Mandate Reinforces Mission of the MVC

Vineyard Voters Back Nine Candidates with Clear Commitment to Support Unique Role of Regional Agency

By JULIA WELLS

Marking a fresh mandate to stay the course, Vineyard voters elected a solid slate of conservation-minded candidates - including six incumbents - to the Martha's Vineyard Commission this week. And for the second time in two years, two respected Island farmers were the top vote-getters in the election for the regional land use commission.

"It's very gratifying, and I think the most pleasing thing is to feel we have a mandate from the people to go in a stated direction," said James Athearn, who was elected to a second term on the commission with 4,695 votes, the most among the 12 candidates for nine seats on the MVC. Mr. Athearn grew up in West Tisbury and is the owner of Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown.

"I am honored to have such Islandwide support and once again I look forward to working with fellow commissioners," said Andrew Woodruff, who captured second honors in the vote count, with 4,039 votes.

Mr. Athearn and Mr. Woodruff were also the top two vote-getters in the commission election two years ago.

"These last couple of years have been a tremendous personal sacrifice. At times you're standing out on a limb and wondering whether you're making the right decisions for the future of the Island, and I guess the vote this past week really shows that people do value the commission," said Mr. Woodruff, who grew up on the Vineyard and is the owner of Whippoorwill Farm in West Tisbury.

Also elected to the commission this week were incumbents Christina Brown of Edgartown, Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, John Best of Tisbury and Richard Toole of Oak Bluffs. Megan-Ottens Sargent of Aquinnah, who has served as an appointed member of the commission for four years, was elected to her first term, and new candidates Deborah Moore of Aquinnah and E. Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark were also elected. Three candidates lost their bid for election: Robert S. Mone and Paul Adler of West Tisbury and Ronald Monterosso of Edgartown.

Mr. Mone, a real estate and insurance broker who worked for the Down Island Golf Club developers, gave a good chase in the West Tisbury contest, where only two of the four candidates were eligible for election under the commission legislation, which requires that at least one and not more than two candidates be elected from each of the six Island towns. Mr. Mone came in ahead of both Mr. Woodruff and Mrs. Sibley in the town of Oak Bluffs, but in the end on an Islandwide basis Mr. Woodruff came out well on top and Mrs. Sibley came in fourth overall in the vote count, beating Mr. Mone by a decisive margin of 518 votes.

Mr. Adler and Mr. Monterosso, who had distinguished themselves as open critics of the commission during the pre-election campaign, trailed well behind the other candidates in every town. The Edgartown contest among Mr. Athearn, Mrs. Brown and Mr. Monterosso proved to be not much of one, with Mr. Athearn coming in first, Mrs. Brown coming in third, and Mr. Monterosso finishing last overall in the vote count.

The MVC election attracted a good deal of attention this year, in part because of the recent bruising debate around the controversial Down Island Golf Club project in Oak Bluffs. Last month, the commission voted 9-8 to reject the golf club project.

In the weeks and days leading up to Nov. 5, there was much speculation on the Island about the MVC election - would it prove to be a referendum on golf, and even more broadly, a referendum on the unique powers of the commission that was created by an act of the state legislature in 1974?

In the end the voters spoke their minds the old-fashioned way, using felt-tipped pens to fill out ballots at busy polling places.

"I think the democratic process in elections is the best litmus test or whatever you want to call it is what's out there," said Mr. Woodruff following the vote this week.

"If you look at the candidates for reelection, they are the top vote-getters. I think the message is one of support for the commission - not one of 100 per cent support, obviously - but it looked like pretty strong support to me," said Mrs. Sibley, who is now the senior member of the commission and will begin her eighth term in January.

Mr. Athearn said the message from the candidates was clear.

"People said what they're about - it's not like we were hiding behind some campaign speech designed to please everyone," he said, adding:

"I've gotten a lot of comments from people who are very happy about the vote and also the golf course vote, and they seem to be reflecting my ideas in that way. One man who owns a restaurant in Edgartown said to me today, ‘Now we won't have to move off the Island. We can stay.' "

Mark London, the newly appointed executive director of the MVC, said he looks forward to working with the new commission in January.

"With my arrival and with the renewal of the membership of the commission, and with the decision on the golf course now behind us, I look forward to starting work on the planning and other priorities of the commission," Mr. London said from the commission office in Oak Bluffs yesterday. "In a way we are turning a page, and with the new year I hope there will be a new enthusiasm for renewing the commission and improving the way it operates, and working with the towns to better manage the change on the Island."

Concluded Mr. Woodruff: "Personally I can't imagine a better place to live than Martha's Vineyard, and I look forward to keeping it the place that so many of us cherish."