Thoughts on the outcome of the Greenfield election

  • CHRIS COLLINS

Published: 11/8/2019 8:40:20 AM
Modified: 11/8/2019 8:40:08 AM

So, is it safe to classify Greenfield as a “progressive” community now?

I don’t think anyone is going to be confusing my hometown with San Francisco just yet, but it’s hard to argue that “the left” didn’t have a pretty good day in Tuesday’s Greenfield City elections.

Not only did the ballot questions on the new library and the Safe Cities Ordinance sail by wide margins, but Greenfield came within 186 votes of electing a mayor with less than two years government experience almost solely on the basis of her ideology.

This is not to besmirch Sheila Gilmour’s efforts. On the contrary. She ran a great race and has been the absolute “find” of this campaign season. And even though she came in second to Roxann Wedegartner, Gilmour’s performance has arguably set her up as the City Council’s leading progressive voice heading into the next term.

I think Gilmour herself would admit that she was and is still very much a babe in the woods when it comes to municipal governance. But what she lacked in experience in this campaign she more than made up for with hard work and very nearly pulled it off.

That doesn’t mean Greenfield won’t have a progressive in the corner office in January. Roxann Wedegartner is a life-long Democrat and is arguably the most liberal candidate ever elected to that office but is much closer to the center ideologically than Gilmour.

Wedegartner’s supporters bristle when I say that, but it happens to be true. Some of those same people would also likely argue that without Brickett Allis in the race, Wedegartner’s margin of victory would have been far greater. Maybe, but I’m happy to let the political “Monday Morning Quarteback types” chew on that over their morning coffee at Brad’s Place. The reality is that Wedegartner now has won the gig, which she may soon learn will be the easiest part of the mayoral experience.

We may have gotten a preview of that at last month’s council meeting, where DPW Superintendent Marlo Warner detailed some fairly scary numbers regarding projected increases in fixed costs for wastewater sludge and recycling removal, which, combined, have created an operational deficit for next year well in excess of $300,000, and that’s before Wedegartner puts a pen to paper on the fiscal 2021 budget.

Fortunately for “Her Honor-Elect,” she’ll encounter a City Council that will likely be a lot more politically pliable than it was for her predecessor. Allis, Isaac Mass, Wanda Muzyka-Pyfrom and Verne Sund are all leaving — the last thanks to the efforts of retired Deputy Fire Chief Ed Jarvis and his winning effort in Precinct 1 — and with them, likely an end to the ideological entrenchment which has dogged the council for the better part of two years.

This election did add some more conservative and experienced voices to the council. Former Mayor Christine Forgey and former Council President Dan Guin will be joining the mix as will the aforementioned Jarvis, Planning Board member Ginny Desorgher and political newcomer Phil Elmer, who classifies himself as a “Democrat,” but seems, from an ideological standpoint, to be middle of the road at best.

I expect these new voices will generate some interesting spending discussions over the next year, but nowhere near the hammer-and-tong budget hawkery experienced during the Mass-Allis era — which could be a good thing but also could be a bad thing, especially with a tax rate hovering around $24 per $1,000 with a new fire station plan still pending.

At minimum, I think Wedegartner can count on not being used as a political pinata the way Martin has been the last two budget cycles, unless it comes from the council’s left wing, which I’m pretty sure contains a couple of members of that body who do not view Wedegartner as a true progressive and will likely test her mettle when it comes to certain budget items. Even if that happens, I’m not expecting anywhere near the kind of rancor which made for a lot of long nights for the council during the last few trips around the sun.

The tone of that debate will likely be set by the new council president, whose identity remains an open question. The natural successor would ordinarily be the current Vice President Penny Ricketts, but I have the feeling there may be some other people who might have an interest in that job. Those conversations will likely be hovering in the background in the weeks leading up to what will I hope will be a new and exciting political era for a community which could certainly use it.

Chris Collins is a Greenfield native who has covered Franklin County politics on various platforms for close to a quarter of a century. He can be reached between election night recovery naps at sourcechris.collins@gmail.com.


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