From the Nov. 1, 1974 edition of the Gazette by William A. Caldwell:

Every election is a suspense story. One expects oneself to hold one’s breath in a delicious agony of uncertainty. Once the votes are counted, it is obvious that the outcome was appropriate, indeed inevitable, indeed precisely as one had predicted all along. Meanwhile, anxiety, and now what will the voters decide Tuesday — which of the 42 candidates will an Island-wide constituency elect to the nine seats on the land and water commission whose occupants will owe their mandate to all of the people? What will the Vineyard say it wants this powerful and unprecedented agency, intelligence, conscience, to be and do?

Well, not to subvert a thriller by blurting out what happens in the next chapter, it may be useful to point out that the Island made its decision months and months ago.

One of the most reassuring passages in current literature is paragraph (f) of Section 1 of An Act Protecting Land and Water on Martha’s Vineyard.

It goes: “(Whereas) the people of Martha’s Vineyard did, on March fourteenth, nineteen hundred and seventy-four, vote to endorse the provisions of this act.”

That’s one of a series of whereases. From (a) to (e) the law enumerates the unique values of the Island, the threats of irreversible damage by inappropriate use of the land, the need for regional governance over what happens to the land and the economy, and so on. That brings us to the “therefore” — the provision of the act that people did last March endorse.

“Therefore,” says the preamble Section 1, “the purpose of the commission created by this act shall be to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of Island residents and visitors by preserving and conserving for the enjoyment of present and future generations the unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific, and cultural values of Martha’s Vineyard which contribute to public enjoyment, inspiration, and scientific study, by protecting these values from developments and uses which would impair them, and by promoting the enhancement of sound local economies.”

The vote last March was 1,305 in favor of the enactment of the bill creating the commission and defining its powers and limitations, 694 against that. Roughly half of the registered voters turned out.

In Washington the two senators and Representative Studds, who know how to read a vote, construed this one as follows:

“This demonstrates once again the commitments to the residents of the Vineyard to shape the destiny of their own Island for their children and to prevent the kinds of unplanned development have blighted so many of the most beautiful areas of the Commonwealth and the nation.”

Governor Sargent perceived in the Vineyard decision implications as wide as the Commonwealth itself:

“Enactment of this legislation will be an important step forward in our efforts to develop a state land-use policy.”

Community affairs commissioner Lewis S. W. Crampton was encouraged by an “overwhelming” vote for responsible land use planning:

“After working so long and so hard with the people of Martha’s Vineyard, I feel a strong personal satisfaction which will be further gratified once the pending legislation becomes law and the Vineyard’s unique resources and land are protected from irresponsible encroachment.”

It seemed to be agreed that the Island had made up its mind what it wanted the commission to be and do.

This is not to be understood as a suggestion that it doesn’t much matter who’s elected Tuesday. As events in Washington may have indicated sufficiently, a candidate’s record and character, his perception of his job, and his reservations and equivocations make a difference. The voter confronting that bewildering ballot Tuesday should be conscious of a heavy responsibility, not only to his town but to his Island, not only to his Island to his state and indeed his nation. We are engaged in exploring a wholly new method of problem-solving.

Yet here may be one thing we can dare to be optimistic about. No matter who is elected, and let’s for fun postulate nine thoroughgoing pills, they cannot wreck a commission infiltrated as this will be by watchdogs, they cannot impose on the Island land-use criteria that violate the language and spirit of the act — the power to veto regulation that doesn’t regulate is reserved to the state. And the power to dismantle a commission that disobeys its mandate is reserved to the people. A saboteur, whether he’s directly elected or acquires his membership by appointment, will be held accountable, as will whatever agency appointed him.

It remains a suspense story, but here’s one voter who is stuck with a conviction that everything will turn out all right in the end, now that the Island has dared to think like an Island.


Compiled by Hilary Wallcox