Taking a pulse in Swampscott

April 27, 2017

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Naomi Dreeben, left, Michael McClung, and Laura Spathanas retained their seats.

Low voter interest in Swampscott on Tuesday still managed to produce changes in the political landscape. Just over 10 percent of the town’s voters cast ballots and the results, once counted, produced upsets in two town boards.

Voters, perhaps tellingly, ousted the chairman of the Library Trustees and the chairman of the Board of Health. Outgoing Trustees Chairman Herrick Wales and Martha Dansdill, the current health board chairwoman, are respected civic volunteers who brought experience and dedication to their service on behalf of the town.

Emily Cilley and Ellen Winkler ran smart campaigns built on strong qualifications to win election, respectively, to the health board and library trustees. But what was going through the minds of town voters when they decided to make changes on two boards most town residents know little or nothing about?

The 13 percent voter turnout on Tuesday may have been a reflection of Cilley and Winkler’s ability to identify their supporters and get them to the polls. Bear in mind, both women won election by a few dozen votes with Cilley beating Dansdill 678 to 579 votes and Winkler besting Wales 619 to 567 votes.

Elections on a national level or a town level are won because smart, organized candidates know who supports them and make sure those voters get to the polls. Give Cilley and Winkler credit for running effective campaigns. But town voters who bothered to cast ballots this week might have walked into the polls convinced it’s time for a change in Swampscott, beginning with new blood on a couple town boards.

2 incumbents out in Swampscott

It is interesting to note that voters did not make any changes to School Committee membership. Tuesday’s election may have been a case of civic-minded town residents sending a message to local government about the need for attention to details. By voting new faces onto the health board and library trustees, voters may have been urging town officials to look carefully at how well government is or isn’t working in Swampscott.

The town, to be sure, has a magnificent library with a vibrant programming schedule and the Board of Health, Planning Board, and other volunteer committees and boards attract committed and intelligent town residents.

But Swampscott also has significant challenges it needs to address on a large and sweeping scale. How and when will it build new schools? Are business districts defined and zoned for the best benefit of the town? What will happen to the Marian Court property? Is a rail trail a good idea and why?

These are big questions to ask in a small town and they may have been on the minds of the voters who took the time to cast ballots on Tuesday. In the course of electing Cilley and Winkler, residents who turned out to vote may have asked themselves, “We’ve got a lot to get done in Swampscott and maybe it’s time to restock the talent shelf when it comes to people willing to do the nitty gritty work involved in making a representative government run effectively.”

It’s an interesting question to contemplate and Tuesday’s election might turn out to be the proverbial snowball that sets a political avalanche in motion.