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Amherst council candidate expresses ‘disbelief’ in endorsement



Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2021

AMHERST — A Town Council candidate is taking exception to an endorsement she received from a political action committee that recently announced its support for her and others running in the Nov. 2 town election.

Ellisha Walker, co-chairwoman of the Community Safety Working Group and candidate for one of three available at-large seats on the 13-member council, issued a statement Monday that Amherst Forward’s support for her candidacy was given without her permission.

“Institutions like Amherst Forward have helped to solidify the polarity in Amherst, and I am being tokenized in service to that polarization,” wrote Walker, 28, who identifies as multiracial. “Tokenized for my skin, youth and demeanor rather than for the substance within me — the substance that was bred and thrived in Amherst advocating for equity and authentic racial justice.”

Walker added that her concerns have not been directly addressed by Amherst Forward, which she sent an email to after learning, in “disbelief,” that she had received its endorsement.

“Amherst has not engaged BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and other marginalized voices in the decisions that impact these communities the most and Amherst Forward did not engage this BIPOC candidate and endorsed her without her agreement,” Walker wrote.

In its endorsements, Amherst Forward stated that a questionnaire sent to all candidates was a factor in its decisions, but there were other considerations, including a candidate’s public statements on issues, interactions with community members and records of public service.

Katherine Appy, chair of Amherst Forward, said Monday that her organization will continue to encourage voters to elect Walker.

“We chose to endorse Ms. Walker because we were impressed with her leadership of the Community Safety Working Group, her interactions with councilors and community members alike,” Appy said. “She seems smart, thoughtful and collaborative. Ms. Walker represents the kind of candidate that we would like to see on a Town Council and who we believe will help move Amherst forward.”

Also endorsed for the at-large Town Council seats by Amherst Forward were Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg, both incumbents. The other challengers, former School Committee member Vira Douangmany Cage and longtime Town Meeting member Vincent O’Connor, did not win the PAC’s support.

Besides not filling out the questionnaire, Walker adds that she never had a conversation with a representative of Amherst Forward, a group that she contends upholds the status quo by speaking for BIPOC on a platform of equity while silencing, eliminating and oppressing BIPOC voices.

Walker, an Amherst native who’s raising three children, notes that she was in a school system that produces activists and was involved in the People of Color United and Minority Student Achievement Network groups, and received inspiration from community members of color who have helped her advocate for social and racial justice. Having BIPOC community members elected to Town Council will help represent the needs of BIPOC residents.

“We must have representation,” Walker wrote. “To truly value and invest in equity and racial justice, these voices must be in the rooms and at the tables where decisions are being made for them and their community. Equity looks like including anti-racism publicly and substantively, across the board, not just in conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

School Committee member Ben Herrington, who received an Amherst Forward endorsement two years ago even though he had sought to run independently of political action committees, said he understands the concerns candidates have in getting PAC endorsements. Serving on the panel, though, he has not faced pressure from Amherst Forward.

“I’ve been able to remain as independent as I started off as,” Herrington said. “The people I’m beholden to are the people who also live at the apartment complexes.”

Walker’s campaign is about challenging the status quo, she wrote.

“I want to leave a legacy of amplifying the voices of the most marginalized community members,” Walker wrote. “BIPOC, immigrant, low-income, renters and other community members who have long been disengaged by town government but are the most impacted by the decisions the council makes.”