Texas Pollsters Open Oak Bluffs Campaign on MVC Withdrawal

By JULIA WELLS

Oak Bluffs voters began receiving calls this week from a Texas polling company in what appears to be the opening salvo for a heated political campaign prior to a special town election on possible secession from the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

On May 13 Oak Bluffs voters will be asked to say yes or no to town withdrawal from the MVC.

The campaign to withdraw from the commission was begun last year by the developers of the Down Island Golf Club and their supporters. A plan for a luxury private golf club in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs has been rejected by the commission three times in the last two years.

The special election was set last week after a lobbyist hired by golf course developer Corey Kupersmith put pressure on state legislators to move a home rule petition for withdrawal from the regional planning agency. The bill dates to last year when a record turnout of voters in Oak Bluffs agreed to take the first step toward withdrawing from the 27-year-old regional planning agency.

A second vote by the town in the form of a ballot question is required for the bill to become law

This week the telephone polling began. A large number of Oak Bluffs voters reported receiving telephone calls from a polling company in Austin, Tex.

Voters who reported being surveyed were asked a variety of questions, including whether they were aware of the May 13 election, whether they planned to vote and how they planned to vote on the question of withdrawing from the MVC. Voters were also asked to rate a list of issues on a scale of one to five, with five being most important. The issues included new jobs, new tax revenues for the town, open space and conservation, fire and police protection and funding for schools.

Some voters reported that the polling person, a woman, asked whoever answered the telephone if she could speak to the man of the house.

One voter quizzed the telephone pollster about her company and learned that the name of the company is TDM Research and Communications in Austin, Tex. The telephone pollster declined to say who had hired TDM to conduct the poll.

Information about TDM obtained from an Internet search shows that the company was founded in 1989 to do field interviews for Democratic pollsters and to execute small "voter contact" programs.

The company is a sister firm of the Tyson organization, another firm that does work for the Democratic party.

A management statement about Tyson notes, among other things: "Our scripts are tailored to deliver your campaign's message," and also: "We recommend tactical revisions to your program if we see unexpected response patterns."

It is unclear whether the survey work has been commissioned by the golf club developers, and a Boston attorney who has been a leading spokesman for the Down Island Golf Club said yesterday that he knew nothing about the survey.

"I can say with certainty that I have no idea about any of this," said James Ward, a partner at Nutter McLennen & Fish in Boston.

Mr. Kupersmith did not return a telephone call from the Gazette.

Voters surveyed were also asked: "Overall, do you feel Oak Bluffs is overdeveloped, underdeveloped, just about right or don't know?"

Because of the somewhat leading nature of the questions, the survey could be defined as a push poll, a telephone survey designed more to shape than to measure public opinion.

Push polls are strictly regulated in some states, including Maine and Virginia, but not in Massachusetts.

The question of whether to withdraw from the commission is expected to be the subject of heated debate in the coming weeks, including the annual town election next month where there is a seven-way race for two seats on the board of selectmen.

A group formed last week to oppose the May 13 ballot question; the group is called Keep OB in the MVC.

A spokesman for the group said this week that Keep OB in the MVC did not commission the telephone survey.

"We don't need to conduct a public opinion survey - we know how our neighbors and friends feel. We all recognize that the Island without the Martha's Vineyard Commission would be a very different place," said Kerry Scott, a member of the group.