Voters install five in competitive townwide races, reject CPA ballot question

group of five holding signs

On Saturday in the annual town election, voters returned one incumbent to townwide office and voted in four new candidates, while also rejecting the Community Preservation Act ballot question by a sizable margin.

With all seven precincts reporting within about 45 minutes after polls closed at 8 p.m., political newcomers Melissa Pearrow and Josh Donati had earned the two vacant seats on the School Committee, incumbent Jim Maher and challenger Jon Briggs won the two open seats on the Park and Recreation Commission, and challenger Bob Desmond had gained the one available seat on Commissioners of Trust Funds.

Pearrow topped the ticket with 2,042 votes, with Donati a close second at 1,969. Meanwhile Maher was the lead vote-winner for Park & Rec. at 1,888 ballots, with Briggs in second at 1,750. Desmond earned 1,472 votes for Commissioners of Trust Funds, defeating his opponent by 227.

big group holding signs

The CPA ballot question had loomed large in the campaign over the past few months, garnering plenty of discussion among both opponents and proponents. It failed by 758 votes out of 3917 cast, with 59.9% voting no versus 40.1% voting yes, plus 97 blanks. The no votes carried Precincts 2-7 by an average of 156 votes per precinct, while the yes side captured Precinct 1 by 179 votes.

Town Clerk Paul Munchbach, who oversees the town’s elections, said turnout was fairly high for a local election, with about 23% of registered voters casting ballots. He said last year the figure was about 12% and in 2015 it was around 10%. He indicated the relatively favorable weather may have been a factor this year, as the day began cool but was rain-free, and warmed up in the afternoon. “As the sun came out we saw a steady flow of voters coming to all the precincts. Everything seemed to work pretty well. In Precinct 5 we had a couple of little jams in the machine, but nothing that we couldn’t fix.”

He added that the massive attendance by parents and young children at the Easter egg hunt at Memorial Park at mid-day was notable but did not cause substantial disruptions at the polls. “It backed up traffic a little bit in and around the Middle School (one of the voting stations). But I thought they did a pretty good job of making sure that nobody parked at the Middle School area so that we had enough parking for all our voters and for the poll workers… We worked in coordination with Bob Stanley and the Parks Department to make sure it wouldn’t affect the election. The traffic was a little bit of an issue, but it didn’t obstruct anything.”

Afterward several campaign parties at public venues drew dozens of supporters, while various candidates also held gatherings in their homes. At Deli After Dark, Briggs celebrated the result with family and friends over drinks and appetizers. At American Legion Post 18, a party hosted by the two incumbent Selectmen who were re-elected to their respective second terms – Dennis Guilfoyle and Dennis Teehan, Jr., the latter of whom was perhaps the most well-known supporter of the ballot question around town – featured conversation about politics and plenty of other topics too.

At the Legion, Jason Brogan spoke with the media about the message the electorate had collectively sent regarding the CPA. A member of the town’s Board of Health, Brogan was prominent among those urging a no vote on the ballot question, such as by advocating that position at the Dedham Education Partnership forum last Tuesday. In the days leading up to the vote he and others posted to Facebook about the ballot question, stating Selectman Teehan may have used some “inflated” statistics to show potential benefits to the town in exhorting residents to vote yes.

With the results having been posted Saturday evening, Brogan took a more measured tone. “I think the citizens of Dedham have come out, and they’ve spoken. They do not want any increases in taxes, no matter what it is… I have a tremendous amount of respect for Selectman Teehan. I’ve talked to him since (the vote was tallied), and I support Selectman Teehan in a lot of his initiatives. I know that going forward, we’ll have to work together on the marijuana initiative, and various other initiatives. But I think it’s pretty clear that the taxpayers of Dedham do not want their taxes increased. They want other alternatives to figure out how we’re going to provide some of the projects that have been proposed, without raising taxes.”

Rita Mae Cushman, on her way from one post-election party to another in Dedham Square, spoke about the CPA as well, noting the schisms it had generated among some of her acquaintances. “A lot of people really didn’t know what that item was. When they found out their taxes were going to go up – another tax? If Dedham has a AAA (bond) rating, all these years we’re mucking through and we’re not falling apart?… We had people that really weren’t talking to each other over this. Let’s hope that we all mend our fences and go forth for the betterment of the town.”

Among non-competitive townwide races, the following candidates won re-election: Chris Polito to the Board of Assessors, Dan Driscoll as Moderator, Leanne Jasset to the Board of Health, Bob Aldous to the Planning Board, as well as Margaret Connolly and Sarah Santos to the Library Trustees.

In addition, each precinct selected a full slate of 13 Town Meeting (TM) members for 3 year terms. Moreover, for unexpired TM terms Precinct 4 chose two two-year members and two one-year members, Precinct 5 picked one two-year member and one one-year member, and Precinct 7 selected one two-year member.

For complete results, please visit the Town Clerk’s page at www.dedham-ma.gov.