Every vote counted in Brookline’s town election May 2, which featured some close races for key townwide positions and major ballot questions.
A Select Board seat was decided by just 26 votes out of nearly 12,000 cast. One of the ballot questions was decided by just 54 votes.
And despite rainy weather on Tuesday, voters cast 12,389 ballots, the highest participation in a May town election since at least 2000, which is as far back as the Town Clerk’s online records go.
The turnout seemed to be driven primarily by the hotly contested ballot Question 1, which called for raising property taxes in order to rebuild the Pierce School.
“My sense is that the main driver of turnout was the Pierce School question,” said Chris Dempsey, a Town Meeting member and former official in the Deval Patrick administration. “That brought out what school overrides often bring out, which is a set of voters who tend to be a little bit younger, and who have children in the public school system.”
Voters approved Question 1, which calls for spending $174 million in taxpayer money to rebuild the Pierce School, which serves grades K-8. Question 2a, an operating override aimed at bringing in $11.98 million to fill gaps in the municipal budget by raising property taxes, also passed.
Those two results were a major victory for Brookline’s school system, which had warned of dire cuts if the override failed and has been pushing to rebuild Pierce for years.
“On Tuesday, May 2, 2023, the Town once again said “YES!” to Brookline education,” wrote superintendent Linus Guillory in an email to community members. “By approving both an operating override and debt exclusion override, Brookline has reaffirmed its mission to provide an extraordinary education for every child in 21st century learning spaces.”
For Pierce, the next step is a Town Meeting vote to approve taking on debt for the project in May, which will require a ⅔ vote. If that article passes, which is likely, the project will move forward. Demolition is scheduled to start in February 2024, and students will be moved out of the school during February break that year. The relocation plan for students is still under discussion, but the school system intends to provide transportation for students who need it, said Public Schools of Brookline spokesperson Michael Chan. Under the proposed schedule, the project would be complete by 2027.
Question 2b, which proposed tacking $1.8 million onto the override in order to fund a municipal compost collection service, failed by just 54 votes, 6,012 to 6,066.
Voters also approved Question 3, which caps the number of retail marijuana licenses in town at four, by a vote of 7,460 to 4,705.
Select Board and townwide races
Incumbent John VanScoyoc and new candidate Paul Warren were elected to the Select Board, the town’s executive branch.
VanScoyoc received the most votes, 6,046. Warren narrowly beat out Arden Reamer, another newcomer, winning the second seat on the board by just 26 votes, 5,843 to 5,817.
The race for a one-year seat on the School Committee was an easy victory for Natalia Linos, who had been endorsed by all eight sitting school committee members. She won 6,567 votes to competitor Christopher Mutty’s 2,461.
And in the contested race for Brookline Housing Authority board member, incumbent Susan Cohen, a long-time housing lawyer, narrowly won over Kimberley Richardson, a social worker and public housing tenant. The tally was 4,929 to 4,829.
The election also featured races for more than a third of the seats in Town Meeting, Brookline’s legislative branch.
In several precincts, slates of candidates had surprising success, managing to unseat incumbents by grouping up and campaigning together.
For example, five candidates running as a slate in Precinct 13, made up of one incumbent and four newcomers, won five seats and knocked off four incumbents in the process. Michael Rubenstein, David Mendels, Michael Best and Laura Knott were elected for the first time, and Werner Lohe re-elected.
Another slate in Precinct 5, made up of two incumbents and three newcomers, won five seats. They managed to unseat incumbents including former Select Board chair Neil Wishinsky, a fixture in town politics.
The Precinct 5 group was focused on housing and climate issues, said Carlos Rios, a 29-year-old first-time candidate who was among those elected.
“I have my own personal drives and platforms, but we wanted to make sure whenever we knocked on doors, we spoke about the whole group,” he said. “The only way for all five of us to win was for all five of us to canvas for each other.”
Housing issues are key
For two advocacy groups which have butted heads over housing issues in Brookline, the election was a chance to gauge their influence in town ahead of important votes coming up later this year on the MBTA Communities Act.
Brookline for Everyone, which advocates for an influx of multi-family housing in Brookline, had 52 out of 64 (or 81.25%) of its endorsed candidates win seats.
Brookline by Design, which advocates for a deliberate planning process around housing in Brookline, had 45 out of 72 (or 62.5%) of endorsed candidates won seats.
Those numbers don’t tell the whole story; Brookline by Design has a strong base of support among incumbents who weren’t up for re-election this year, and some candidates were endorsed by both groups.
But it’s a tangible shift from last year’s election, in which Brookline By Design endorsees won a majority of seats in the legislative body.
Brookline by Design endorsees still hold three of the five seats on the Select Board; both VanScoyoc and Warren were endorsed by the group, and Select Board chair Bernard Greene is on the group’s steering committee.
10th Suffolk State Rep race
Bill MacGregor, a Brookline native who was previously chief of staff for former Boston City Councillor Matt O’Malley, won the race for state representative in the 10th Suffolk District, which includes Precinct 16 in South Brookline.
MacGregor was behind competitor Celia Segel in the Brookline portion of the district, but the vote count in the rest of the 10th Suffolk brought MacGregor to a comfortable victory.
MacGregor picked up 3,098 votes to Robert Orthman’s 2,303 and Segel’s 1,392, according to results posted by the city of Boston.
The district includes Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury and Roslindale.