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In The Arena

In the Arena: Voter education

Well, it appears Greenfield voters may have a reason to go the polls Tuesday after all.

“Your only message seems to be that you want to ‘move forward’ without change. What? You offer your unquestioning allegiance to the current superintendent, who clearly loves such toadies. ... I’m running to end the nonsense that you represent. Your candidacy is a divisive and silly embarrassment.”

I’m not sure we’ve seen anyone detonate themselves politically the way Greenfield School Committee candidate Wesley Blixt did this week when he launched that diatribe against write-in opponent Donna Gleason on her campaign’s Facebook page. It’s rare to see a political candidate so willingly substitute raw, uncontrolled emotion for political common sense a week before an election that he should win in a walk. Instead, he finds himself in a race that he may still win, but could very well lose.

I am less concerned with Blixt’s tactical error than I am the tone of his comments, that reveal a level of vitriol which may prove alarming to some voters. Though he has apologized to Gleason, Blixt has not backed off on his position that the system needs reform, which has effectively turned this race from a cake-walk into a referendum on Superintendent Susan Hollins and the progress of the Greenfield Public Schools.

Some may see this as good strategy. Hollins has certainly made enemies in her time in Greenfield. But I don’t get the sense that there is a lot of public angst about the schools — certainly not to the level we saw back in the days of the “Little Dig” and the mysterious $2 million mid-year budget gap.

I think if you talk to most people, they’d probably say the schools are not perfect, but seem steady and even improving. The data may not bear that out, but it almost doesn’t matter, because politics is about perception, and Hollins has done a good job of shaping a narrative that Greenfield schools are coming back. Part of the reason is that she is a pretty good politician, and has managed to deflect controversy or, at the very least, not dump a bunch of gasoline on it when it flares up.

There are others who feel differently, and a couple of them happen to be on the current School Committee. Maryelen Calderwood has been tangling with Hollins over the virtual school and a number of other issues, battles that seem to have grown increasingly personal. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a big deal, except that it is very likely that Calderwood will be holding the chair’s gavel if Blixt and Margaret Betts are elected on Tuesday.

That might be good news for those unhappy with the schools, but it won’t be for people who want to see things get done, and it certainly won’t be for Hollins, who is likely to spend her last year in Greenfield at the mercy of a board directed by someone who really doesn’t like her very much.

Enter Gleason, a unabashed Hollins ally, who feels the schools are improving, and has no interest in taking part in the political blood sport that sometimes threatens to engulf the politics of education.

“Why do I have to negotiate a political minefield?” Gleason said. “This School Committee is not supposed to be about Susan Hollins, it’s supposed to be about the children and the taxpayers. That’s all I’m interested in, and what I’m going to focus on if elected.”

It’s going to take a pretty sizable mobilization to make that happen, and a lot depends on who shows up at the Grange on Tuesday, and in what numbers.

What I learned

I must say I found myself mesmerized by this week’s Greenfield Town Council meeting, and not just because it validated my hypothesis that the Jim Allen controversy had more to do with his position on big box development and not a perceived mistreatment of opponents of the French King Highway project.

I’ll have more to say about this little gathering next week, but I was especially intrigued by some of the new information that was revealed that night. For example, I had no idea that former Town Councilor and ZBA member Mark Maloney “didn’t care” about the potential impact a biomass or big box store would have on his hometown, as alleged by Councilor Norman Hirschfeld. I also didn’t know that, despite spending six years on the Conservation Commission, Tom Dehoyos was “anti-environmentalist,” something that council Vice-President Mark Wisnewski revealed right before the council rejected Dehoyos’ re-nomination.

And who could forget late ZBA Chair Roy Cowdrey, whom, according to sprawlbuster Albert Norman, was the subject of a clandestine effort to remove him from that board when his health began to fail.

I guess this is what now passes for the “new normal” in Greenfield politics — or at least it will until the supposed “silent majority” finally decides to do something about it.

See you at the polls.

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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