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Thoughts on Tuesday's Waltham Mayoral Election

I have struggled with how to approach Tuesday’s election. Municipal elections have the greatest effect on our lives, but without the bookstore, I have felt an anxiety I did not used to have about sharing my thoughts. What I am certain of is that many people probably feel this way about politics, and the shop provided a way to talk more openly about these things. Those conversations are some of the ones I miss most this fall, and for that reason, I have decided to share some thoughts on the mayoral race.

One of the things that I have always loved about Waltham is the volunteer aspect of local government. Here, if you care to be involved, there are exciting ways to take part as a regular citizen, and those opportunities are scarce elsewhere. For two and a half years, I was chairperson of the city’s historical commission and had the chance to do just that. Along with a handful of other people, I worked with Mayor McCarthy to set the conditions for purchasing the 186-acre Fernald School property from the Commonwealth.

I believe that Waltham’s purchase of the property is the largest preservation land purchase in a major metro area in the last half century in America. The two Waltham signatures on the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the Commonwealth are Mayor McCarthy’s and mine. A senior state official called the document, “beautifully crafted.” The person responsible for crafting its language—and the purchase price of only $3.7 million—was largely Mayor McCarthy.

Disreputable developers saw in Fernald a chance to craft a multi-billion dollar residential development out of the parcel, and the pressures on McCarthy to allow them to do so were extraordinary. She has rarely described how severe the pressures were, opting instead to simply forge ahead, doing the right thing. My experiences with Jeannette McCarthy have always been that way.  We have not agreed on everything, but I have rested easy knowing that at the end of the day she is fundamentally honest and naturally does the right thing because it is right for the greatest number of people in the city, not because she will get credit for it later.

This approach has not served her well in this election. McCarthy’s opponent is a longtime city politician, Tom Stanley, who is both a councilor and state representative. Despite a lifetime of elected service to the city, he has poised his candidacy as that of an outsider who would change everything if only he had the opportunity to do so. He has backed his campaign with the angry dollars of people like the scorned developers who wanted the Fernald, making it the second-most expensive campaign for mayor in a city of our size in the history of Massachusetts. He has poured six dollars into the race for every one of McCarthy’s.

I find Mr. Stanley’s stance as a frustrated outsider interesting, not least because he has reminded me that I am not from Waltham in nearly every conversation we have ever had. He never seems angry about it, but rather, this kind of observation appears to fit his overall worldview. Things are black and white. You’re from here or you’re not.  You’re with him or against him. Add up a lifetime of looking at the world this way, and you get a man who believes that he cannot change anything, even as a lifelong politician, unless he becomes mayor of the city.

This tells you how he will govern the city, and the Fernald provides a good example. Mr. Stanley made every attempt to block the city’s purchase of the Fernald up until the last vote, where he knew that public and political opinion was nearly unanimous against him. He stormed in and out of meetings, and once exploded, saying that McCarthy had, “pulled” financial figures, “out of her [expletive for rear end].” He continues to complain that the lack of public input on the future of the property is egregious. Yet, in the years prior to the purchase, he never once reached out me or my commission with a single question or comment about Fernald. He had his mind made up, even as an entire process evolved around him. 

There are dangerous consequences for someone who thinks this way, but who will be required to govern by compromise. In his campaign, Mr. Stanley has made many grand promises, but because the mayoral position is weak and requires nuance and collaboration, I fear that he cannot deliver on them. I see no proof from our interactions that he will be able to, and moreover, I am not convinced that he cares to anyway. He seems to have known what he has wanted all along.

Posted on November 1, 2015 .