In a low-turnout town election in both communities Whitman voters stayed the course with incumbents and candidates they knew, while Hanson residents voted in some new faces.
Incumbent Whitman Selectman Justin Evans, was the top vote getter in the vote-for-two race between four candidates, earning 698 votes, with fellow former Finance Committee member Shawn Kain garnering 695.
Retired Whitman Police Chief Scott Benton received 564 votes and Finance Committee member Rosemary Connolly took 350.
There were 1,308 voters — 11.78 percent of the town’s 11,114 registered voters casting ballots on the unseasonably hot day Saturday, May 21.
In Hanson, where there were two open seats — a three-year term opened up when Select Board member Kenny Mitchell decided against seeking re-election, and the two years remaining on the term of Select Board member Matt Dyer, who resigned because of a job change. Edwin Heal won the three year seat in a squeaker with 309 votes to former Selectman and Water Commissioner Don Howard’s 300.
Ann Rein received 341 votes to win the two-year post, besting Arlen Dias, who received 281 votes and newcomer Marc Benjamino who garnered 213. Health Board member Christopher O’Connell won 74 votes to finish a distant fourth.
There were 949 of Hanson’s 8,117 voters — 11.6 percent — casting ballots on May 21.
Whitman’s Select Board hopefuls said they were just that, if a little nervous, as well as they held signs near polling places.
Despite the murky start to the day, Evans and his supporters came prepared with sunscreen for sign-holding this year, after he and his wife Kathleen were badly sunburned three years ago.
“I think we’re doing alright,” he said as polls opened at Whitman Town Hall. “I’ve put the work in, hopefully the voters reward me.”
Benton was philosophical as he paused to speak with the Express after voting.
“I’m hoping,” he said. “The signs are out there and [I’ve] done the best I could. … I think all the candidates are qualified and good, I think it just comes down to a choice on what the people are looking for.”
Benton said that, win or lose he was glad he entered the race.
Kain, standing outside the Post Office, next door to Town Hall admitted to particular jitters Saturday.
“I’m nervous and excited,” Kain said, noting he had no idea how he would fare. “I’m in a positive vibe, but I’m definitely the underdog.”
But, he shared an anecdote that gave him hope later in the day.
“In the middle of the day yesterday, I was holding signs with my family and friends, wondering if I had done enough to get elected,” he stated in a letter to the Express, noting the heat was getting to everyone and he was beginning to wonder if it would keep people away from the polls.
Then he noticed a conversation his sister, Shannon, was having with an elderly neighbor on a bench on the Town Hall lawn.
“Mr. Schofield walked from Corthell Ave, using a walker, in the heat, to cast a vote in a local election; a veteran. We were all really moved by this,” Kain said. “Shannon drove him home and I found myself reflecting on his actions for the rest of the day. ‘Had I done enough to get elected?’ wasn’t so relevant after that,” he said.
“They say that finding meaning is about being part of something bigger than yourself,” Kain said. “I felt like I was part of something bigger, accompanied by a strong sense of reverence for our community. I am humbled by the support I received and I appreciate the kind words.”
Connolly indicated Monday that she doesn’t run to necessarily win rather than to inform. She said voters had expressed to her concerns that people can afford to live their day-to-day.
“We know that water rates are up, we know the recession is coming and we know prices of things are just climbing and they’re not going to stop, and we need to stabilize and come together,” she said.
Hanson’s newest Select Board members Heal and Rein signal something of a change in direction for the Select Board.
Heal said he had a “relatively high confidence” going into Election Day that he would win the three-year seat.
“I’m for all the citizens of the town — the people that vote and the people that don’t vote,” he said, adding that getting more information out to the town was a priority. “There are a lot of people that don’t vote and don’t get involved because it’s very hard to know what’s going on, and everybody’s got their own opinion.”
He envisioned an “everything Hanson”-type of website, for example, with information of questions like how residents could dispose of mattresses where families can go for a walk, what restaurants and gas stations are in town or similar concerns.
“You look at Facebook, it’s ‘this guy said this guy said that,’ but there is always a truth,” he said. “There’s Democrat, there’s Republican, there’s conservative, there’s liberal, but there is a truth.”
He said that was a goal of his, win or lose.
“I think I’m going to do well, but I hope everybody does well,” he said.
Woerdeman said he was optimistic about the vote.
“I’m doing good, we’ve got the tactical campaign Jeep out,” he said, gesturing to his vehicle festooned with campaign signs. “It should be a good turnout — it should be low, but it should be good.”
He said getting the economy going and sound, with the addition of new businesses was a goal of his.
“Without that tax revenue, nothing else that we want to do happens,” he said, noting the marijuana business bylaw was a touchy issue for some people.
Challenger O’Connell, who was chairman of the Board of Health, a position for which he was not running for re-election, said he had no idea how he would do headed into Election Day.
“Four people running for a two-year spot is really pretty rare,” he said. “It seems the Selectmen are trying to take over the Board of Health, where it should be an autonomous body.”
None of the candidates connected with the health board won seats on the Select Board. Where the key issue of the race was concern, he said it was a financial one.
“We have to find revenues for the town,” he said. “I don’t know what people didn’t understand when the FinCom Chairman told them there was going to be a $1.2 million deficit next year that isn’t going to be covered with free cash like this year.”
He said approval of expanded marijuana business in town, as sought by the current manufacturing license-holder has already proven his commitment to work with the town.
Health Board candidate Eric Twiss, who lost out to his cousin, Jamie Rhynd, said he didn’t know what to expect from his first campaign experience, but he felt an open seat was a good opportunity to run.
Twiss, who received 493 votes is in the food service profession. Rhynd, who is an RN and certified nurse practitioner earned 697 votes for the win.
Her family, holding signs for her while she was off talking to someone, were confident of her chances — and they were right.
“I am thrilled to have been elected to the Board of Health,” she said Monday. “ to my cousin and opponent Eric Twiss on a solid campaign. Thanks to the town of Whitman for putting your faith in me. I look forward to serving our community.”
“She’s the right person for the job,” her sister Nicole Nassrella. “Jamie just wants to do Board of Health, she doesn’t have other aspirations.”
“Congratulations to my cousin Jamie, her and I both ran positive clean campaigns,” he said after the votes were announced. “I’m glad we gave the voters two good options. She will do a great job for the town.”
In the race for a seat on the Whitman Board of Assessors, Christine MacPherson was the winner with 666 votes to Britanny Cavallo’s 452.
MacPherson works in an assessor’s office and said she has waited for a position to open in Whitman.
Hanson voters elected Melissa Pinnetti, forensic psychiatric social worker, to the Board of Health. She ran because she felt the mental health of our citizens and our children received minimal consideration during the pandemic.
“I’m feeling pretty good, I’m hopeful,” she said while sign-holding outside the Hanson Middle School polling location Saturday.
“I think we’ve run a pretty strong campaign. … I think the last two years have highlighted how important the Board of Health really is, particularly in small towns. People don’t think about it … just how important the role is and how much power they have.”
She declined to give further comment after her win.
“I’m going to hold off on commenting so that I can focus on getting to work for the citizens of Hanson,” she said in an email to the Express Monday.