Voters in Oak Bluffs, acting decisively yesterday, stared down at a seven-way race for two seats on the board of selectmen and put their pencil marks solidly behind Roger Wey and Greg Coogan.
Way ahead of the pack, Mr. Wey, the incumbent, pulled down 712 votes, winning a sixth term on the board. Mr. Coogan came in with 638 ballots to join Mr. Wey on the board. A total of 1,451 voters cast ballots, 45 per cent of those registered.
Both candidates supported Oak Bluffs remaining in the Martha's Vineyard Commission, an issue that figured heavily in the campaign. In one month, voters go back to the polls to decide whether the town should withdraw from the commission.
Yesterday's results could well be a harbinger of what to expect in May.
Linda Marinelli, another outspoken backer of the MVC, took third place in the race with 431 votes, beating out Karen Achille, a harsh critic of the commission who campaigned on a platform that supported withdrawal from the regional agency. Mrs. Achille netted 409 votes.
Last night, the winners mixed in some joy with their post-election analysis. Both thanked the voters - and downplayed the significance of the commission issue. They contended their support came from both sides of the fence.
"People definitely feel this is a delicate and difficult time in Oak Bluffs and on the Island," Mr. Coogan, a 54-year-old math teacher, said last night as he took a break from a victory party at his home. "They were hoping to lean on people who have a sense of history and a comfort level."
There was elation in Mr. Coogan's voice. "I feel pretty good," he said. "This is cool. My first reaction is I'm humbled by it. That's quite a vote total."
Mr. Wey, getting the top votes this time as he did three years ago, said simply, "I really feel great that the people in the town of Oak Bluffs have faith in me. I feel I'm doing a good job and making a difference."
Asked what he felt fueled the election, the 62-year-old contractor told the Gazette, "This wasn't a straight for-or-against the commission vote. But if there was a real outcry against the commission, you would have seen something different here, no question about it."
For the last two years, Mr. Wey has been the sole selectman siding with the MVC and opposing plans by a Connecticut developer to turn the southern woodlands into a luxury private golf course, a project that has failed three times to win approval from the agency.
After the second rejection, voters in Oak Bluffs feared that the developer would then build a massive affordable housing project in the woodlands. At a special town meeting last year, they supported taking the first step to withdraw from the commission.
The state land court later ruled that the commission has the authority to review such housing projects even if they are filed under Chapter 40B, a state law which allows developers to bypass town zoning review.
But for the last year, the issue has hung over the town, and the annual election came just one month before voters must make their final decision about whether to leave the MVC.
Rounding out the race for selectman were Kenneth DeBettencourt with 185 votes, David Araujo with 169 votes and Hans von Steiger with 112. Both Mr. DeBettencourt and Mr. von Steiger took a hard line against the commission, advocating withdrawal.
In other contested races yesterday, the incumbents proved their mettle, fending off all challengers. Board of health member William White won a third three-year term with 647 votes, beating out Michael Santoro and Frank Case, who garnered 518 votes and 100 votes, respectively.
In the two-way race for wastewater commissioner, incumbent John Leite 3rd fought off Robert Iadicicco, 733 to 617, to win a second term.
Incumbent planning board member David Wessling beat Philip Hughes, 739 to 424, for a five-year term. And park commissioner Allan (Buddy) deBettencourt withstood a challenge from Gary BenDavid, winning re-election with 709 votes against Mr. BenDavid's 550.
Manuel deBettencourt mounted a successful last-minute write-in campaign for a one-year seat on the finance committee.
Candidates elected in uncontested races were David Richardson for one year as moderator; Jesse Law for three years as cemetery commissioner; Judith O'Donoghue for three years on the school committee; Joseph deBettencourt for three years as tree warden; Kevin Johnson for three years as water district commissioner, and Frank Case, 3rd, Mimi Davisson and Thomas Wilson for three year terms on the finance committee.