Amherst Forward may endorse council candidates

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Thursday, July 19, 2018

AMHERST — A group of residents who pushed for the town to adopt a new charter and supported construction of twin elementary schools at the Wildwood School site may endorse a slate of candidates for the 13-member Town Council.

The recently formed Amherst Forward, which has disseminated a questionnaire to the 34 candidates for Town Council whose names will appear on the Sept. 4 primary, meets Monday to decide whether to give formal support to those running. The primary will narrow the field to 26 candidates in advance of the Nov. 6 election

Johanna Neumann, chairwoman of the Amherst for All pro-charter campaign, said Friday that discussions are ongoing about how to be involved in the election process.

“We’re interested in providing our expertise for candidates who share our vision for Amherst,” Neumann said.

Amherst Forward developed a list of core principles it hopes candidates will support. Most of these principles, Neumann said, are those enshrined in the town’s master plan, adopted in 2010.

These include providing high-quality services, including modern school buildings, and promoting density in downtown and village centers so that there is a strong tax base to support services.

The questionnaire focused on these, such as asking whether candidates would “support zoning bylaw changes to densify downtown and village centers,” would vote in favor of a bond for a new school building and sought to learn how well they understood the need for long-range major capital projects, from replacing two elementary schools and renovating and expanding the Jones Library to constructing a new fire station in South Amherst and a new Department of Public Works headquarters.

Even should endorsements happen, Neumann said Amherst Forward is not a political action committee and has no intent to make direct financial contributions to any campaign. It is possible the group will later incorporate, though, especially if any candidates request help with access to voter lists and other canvassing tools that Amherst for All used in its campaign.

Meg Gage, a former member of the Charter Commission, said she worries that having a group endorse a slate of candidates could affect the culture of town elections.

“They’re inviting voters to vote for 13 pre-vetted candidates,” Gage said.

Gage said the questionnaire was seeking black and white answers, when issues are more complex. This, she said, could lead to Amherst Forward supporting candidates with a narrow set of policies.

“This is changing the civility of how we do elections in Amherst,” Gage said.

Neumann said the 34 candidates for Town Council features decent diversity in terms of gender, but could do better in other areas.

“I think it’s a pretty strong field of candidates, but doesn’t fully represent the diversity of the town,” Neumann said.

Gage said the field is an interesting cross section of Amherst and that she is excited about several of those who are running.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.