 1147 votes.

It’s time for Hamilton to end his town-wide political ambitions – and stop running for Selectman, or any other town-wide office in the future. He has showed he just can’t win and by repeatedly running he only hurts himself, and hurts other potential candidates who want to run but can’t risk splitting the vote against him.

The tragedy is that Hamilton’s failures to gain traction in the past few elections can probably be attributed in large part to his inability to keep up with the changes in town politics. He just doesn’t seem to have any interest in running a campaign suited to the times.

Hamilton served on the Board for six terms between 1982 and 1997 – ironically defeating Snuffer twice, in both 1982 and 1985. Hamilton won re-election a whopping five four times.

In those days, local candidates spent little money on their campaigns and relied more on door-knocking and personal relationships with the voters. Hamilton thrived in that environment.

Nowadays, three decades after his losses to Hamilton, Snuffer oversees a remarkably strong political organization built up from decades of networking and contacts in the local political world. This year, Snuffer used social media to reach out to younger voters, and he stood out at each of the polls before and during Election Day. His superior political organization, combined with a tremendous amount of his own money, propelled him to victory as the highest vote-getter on Saturday.

Berry’s campaign, too, spent money heavily, and recruited volunteers for standouts at each of the polling locations for periods of time on Saturday. Berry reached out to younger voters and younger parents with children in the school system, and also made inroads among the senior population in both his first campaign in 2010 and again in 2013.

Hamilton, on the other hand, appeals to a rapidly dwindling voter demographic of primarily senior citizens who yearn for the old days when he was a Selectman, but who otherwise lack the energy and commitment to support a town-wide campaign such as his. Hamilton has many loyal supporters, but not enough to carry him over the finish line. Hamilton’s campaign platform leaves many voters unsure of exactly what it is that he is running for. Hamilton organized no standouts this year or in any of the past few elections, he purchased no newspaper ads, sent out no postcards, and he conducted no systematic effort to reach out to voters during the campaign. In each of the last four campaigns for Selectman that he has run, he has been wildly outspent by his opponents.

Hamilton said this year that he wasn’t interested in standing out or even advertising in the newspaper because both require significant expense and time. Although Hamilton did stand out briefly at the polls on Saturday, and put out lawn signs before the election, he made little effort to reach out to voters outside of his senior citizen base.

When he was on the Board, that level of effort might have been enough to get him elected. That just isn’t going to cut it in Walpole these days. In the 21st century, in order to win a Selectman’s race in Walpole, a candidate has to spend a lot more money and put a lot more effort into their campaign than Hamilton seems willing to do.

Instead of being recognized for his remarkable accomplishments on the Board for more than a decade, Hamilton is now being regarded as a running joke – a perennial candidate who lets his ambition get in the way of allowing other good candidates to actually have a shot at winning. If Hamilton had stayed out of this year’s race, another candidate with similar fiscally conservative philosophies would have been more inclined to enter the race and actually give incumbent Berry a good run for his money. Instead, the result – Berry and Snuffer victories – was largely a foregone conclusion from the start of the campaign.

Hamilton has already said that he will likely stay out of next year’s race for Selectman because there is only one seat available and his chances of victory diminish sharply. But he didn’t rule out a potential future bid for Selectman, saying only that he thinks he would put in more effort next time.

But even if he is serious about putting in more work, his campaign would end the same as it has so many times before: as a losing one. He has run campaigns with varying voter turnouts and with different issues driving people out to the polls. He has never been able to win. He just does not appeal to a large enough number of voters to make the race even remotely competitive. Even putting out lawn signs this year – a change from his previous three campaigns – evidently could not even put him within shouting distance in the final count.

Hamilton should understand that he can, and in fact does, have influence and a voice outside of the Board of Selectmen. As a longtime RTM and an elder statesman, he has had input in town affairs. Indeed, at the Spring Town Meeting in May, he helped expose many problems with Article 24, which called for accepting a street at Walpole Park South. Town Meeting eventually sent it back to Town Hall for further review.

Hamilton has also been a frequent attendee of Selectmen and Sewer and Water Commission meetings relating to the Maguire Group facilities study, and shared his concerns with the members of those boards. He attends Selectmen meetings frequently, and has utilized open forums to present concerns about the issues.

Those are outlets he should continue to utilize to advance his message, instead of campaigns for town-wide office. Those are more effective outlets for him to get his message out, and are more compatible with the level of effort and money he is able to contribute.

Hamilton had a good stint on the Board, and has been a champion of some fiscally conservative causes. He is passionate about what he believes in. No other Selectmen since he left has stayed as long as the 18 years he spent on the Board. He deserves tremendous thanks for his long service to the community.

But now there is a new generation of politicians in Walpole who share many of Hamilton’s philosophies and who are likely, and in fact expected, to make runs for the Board of Selectmen in the near or not-too-distant future – names like Christopher Donovan, Daniel Ryan, Donna McDonough, Paul McDonough, Eric Hurwitz, Dominick Ianno, Matthew Fearnley, John F. Robinson, Jr., Cliff Snuffer III, and Patrick Shield.

Those are the individuals who have great hope for political success ahead for them, and enough time remaining in their life that they can be patient and wait for the optimal opportunity to run for Selectman. If Hamilton wants to have an impact on the community in the future, he should consider mentoring them through the political process to help them succeed, instead of running himself and hurting both him and them.

Hamilton has gone from being a local political icon, as one of the longest serving Selectman in town history, to being a big joke – losing four times in five years to stronger, better-funded candidates who actually put in efforts to win. For someone with Hamilton’s resume and years of service to the community, being regarded as a joke is quite a fall for a politician to take. And, frankly, it’s sad, given how much he genuinely cares about this town.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2013 12:34 PM

    very nice article but Chris Donavan is the only viable candidate for the town on the list you are promoting. Patrick Shield nice guy but bid spender and will never committee to a cause. The rest are big spender. we need to elect conservative candidates we are over spending in this town. Snuffer is far from the savior of the town he is a big spender not to mention in bed Mr. Boynton another big spender. Sam I do not understand your position you speak like a conservative but you promote big spenders ? It can’t be both way please help me understand where you stand. I know there are a lot of people in town who are tired of the just pay and shut up and ask no question it seem to me that Bill Hamilton is not a bad thing. He is the complete opposite of the candidates you are promoting. I think I will stay with Bill Hamilton. And I just may start being the town spoiler I sat out this run for selectman and very could have won. I can’t just sit back any more let big spender walk in to office. Whether you support my plat form or not Sam you’re a Very wise young man and usually right on but I think this article is written for the wrong reason.Thank you and keep up the good work Robert

    • June 4, 2013 2:13 PM

      None of the people on that list are big spenders.

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