Town election campaign sidesteps
Published in the Brookline
April 6, 2000
There's a town election in four weeks, but I don't know much about who's
running for office or what they want to accomplish. I had imagined election
campaigns in Brookline might be lively events, with issues-focused debates
and substantive position statements. Yet all I've really seen are a few
thousand signs telling me to vote for Robert Allen for Selectman, some
signs for incumbent Don Weitzman, and a couple for Roberta Winitzer for
Library Trustee. None of the candidates for any office have clarified
publicly and widely why anyone should bother to vote for them.
Perhaps longtime residents have some secret knowledge they're reluctant
to pass on to newcomers. Maybe they all hold secret meetings where the
candidates elaborate their vision of a better Brookline, or maybe longtimers
instinctively know the issues without having to discuss them. And maybe
the people who matter in town like it this way, keeping the rabble ignorant
so that we don't muck things up on May 2nd.
The TAB's too-few election articles haven't done much to help sort out
the players. It's interesting to know that Allen is "Brookline's Own"
and that he wants to do a good job and give young people a voice. And
ordinarily I'm sympathetic to people who want to kick out incumbents.
But it would be help to have a decent reason.
On Allen's website I learned that he's "committed to providing the necessary
resources to fund our schools" and that he'll "advocate for additional
park land and open space, a more comprehensive affordable housing policy
and neighborhood traffic calming." He'll also "encourage appropriate commercial
development" and "provide strong and thoughtful leadership, and promote
communication and participation within the community." This all sounds
good. But then again, who would disagree, at least publicly? It's not
much to go on when trying to figure out if Allen would be better or worse
than whichever incumbent he's trying to unseat.
But at least his comfortable generalities are more than the other candidates
I learned in the TAB in mid-February that Allen and incumbent Donna Kalikow
both say they're "fiscally conservative and socially liberal," which worries
me but doesn't tell me as much as I'd like, and that Weitzman is a "leftist-progressive,"
which at least is in the right ballpark, and that Mark Levy, who I hear
is running even though the TAB hasn't yet said so and I haven't seen any
evidence, describes himself as "basically progressive." But labels are
only marginally more useful than signs.
No doubt the issueless election stems from the political instinct to
avoid controversy. And it's true that polite blandness suffices for those
voters who believe political philosophy is irrelevant. But I can't be
the only Brookline resident who'd like to know what differentiates the
candidates. When do they disagree with one another, and why? On which
issues did Weitzman and Kalikow differ while serving together on the Board?
Which recent decisions do Allen and Levy reject?
Or does it all really just come down to labels, personality, and ambition?
Vote for me because it's my turn. Trust me.
People tell me Brookline used to be a progressive town. But even though
many Selectmen and Town Meeting Members call themselves progressive, or
liberal, or half-liberal, or almost-leftist, even though they show up
in droves at Brookline PAX meetings, at the local level the town today
hardly exemplifies progressive principles.
Residents may get all hot and bothered about gun control and abortion
rights, they may raise money for Quezalguaque and shed tears for oppressed
people everywhere. But a progressive town wouldn't let the budget slide
and then accept overdevelopment just to make ends meet. It wouldn't cave
in on affordable housing, townwide recycling, or adequately funded schools.
It wouldn't let chain stores displace locally owned businesses. Expressing
concern for issues such as these is easy. Functional policies would be
So I don't know whether the town's remaining progressives have given
up, whether they're just keeping out of sight because they're outnumbered,
or whether they're only telling people on the right mailing list what
they're up to. Whatever the situation, before I abandon my basically anarchist
impulses to vote, I'd like to see some detailed indication of why I should
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