A political unknown is trying to topple two incumbents for a seat on the board of selectmen in Oak Bluffs. Mark Alwardt, a shingler with no experience in town politics, is hoping to tap into the voter discontent in town and go straight to the top board.
"People are so happy to see a fresh face coming into this race," Mr. Alwardt said.
The two incumbents, Richard Combra and Michael Dutton, are seeking re-election. The fourth candidate is Linda Marinelli, a former selectman.
The Gazette spoke to the candidates this week and asked them to define the major issues facing the town and to reflect on the mood of the town.
Richard Combra, 55, has a long history of public service in town, with two terms as selectman and another two with the school committee. Retired from ComElectric, Mr. Combra now runs an ice cream shop at the Dockside.
"The southern woodlands will probably occupy a great deal of time in the coming months," he said. A proponent of the Down Island Golf Club application for the southern woodlands, Mr. Combra envisions selectmen taking a strong role in determining the future of the town's largest tract of undeveloped land.
The other major issue in town, he said, is affordable housing. "I will support and have supported initiative to fund [affordable housing] on an Islandwide basis," he said, "but I am cautious that the majority of the affordable housing opportunities don't always reside in Oak Bluffs."
He pointed to enrollment growth at the school as his main concern since Oak Bluffs is already the Island town with the lowest real estate prices.
Mr. Combra said that during his tenure, selectmen have improved the town's fiscal condition and brought the sewer project to completion. "Our financial practices have received high marks from the state and in audits," he said. "We're back on track with the delivery of tax bills."
When asked about the mood of the town, Mr. Combra focused more on the defiance of voters who supported a resolution to have the town withdraw from the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
"Oak Bluffs has made a statement that we're going to control our destiny. Other towns and regional agencies aren't going to dictate to us," he said. "The golf issue has created some fierce divides, but I'm very confident there will come a point in time when we can bring everyone back together."
Michael Dutton, 39, was first elected to the board three years ago, promising to bring a new perspective and a nonconfrontational style. He beat the incumbent Linda Marinelli by a wide margin.
In some respects, Mr. Dutton is still focused on issues of style and his ability to create what he calls a "civil atomosphere" on a board whose members have been known to spar among themselves. "We have a very efficient and civil working relationship," he said. "None of us is interested in a long feud that gets in the way of progress."
The chief development officer at Martha's Vineyard Hospital, Mr. Dutton has also served on the town finance committee.
He said his main concern is to create more affordable housing in town, but not by building more houses. "We don't have a lot of land left. It needs to be more monetary, coming up with loan programs and down payments," he said. "That needs to be a big initiative over the next few years."
Zoning bylaws and town finances also need improvement, he said. The goal, he added, is "to build a strong financial team" in town hall.
Mr. Dutton said the town has been under a lot of the stress the last few years, with battles over the proposed golf course and the struggles to build a new wastewater treatment plant. "Most towns of 4,000 people don't have all these issues," he said. "You have the working community living in Oak Bluffs and then the seasonal resort community. There are built-in conflicts there.
"I fully acknowledge there's a lot of disgruntlement in Oak Bluffs," he added. "They're mad about something and can't identify it. It 's not healthy for a community, but we've been through an awful lot."
Linda Marinelli, 71, spent 12 years as a selectman and has served on many town boards over the past four decades. She drives a van part-time for the Martha's Vineyard Regional Transit Authority.
"I want to restore accountability to town government," she said. "You need to go to people and ask them for their input."
Mrs. Marinelli watches town government closely, attending meetings of selectmen, watewater and other boards. Her biggest concern is what she sees as a lack of fiscal responsibility.
The town has spent thousands of dollars settling lawsuits, she said, and has misspent funds set aside for the old town hall. The decision to leave the MVC, she added, will mean the loss of grant revenue.
And Mrs. Marinelli, an opponent of golf who advocated for a taking of the southern woodlands by eminent domain, is worried that the town will be vulnerable to developers without the protection of the commission. "The planning board doesn't have the powers to prevent things like fast-food places," she said. "It's wide open for that."
Asked about the mood of the town, Mrs. Marinelli said people in town are upset with selectmen. "Selectmen should follow the mandate of the people," she said.
Anger with town leadership, she said, goes back to this feeling of being ignored. "People are still furious over those electrical boxes," she said.
Mark Alwardt, 41, is a native of Oak Bluffs who makes his living as a shingler. A lieutenant in the fire department, Mr. Alwardt has been a firefighter for 23 years and he recently began volunteering with the Boys Scouts of America as a scout master.
To Mr. Alwardt, his lack of experience in town government is really an asset.
"I have no experience in politics at all," he said. "All I see is waste, waste and waste, and just bad management."
Rising taxes are his main concern, and he has some specific ideas for how to generate new revenue for the town. Chief among them is a proposal that the town buy the laundromat on Hiawatha avenue and run the operation. "With the new sewer system on line, it would be a gold mine," he said.
Mr. Alwardt also suggested putting campsites at the Sailing Camp as another way to bring money into town coffers. He supports withdrawing from the commission and said the town could get grants of its own to make up for a loss of revenue from grants written by the MVC.
Younger people need to participate more in town government, he said. "the biggest problem in town is that selectmen don't listen to people. They've divided this town in half," he said. "It's a shame to see people at each others' throats. It's a terrible thing."
Candidates will address the public tonight at a 7 p.m. forum in the community room at the Oak Bluffs School.