NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 13, 2013

Historic preservation was the real winner

Viewpoint
Walter Clay

---- — This fall’s election wasn’t just a good showing for preservation in Newburyport, it was a resounding victory.

On Nov. 7 The Daily News concluded that “Almost all the incumbents were returned, almost all of the avowed conservative candidates lost, and the open waterfront wasn’t the decisive issue.” I’d go further.

I’ve maintained all along that the waterfront became a proxy to attempt to defeat certain candidates and provide a smokescreen to try to elect others. Unbridled development, infill and lack of historic preservation were really at stake, even if not openly debated.

Dick Sullivan lost comfortably. One argument floated post-preliminary was that a majority voted “against” the mayor and “for” the waterfront. November’s result shows either a major swing away from that position or that it wasn’t the issue at all. I argue the latter.

Another way to see the preliminary is that only a third of voters backed a candidate who opposed historic preservation. Both mayoral outcomes make perfect sense when seen through that lens and so do the results across other races.

Allison Heartquist won decisively in Ward 1.

Robert Cronin squeaked by in Ward 3, escaping criticism over LHD. Leslie Eckholdt worked tirelessly but had no opportunity to press preservation. Had that happened, the result might have been different. He must at least be chastened.

In Ward 4 anti-preservationist Tom Jones was soundly defeated by an issue-reasonable opponent.

Tom O’Brien edged out “Blank” 681 to 317, echoing the Ward 1 totals.

The two top at-large finishers were tarred by opponents for pro-LHD stances and feathered with being against “openness” yet were returned resoundingly.

Ari Herzog finished last among the incumbents, arguably because of waffling on preservation.

Pro-preservationists voted for him hoping he’d be persuadable; “no” voters made a parallel choice and he was supported to an exaggerated extent.

Then, Jared Eigerman prevailed in Ward 2. His opponent declared himself to be a preservationist also, so his win has even greater resonance. In the preliminary, the “no” candidate hardly had an impact.

Some consider Ward 5 problematic, but Larry Giunta appealed to many after scrubbing troubling Internet posts. Both candidates talked nice about sidewalks and played school connections. Sean Reardon’s preservation position wasn’t promoted, to his disadvantage, and with no viable forum many voters faced an unclear choice. Sullivan’s home ward coattails helped Giunta win narrowly.

The rest seems mysterious to some but shouldn’t be. After initial selections, most voters were challenged to choose two more from those left, but could easily eliminate three from the bottom, leaving the choice as two from the remaining middle three.

Former Councilor Bruce Vogel, favoring preservation, was a reasonable, easy vote, though wasn’t as well known as even four years ago. He did well.

Meghan Kinsey already had a citywide organization. She never really had to commit to solid positions and voters on both sides could comfortably take a chance with her. Hope springs eternal.

To the second tier …

I love Laurel Allgrove’s candidacy. When 801 “conservative” voters picked a fifth, she became their choice, solidly “open waterfront” and remembered as anti-LHD. The first position wouldn’t disqualify her and the second should have guaranteed her the vote of every true anti-preservationist. My guess is it did, representing the bottom-line “no” vote. Hers may be this election’s most telling story.

Sheila Mullins didn’t take advantage of a winning preservation position and may have seemed disingenuous on balance. We come back to The Daily News observation that “almost all of the avowed conservative candidates lost.”

Bruce Menin seemed combative and bitter, leaving no opening to be seen as supportive of almost anything, let alone preservation. Name recognition from years on School Committee couldn’t help. Providing no compelling reason to vote for him and many not to led to a poor showing for someone with 12 years of service. As Sol Hurok said, “If people don’t want to come, you can’t stop them.”

Lastly, Lyndi Lanphear identified herself as vehemently anti-preservation, cloaked herself with “open waterfront” as a diversion, and was ignored by an overwhelming majority of voters as a direct result. Again, “avowed conservative candidates lost” and tea party and John Birch Society stances coupled with the overriding unpopularity of her anti-preservation platform crippled her.

To quote again, “The sum total of the Newburyport elections demonstrated that there is no voter wrath, no widespread dissatisfaction with local government. Almost all the incumbents were returned, almost all of the avowed conservative candidates lost, and the open waterfront wasn’t the decisive issue.”

Indeed.

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Walter Clay lives in Newburyport.