Voters Go to the Polls Tuesday; County Charter Decision Due
By IAN FEIN
While widespread disapproval with the direction of the country threatens to unseat the Republican-controlled Congress in the nationwide election next week, growing unhappiness with Dukes County government on the Island has created an opportunity for Vineyard voters to bring about change on the regional level.
In many ways a referendum on county leadership, the state election ballot on Tuesday will present Island voters with three different decisions that could prove pivotal to the future of regional governance on Martha's Vineyard.
Along with a crowded race for four seats on the seven-member county commission, the election includes a ballot question seeking to create a group that would reexamine the structure and role of Dukes County government. Voters will also choose from a slate of candidates to sit on the charter study commission, if it is approved.
Polls on Tuesday will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in every town. With a high-profile gubernatorial race and contested elections for all four federal and state congressional seats on the Vineyard ballot, town clerks on the Island are expecting a sizeable turnout.
The overall number of roughly 11,700 registered voters on the Vineyard is down slightly from the last state election two years ago - when a huge outpouring of people cast ballots in the 2004 presidential election - but town clerks this week said they have received a similar amount of absentee ballots, typically a forecast for overall turnout.
"You wouldn't believe how busy it's been," said Joanna Jernegan, who works in the Tisbury town clerk office. "It's rivalling two years ago."
Headlining the statewide ballot is a historic race for Massachusetts governor, where the two leading candidates would be either the first African-American or first woman to earn the highest elected office in the commonwealth.
Democratic nominee Deval L. Patrick holds a substantial lead in the polls heading into the final days of the campaign, reflecting other races across the country where Democrats were expected to retake control from Republicans. Despite their liberal leanings, Massachusetts voters have consistently elected Republican governors since 1990.
The Republican nominee on the ballot next week, Kerry Healy, is currently the lieutenant governor to Gov. Mitt Romney, who did not seek reelection. Independent candidate Christy Mihos and Green-Rainbow candidate Grace Ross are also running for the four-year gubernatorial term, but are not expected to upset either of the two major party nominees.
Back in Dukes County, which encompasses the Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, the county commission race could also see a dramatic realignment of power. With 10 people running for four seats, and only three of them incumbents, a new majority bloc could be swept into office. A number of the challengers seeking four-year terms are outspoken critics of the current county leadership.
In what is perhaps more significant for the long-term future of the county, voters also face Question Four on the back of the ballot which, if approved, would create a charter commission to study the present structure of Dukes County government and make recommendations for improvement. One possible recommendation would be the dissolution of county government - a step that half of the 14 counties in the commonwealth have already taken.
Dukes County voters went through a similar charter process in the early 1990s, when the then-study commission recommended that the county government be restructured instead of abolished.
The optimism surrounding that county charter has not lasted, however, and some town leaders in recent years have grown increasingly disillusioned with what they describe as an unnecessary and costly layer of county bureaucracy. Dukes County supporters say the regional government serves an important role on the Vineyard and Elizabeth Islands, where town governments can serve parochial interests.
The new charter commission, if approved, would be made up of county commission members, the chairman of the county advisory board, and 15 at-large members elected by Dukes County voters next week. Twelve candidates for the charter commission appear on the front side of the ballot, and another five have announced their write-in candidacy.
Also on the ballot Tuesday are 11 candidates for the nine elected seats on the Martha's Vineyard Commission, which is separate and distinct from county government. Because each of the six Vineyard towns must have one elected representative on the 21-member regional planning agency, but cannot have more than two, the only candidates that face a contest on the ballot next week are the four from Oak Bluffs. Voters from across the Island will hand two-year terms to two of the four candidates from that town.
The other contested race specific to the Island ballot next week is for Dukes County clerk of courts, where challenger Daniel James Larkosh, Democrat of West Tisbury, is looking to unseat longtime incumbent Joseph E. Sollito Jr., Republican of Chilmark, who has held the clerical post for three decades, or five consecutive six-year terms.
On Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill, incumbent Democratic legislators are facing challenges in all four state and federal congressional races on the Vineyard ballot.
State Rep. Eric T. Turkington has a rematch from the 2004 contest for the Cape and Islands seat, when he defeated West Tisbury resident James R. Powell with more than 70 per cent of the vote. According to official expenditure reports, Mr. Powell, a Republican and Spanish teacher at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, spent more than $5,000 of his own money in that unsuccessful campaign, and has contributed another $2,000 toward the race this year. Representative Turkington, who has represented the Vineyard, Nantucket and Falmouth in the state house since 1989, has spent roughly $9,000 on his campaign this year, all of it raised in donations.
Seeking a fourth term representing the Cape and Islands in the state senate, Sen. Robert A. O'Leary will face off against Barnstable defense attorney Ricardo (Ric) Barros next week. A Republican and former U.S. Marine, Mr. Barros has funded more than $9,000 of the $30,000 he has spent on his campaign, while Senator O'Leary has spent a little over $36,000 in donated funds. The contest is significantly less intense than two years ago, when Senator O'Leary and his opponent, a well-funded Republican doctor from Yarmouth, together spent more than a half-million dollars on the race.
Cong. William Delahunt did not face a challenge two years ago for the Tenth Congressional District in Massachusetts, which includes the Cape, Islands and South Shore. He has represented the district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1997, and will face off in the election next week against Jeffrey K. Beatty, a Republican security consultant from Harwich, and Peter A. White, an Independent candidate and motel manager from West Yarmouth.
The second most senior member of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy next week is seeking another six-year term. His Republican challenger, Kenneth G. Chase, a foreign language school director from Belmont, was only one year old when Senator Kennedy first took Senate office 44 years ago. Massachusetts voters in 1962 elected Senator Kennedy to finish the last two years of the term of his brother, the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who had been elected U.S. President.
Another statewide race with possible interest to Vineyard voters is the open contest for Massachusetts attorney general, pitting Martha M. Coakley, a Democratic district attorney in Middlesex County and West Tisbury summer resident, against Lawrence (Larry) Frisoli, a Republican attorney from Belmont. The current attorney general, Thomas Reilly, chose not to seek reelection after eight years, in order to pursue what proved to be an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
The final contested regional election on the ballot next week is a three-way race for the southeastern Massachusetts seat on the governor's council, an eight-member elected body that approves gubernatorial judicial appointments. Incumbent councillor Carole A. Fiola, Democrat of Fall River, faces challenges by Philip C. Paleologos, Republican of New Bedford, and Paul R. Viveros, an independent candidate from Fall River.
Vineyard voters will also weigh in on three statewide ballot questions next week.
If approved, Question Two would allow candidates in state elections to be nominated by more than one political party or designation. Under current state law, candidates can only receive a single nomination and appear on the ballot under one party or designation. Supporters say the measure would allow voters to support third parties without splitting a majority vote, while critics argue it would lead to voter confusion.
Question Three, if approved, would allow licensed private home child care providers to form a union and bargain collectively with the state-subsidized child care system, instead of negotiating such terms on a case-by-case basis.
The most controversial of the proposed laws, Question One would allow local towns to permit the sale of wine in grocery stores and supermarkets. Supporters note that Massachusetts is one of only 16 states that prevent most grocery stores from selling wine, while opponents argue the measure could result in increased underage drinking.
On the Vineyard, where four of six towns prohibit any type of alcohol sale, the ballot question would only apply in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. And if the ballot question is approved statewide, selectmen in those towns could still deny permit requests from food stores.
Nearly all of the Island package stores are opposed to the measure. Benjamin Hall Jr., who owns Great Harbor Gourmet and Spirits in Edgartown, said the new law could have a serious impact on his and other small stores on the Vineyard that rely heavily on wine sales.
"This is a very sneaky way for the large, big-box retailers to try to rewrite the laws on alcohol licensing that have worked well in the state for over 70 years," Mr. Hall said. "Stop and Shop will be first guys in line for the new license. What's that going to do for the Island?"