Fox Professing
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials





Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Another Year, Another Election

Dennis Fox

May 6 , 2005

I write this shortly before Brookline's Election Day. I wonder: Given the issues, the candidates, and town decision-making structures and traditions, how much does it matter who wins? And this: Are town elections held in May instead of during November's state/federal election just to dampen voter turnout? And especially this: Does democracy have to be so boring?

Last month I went to watch two candidate forums. Five politicos sought two Selectmen seats, four others sought three School Committee seats. Both times I ended up not caring that much who would win. I did care that the question-answer sessions were more polite than enlightening, too tame and constrained to be called real debates.

My guess is town voters re-elected Gil Hoy to his Selectmen slot on Tuesday. As the current board's longest-serving sort-of liberal, he has many supporters in our liberal-tilted town. At the same time, his cautious go-along approach reassures many further to the right. Not surprisingly, in last week's chart of candidate responses to six questions posed by the TAB, Hoy was the only one "undecided" three times.

Hoy's liberal supporters were most likely to give their second vote to Andrew Fischer, the hardest-core lefty in the bunch. If both of them make it to Town Hall, they could work with Michael Sher to create the first liberal majority in years.

That's got its benefits, but I'm not sure how significant they are. Brookline's biggest issues don't divide neatly along liberal-conservative lines. One driving force is big development -- not whether to facilitate it, but what kind, where, how much. Even liberals don't spend much time imagining more far-reaching possibilities, or even how to block chain store proliferation.

Similarly, as Brookline's atmospheric housing costs solidify, liberal upper-class residents are as likely as conservatives to shunt aside the concerns of the dwindling working class. A related issue is whether town officials will really pay attention to town residents, or only keep claiming to do so.

That's why it was such a kick to watch Regina Frawley. If she's elected, the Board of Selectmen might not gain a firm liberal majority, but meetings will be a lot more fun to watch. Frawley repeatedly exposes facts buried in gobbledygook and makes bureaucrats and politicians cringe. She's the opposite of the fourth candidate, Nancy Daly, who seems well-intentioned but too much a match to Hoy's rock-no-boats tip-toeing.

I'd be surprised to see Gary Kayakachoian win, and can't imagine him having much influence -- he gives the appearance of being in a conservative time warp, unfamiliar with too many current details. But I like his one-liners. Stopping over-development? "Too little, too late." The constant use of paid consultants? "Don't need consultants -- just read the paper!" More research? "These studies just give you what you want." With him and Frawley on the board, residents would start going to meetings just to watch the show.

There's even less to say about the School Committee race. Committee Chair Kevin Lang is no doubt re-elected, and any two of the other three would blend right in with the six continuing members. Alan Morse's business background makes me suspicious. At the debate, I liked Rebecca Stone's personal speaking style and her honest acknowledgement of imperfection, in contrast to the men's more traditional election posturing.

Both Stone and Marc Jones would likely join the committee's liberal wing, but the libs have mostly given up on stopping the spreading MCAS exam. The School Committee still trumpets its anti-MCAS credentials while letting education suffer under the radar. Maybe Stone and Jones could help put some teeth into the opposition. Maybe.

Perhaps no one noticed, but Brookline also held an election this week for Town Meeting Members. This year, many precincts had exactly five candidates running for exactly five spots. That more residents don't seek election to Brookline's most representative body should make us all wonder.

I've proposed before that we enhance town democracy in a number of ways, from fostering more interaction between Town Meeting Members and the residents they supposedly represent, to holding neighborhood decision-making meetings, to reducing precinct size. We'd do these things if we wanted Brookline's democracy real rather than formulaic. Substance requires more than voting.

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

Back to Gadflying Columns List

up to top

personal/political observations
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials
some political, most not


Page updated September 30, 2007