Three candidates are vying for an open seat on the Aquinnah select board at the annual town election Thursday. Adrian Higgins, Thomas Murphy and Nancy Gilson Slate are all running for the seat that became vacant after longtime selectman Jim Newman decided to not seek re-election.

Polls at the town hall will be open from noon to 8 p.m.

The ballot also includes a contested race for the board of health, with incumbent James Glavin facing a challenge from Katherine Newman.

The League of Women Voters held a candidate forum last week, interviewing each candidate on the issues facing the town, using questions submitted by residents. A summary of the forum follows.

Select Board

Adrian Higgins owns Vineyard Engineering. A lifelong Islander, he has 20 years of experience in the construction consulting business. He has a wife and two sons.

Mr. Higgins said his childhood on the Island inspired him to run.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a deep fascination with Aquinnah. It’s such a unique and wonderful place . . . I feel like I understand its challenges and its opportunities and I’ve just sort of decided this year that I would like to take the opportunity to try to protect the unique nature of the town and serve the community as best I can,” he said Wednesday.

He cited his experience as a business owner as preparation for the select board office. “I’ve learned that I enjoy estimating and managing projects and trying to come up with technical solutions to complicated problems,” he said in part.

Mr. Higgins said his top priorities for the town were updating aging town infrastructure, implementing environmental remediation measures in the ponds and creating more affordable housing for town residents through resident home sites.

“Our town hall’s in tough shape and I know that a lot of our roads are falling apart . . . and then housing is also a big issue, and trying to create a more affordable housing,” he said.

Thomas Murphy is an attorney, businessman and army veteran. A summer resident for nearly 40 years, Mr. Murphy has lived on the Island full time for six years. He has a wife, two children and two grandchildren.

Mr. Murphy has served on numerous town boards and committees in Aquinnah, including the financial advisory committee, the lighthouse advisory committee and the planning board. He is also the Aquinnah veterans service officer.

“I’m seeking the select board seat to continue helping the community that I love to make a difference in the serious issues facing Aquinnah. Those some of those are taxes, affordable housing, climate change and trying to help improve the tribal relationships,” he said.

He noted his previous accomplishments, including leading the construction of the new boardwalk at Philbin Beach. He has also led the Fourth of July children’s parade on Old South Road for 19 years.

If elected, he said in his first year he would focus on improving the town’s relationship with the Wampanoag tribe. He also said he would prioritize keeping the budget lean and taxes low.

“I would say my top priority is improving tribal relations,” Mr. Murphy said. “There’s been ongoing litigation, which has been very, very costly to both the town and the taxpayers association, and the tribe, I think, improving communications is a critical component.”

Nancy Slate is a retired artist and genetic counselor. She has worked as a ceramic potter and art teacher for 30 years and held positions in neuro-genetic clinics at Mass General Hospital and Mount Auburn Hospital. She has been a summer resident on the Island since the 1960s and moved to Aquinnah full-time in 2019. She has a husband, three daughters and four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way.

She said her love of the Island motivated her to run for office.

“I will be a new voice on the Island if elected. I am going to be a person that one would be very easy to get a hold of, I would be receptive, dedicated and willing to learn about issues that I don’t know,” she said.

If elected, Ms. Slate said she would focus on creating affordable housing and combating climate change.

“The first [priority] is housing, and the second is climate change. The problem with housing in Aquinnah, aside from the lack thereof, is that some people are paying almost 50 per cent of their income for housing,” she said.

She also said she also hoped to increase collaboration with other Island towns.

“We could do more with other towns. My idea is more on the focus of communication and collaboration,” she said.

Board of Health

James Glavin has served on the board of health for nine years, eight as chairman, and has extensive professional experience in engineering septic systems.

He said he hoped to be re-elected to the board to continue his work keeping the town safe and healthy. He cited his decade of experience.

“I think I do bring something to the board, I bring the experience which is invaluable,” he said.

He cited managing Covid in town as his greatest achievement, noting his role helping to establishing a town testing program and publish a health newsletter for residents.

“I think we’ve done an exemplary job with Covid. There have been no serious cases and no deaths in our town,” he said.

Katherine (Kathy) Newman is a retired psychologist with 20 years of experience. She currently serves as Aquinnah’s appointed representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Ms. Newman said the pandemic inspired her to run for office, noting specifically her disappointment in Aquinnah’s choice to implement pandemic measures separately from the rest of the Island.

“This past year has been quite an awakening for me in the realm of public health,” she said. ”My goal is to bring Aquinnah back into the fold of the Island community and engage with other towns, whether it’s a pandemic, a lone star tick or an upcoming storm that might challenge our safety. That’s why I’m running for the board.

If elected, she said she would focus on combating climate change, managing tick-borne illnesses and mitigating cyanobacteria presence in the ponds.