Two incumbents hope to return to office while a relative newcomer to town politics has his own election hopes in a three-way race for two seats on the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen this year.
Selectmen Michael Santoro and Walter Vail are both seeking a second term on the board. Abraham Seiman, a member of the town finance committee who is active in civic affairs, is also running for a seat.
Oak Bluffs is the only Island town with a five-member board of selectmen.
It is also the only town on the Vineyard to date with a significant number of contests on the annual town ballot next week. Elections will be held on April 10 in Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and West Tisbury, two days after annual town meetings open.
In addition to the Oak Bluffs selectmen’s race, there is a race on the planning board where Ewell Hopkins is challenging longtime incumbent John Bradford.
Four people are running for three seats on the town finance committee. And two are running for an open seat on the school committee.
“It wasn’t like this three years ago,” said Maura McGroarty, an incumbent finance committee member and candidate, observing the strong turnout and thanking those who attended a candidates forum Thursday night sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard League of Women Voters. “It bodes well for the town,” she said.
The other candidates for finance committee are Mr. Seiman, who has said he will decline the seat if elected selectman, and Kimberly Burke and Robert Huss, who did not appear at the forum or submit statements.
The three candidates for selectmen anchored the Thursday candidate forum, framing their positions on town issues, although only two were present. Mr. Santoro did not attend but submitted a written statement.
Mr. Santoro and Mr. Vail are running on the successes of their previous terms, which saw Oak Bluffs emerge from a long period of financial instability. “There are some who say that nothing ever changes in Oak Bluffs — same old problems, same old mess,” said Mr. Vail. “That may have been true before I was elected, but I don’t think it’s true now.”
Mr. Vail is chairman of the selectmen. He also sits on the roads and byways committee and the affordable housing committee, as well as the county advisory board and county personnel board. He ran for his seat in 2011 on a pledge to bring his business background to the town at a time when it was needed.
“I promised conservative fiscal management, cost control and new sources of revenue,” he said. “Result: a turnaround within three years.”
Mr. Santoro is a businessman and owner of the Lookout Tavern. He chairs the town roads and byways committee and represents the selectmen on the harbor advisory committee.
In his statement he said:
“Three years ago at this forum I remember telling you all how the town was broken, with a financial meltdown taking place, a crumbling infrastructure and a government only taking care of a few and not the whole.”
He pointed to today’s improved infrastructure in town and positive free cash flow and praised the work of town administrator Robert Whritenour.
“We are a team,” Mr. Santoro wrote. “A team that has brought positive change to Oak Bluffs, but we are not out of the woods.”
Mr. Seiman sits on the finance committee and the affordable housing committee. He is involved with the Island Food Pantry, the Oak Bluffs library, the healthy aging task force and the Center for Living. Creating more affordable housing in Oak Bluffs is a priority, he said, as is more overall engagement between the town and voters.
He said he decided to enter the race with the hope of creating more civic engagement and ultimately shifting voting priorities in town.
“The most relevant issue that we vote on is the budget itself and how that money should be spent,” Mr. Seiman said. But he said the budget takes up far less time than the more emotionally-charged issues such as last year’s referendum on the monster shark tournament.
He said he would work to ensure that all matters brought before the town received comparable attention, to allow the public “a greater understanding in every change in town regulations and every change that will affect the budget.”
The planning board race is also attracting attention this year, with Mr. Hopkins, a well known affordable housing advocate, actively challenging Mr. Bradford, who has been an incumbent for so many years no one could remember exactly how long he has been on the board. Mr. Bradford did not attend the forum but submitted a statement.
Mr. Hopkins stressed the need to involve the community in town planning efforts. Mr. Bradford encouraged voters to participate in an ongoing streetscape plan to revitalize the downtown area.
“It needs to be a community effort,” he wrote in his statement.
Mr. Hopkins is a member of the town affordable housing committee and chairman of Habitat for Humanity.
“What I’m signing up to do is take on the process of facilitation,” he said at the forum, adding that the board needed to reach out more to the community. Mr. Hopkins stressed that he saw the planning board’s role in town as anticipatory, not reactionary.
“Without context, without a vision, ordinances and zoning requirements can’t be applied to a plan,” he said.
Michael Hoyt and Michele Moore are running for a three-year spot on the school committee. Mr. Hoyt has served on the school advisory committee for six years and is its current chairman. He is also on the executive board of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. Mrs. Moore has been president of the Oak Bluffs parent teacher organization for the past four years. Both have children at the Oak Bluffs School and the regional high school.
Several candidates appeared at the forum even though their races are not contested, including selectman Gail Barkmakian, running for a third term on the wastewater commission, and Amy Billings, running for a seat on the parks commission.
Laura Johnston is running to fill the position of town clerk left vacant after Deborah Ratcliff retired last year. Ms. Johnston has been assistant town clerk for the past 18 years.
“I’ve probably met most of you in my office throughout the years coming into my office,” she told the forum. “All is well and I thank you for your support.”
Throughout the forum, the message was clear: Vote.
Moderator Judy Crawford reminded everyone to bring an extra person to the polls on with them on election day.