In The Arena

In the Arena: Surprising primary

The votes have been counted in Tuesday’s Greenfield Precinct 5 Town Council primary and I’m not sure anyone quite expected the final outcome — including the top vote-getter.

“I really didn’t expect to finish first,” candidate Penny Ricketts said. “This precinct scared me a little bit, and I don’t know what swayed people to vote for me, but I didn’t expect to do well.”

Ricketts finished with 126 votes, followed by Rob Wainstein with 115. Retired firefighter John Lyford finished with 41 votes, a number I have to think might have been higher had he been more amenable to the televised debate proposed. The primary sets up what might be, with all due respect to Mark Wisnewski and Isaac Mass, the most intriguing council race of the year.

I know there are people trying to analyze what these results mean. Is the Ricketts win a harbinger of a “change” year for the council? Is a 20 percent turnout really enough to gauge what precinct voters actually think? I’ve asking myself that same question, as are others, including a few whom I dare say might have held a different view had Penny finished out of the running.

What I think makes this race intriguing is the precinct itself, which has an an interesting mix of people of varying income levels, while, at the same time, serving has a home base for a number of high-powered, politically active liberals — most notably sprawlbuster Albert Norman, who kept a low-profile during this primary.

That makes perfect sense, given how politically hot Norman still is after the media fallout from his involvement in a series of proposed changes to the town’s wetlands protection law. He was nowhere to be found this time, but a few of his long-time allies were not nearly as subtle, as evidenced by some of the names on several pro-Wainstein letters in the “Readers Write” section of this newspaper. While it may be true that these people may have written these letters on their own and not at Al’s behest, that doesn’t make their connection to him any less real. What impact that had on Wainstein’s vote total, plus or minus, I really don’t know. But it wasn’t enough to knock him out of final.

If Wainstein weren’t Norman’s choice in the primary, I think we can probably assume he is now, given who he’s running against.

Let’s remember that, despite their political differences, Ricketts initially approached Norman seeking an endorsement for the Precinct 5 seat. He turned her down flat, largely on the basis of their conflicting beliefs regarding big box retail development and because he was supporting “another candidate.” It’s doubtful Penny will take another bite at that apple, nor should she, because I believe retail politics — not connections — will be the key factor in deciding who succeeds David Singer in July.

“I spent a lot of time on the phone during that campaign, but that’s not going to work this time,” Ricketts said. “I’m going to have to go door to door to win this, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

And that might just be enough to make the sprawlbuster’s worst nightmare come true.

Behind in their reading

The only thing more surprising than Greenfield’s latest plan to purchase the former Lunt property was how many members of the Town Council seemed to know little about it.

In the day after the story broke about the town’s latest offer to buy the playing fields and take the original Lunt factory building through a “friendly” tax-title process, I spoke to four separate councilors, including three members of the Economic Development Committee, none of whom have any idea that Mayor Bill Martin had struck an agreement in principle to buy the fields — even though they were going to be asked to initially approve $660,000 in spending authority at this week’s meeting.

When asked how I found out about it, I replied that the details were in a memo that was part of the council’s Wednesday meeting packet, which, clearly, no one had looked at before my asking the question.

The only one who had at least tacit knowledge of the deal was Singer, who was more familiar with the details of the original $1.5 million plan, for which the council rescinded funding last month. He says his initial reaction to the new plan was optimism, especially as the town considers options for a new municipal complex.

“I’ve always felt that building had real promise as a new town hall,” Singer said. “There’s enough space there to house all of the town’s office, which could allow the current town hall to be converted into something new, maybe a museum.”

I’m sure there will be a lot more conversations before “moving day” occurs, ones which will hopefully — and more readily — include the people ultimately responsible for how this town spends its money.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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