I’m running for Town Meeting in Amherst this year, and I’m pumped about it. Once every ten years, after redistricting, all 240 seats in Town Meeting are up for reelection, and 2012 is that year. There are 24 seats in each of the ten precincts. The candidates receiving the eight highest vote totals get 3-year seats, the next eight get 2-year seats, and the third eight get 1-year seats. Half the precincts have fewer candidates than seats, but mine (Precinct 9) has the most, with 41 candidates for 24 seats. Twenty-two of those candidates are incumbents (“Candidates for re-election”). For those candidates, we have the fantastic TallyVotes to guide us in our voting. TallyVotes doesn’t record every vote (most of which are voice votes) but it does record most of the important ones. If you’re an Amherst voter, check it out. It really informs the democratic process. You can even note your preferred vote and weight which votes are most important to you, thus producing a score for each candidate. I figured out 10 of my 24 votes through this method.
But what about the new folks, like myself? Some people I know, and some people I generally know the perspective of from quotes in the Bulletin. But what about for the rest of the people? Here’s what the internet says about the other non-incumbents in my precinct:
- Ray La Raja: Political Science professor at UMass. Student love him, and he’s been officially recognized as one of the best teachers at UMass. He went to Harvard undergrad, Harvard Kennedy School for a masters, and got his PhD from UC Berkeley. He’s been teaching at UMass since 2002. He’s an “expert in campaign financing and reform measures” and serves on the Academic Advisory Board of the Campaign Finance Institute. Looks like he got tenure in 2008 (that’s what “Associate Professor” means, right?) He was a policy analyst at the DLC in the early 90s. Sounds pretty cool.
- Sara Ross: I’ve met her, I think! She and her husband Gareth renovated a house on Cottage Street, which now looks very modern and sleek, which is very cool but also out of place among the more normal-looking houses around it. The roof is literally covered with solar panels (which is pretty expensive to do). They have a couple kids. The Gazette article about their house says they’re in their mid-30s, and they moved to Amherst in 2008. Sara grew up in Amherst! Sara has a solar start-up called Sungage, and spoke at Ignite Amherst 2012. Gareth works at Mass Mutual in Springfield.
- Judy & Kerry Strayer: Judy works at Amherst College in facilities, where she is the Furnishings & Equipment Coordinator. There’s not much more on the internet about her. They were both quoted in a Gazette article about Hawthorne Farm by the Preschool, saying that there hasn’t been enough public input. Kerry was cited in another article from 2009 as pressuring the Select Board to enforce the (now ruled unconstitutional) zoning bylaw limiting unrelated persons living together. Coincidentally, Mr. La Raja was also mentioned in that article as renting to a higher-than-allowed number of students while he was on sabbatical. Kerry also went to a 2010 Public Works Committee meeting to ask for a sidewalk at Chestnut & East Pleasant, where he asserted Wildwood students cross the street. Personally, if I were going to Wildwood from, say, University Lodge, I would cross at Strong Street. Kerry runs in marathons and road races, acted in Hampshire Shakespeare’s 2007 production of King Lear, and the 2005 production of Midsummer Night’s Dream.
- Aaron Kropf was my 12th grade Physics teacher. I liked him a lot, and he told stories of his previous career in the music production industry.
- Simon Leutz is my next-door neighbor, and was my 9th grade World Civ teacher. He’s awesome, and has two young sons.
- Max Page is a Professor of Architecture & History at UMass. He teaches and writes about the design, development and politics of cities and architecture. He used to be President of the Massachusetts Society of Professors. He’s also a photographer, and grew up in Amherst. He’s been involved in homelessness issues, and other social justice issues. He’s really into public higher education. Adrienne Terrizzi conducted this mildly awkward (entirely because of her) interview with him on Amherst Media. Tells you everything you might want to know.
- Nancy Higginswas worried in 2010 about apartments proposed next to her property on Main Street at High Street. She attended an ARA meeting in early 2011 about Gateway, but did not speak. She is a member of the town’s Public Shade Tree Commission. Until recently, she was a circulation assistant at Frost Library at Amherst College. She is also a reverend at the Spiritual Healing Temple in South Deerfield.
- Charles Hopkins was chair of the Amherst Cultural Council in 2002. He is the director of Academic Support at PVPA. He is also one of the founders of Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Holyoke, which just approved by the MA Board of Education. The school’s link has all the professional information about him you could want.
- Ric McGinn works as a handyman and contractor. He now lives on Cottage St, but previously has run for town meeting from Canton Ave and also lived on McClellan St. Here he is loading Haiti relief items in his truck. He apparently has a daughter named Wyoming. I get a positive impression.
- Jerry Guidera is associated with Hills House LLC, an organization working to renovate a number of historic houses at the bottom of Gray Street. He’s also an Amherst native, according to this Boston Globe article (though he was born in Seville, Spain). He is also in charge of the Amherst office of family business the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies. He was a newspaper reporter for eight years. He, too, was interviewed on Amherst Media’s Neighbor to Neighbor, by Chamber of Commerce Director Tony Maroulis. Seems quite respectable. In the interview, he mentions he ran last year at the urging of Stephanie O’Keeffe after interacting with the planning staff & board in the rezoning process for Hills House.
- Rob Crowner has been involved in town government for years, most recently on the Planning Board. Previously he had also been on the Public Works Committee. Sounds like he’s leaving the Planning Board, and running for Town Meeting?
- Mathew Lebowitz is the founder & owner of MLCreative, a new media & design company. He’s from Connecticut. He likes Amherst Future on Facebook, and looks like he has a daughter in the Amherst Ultimate program.
- Michael Chesworth lives on Morrow Lane behind my house. I used to deliver the paper to his family when they lived in the Chestnut St house across from the Middle School. He’s an illustrator, mostly of children’s books.
- Sarah LaCour is a planner who works for Cinda Jones. She was a big advocate of the form-based zoning proposal in North Amherst. She’s married to Niels LaCour, former town planner, current UMass campus planner, incumbent Town Meeting member. I was a counselor at the Hitchcock center for their two kids back in 2007. They were sweet kids.
- Shavahn Best wrote a letter to the editor of the Gazette in 2007, upset with their coverage about two black men in the Amherst schools, Mark Prince & Talib Sadiq. She now seems to be involved with Occupy Amherst.
- Beverly Swihart seems to be a lawyer. Not much other information is available.
Those are all of the new candidates for Town Meeting from Precinct 9. Hope this was helpful! And again, those descriptions are just what I could glean from Google searches, so I am doubtless making mistakes and leaving things out. If you want to help out readers of this post with more information, please post a comment!