Island Voters Head To The Polls Tuesday For Competitive Local Election Races

JohnCarl McGrady •

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Nantucket will hold one of its most competitive local elections in recent memory on Tuesday, highlighted by contested races for the Select Board, Planning Board, School Committee, Historic District Commission, Land Bank Commission, and Community Preservation Committee. Voters will also face a series of ballot questions asking for millions of dollars in tax overrides.

Over the last 10 years, more than 60 percent of town elections have been uncontested, but this year marks a sharp break from that trend, with six of the nine races featuring more candidates than seats. This includes races for several committees, such as the Community Preservation Committee, which have traditionally had few contested elections.


In the highest-profile election - the race for the lone seat up for grabs on the Select Board - incumbent chair Dawn Hill Holdgate squares off against perennial candidate Clifford Williams and former Select Board member Rick Atherton. Holdgate, a former HDC member, is asking voters to give her the chance to continue the Select Board’s ongoing efforts, including programs to increase affordable housing, reduce traffic congestion, and address the island’s senior care issues. Williams, an airway system specialist in his 13th run for the Select Board who previously served on the Finance Committee, has long campaigned on a return to what he calls the basics of governance. Atherton, who has also served on the Finance Committee, is seeking another term on the Select Board on the back of a platform highlighting government transparency, economic activity, and limited spending.


The Planning Board race features a two-way contest for chair David Iverson’s seat, with political outsider Campbell Sutton hoping to oust the incumbent. Iverson also serves on the Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission as one of the Planning Board’s representatives, along with the Affordable Housing Trust. Sutton, a former Planning Board alternate member, has emphasized her independence and potential to change the status quo. Iverson, for his part, represents continuity on the board and has become known in recent years for his moderate stance on short-term rentals, advocating for limited regulations as a member of the Short-Term Rental Work Group and Planning Board.


Three candidates vie for two seats on the School Committee, where incumbents Esmerelda Martinez and Laura Gallagher Byrne contend with challenger Diane Flaherty, the owner of a taxi company. Martinez, the first Hispanic woman ever elected to any town board on Nantucket, won her first term in 2021 by a large margin and hopes to build on that success this year. Nearly half the student population on the island is Hispanic, and Martinez, who is also bilingual, remains their only representative on the School Committee. Gallagher Byrne, the director of theater and education at the Nantucket Dreamland, has called for an increase in the number of school resource officers on campus and improved student achievement goals. Their challenger, Flaherty, hopes to reduce the school system’s reliance on computers and has put safety at the front and center of her campaign.


With Diane Coombs choosing not to run again for the Historic District Commission, there is a two-way race for the open seat, and both candidates have experience in historic preservation. Angus McLeod, an architect and member of the Nantucket Historical Commission, has Coombs’s endorsement and has voiced concerns about the increasingly modern style of some island developments. Joseph Paul, an associate member of the HDC, and also an architect, has stressed the uniqueness of Nantucket’s architecture.


Kelly Steffan, a former member of political action group ACK•Now’s advisory council, is trying for a second consecutive year to gain a seat on the Land Bank Commission after coming up short in last year’s effort against four-term incumbent Allen Reinhard. This year, the incumbent is John Stackpole, who has spent 20 years on the commission. Steffan is joined by another challenger, Bartlett’s Farm president John Bartlett.


In the final contested election, incumbents Neville Richen and Tim Soverino are joined by landscaper and Nantucket Pools owner Jesse Dutra, along with ‘Sconset resident Kit Murphy for two seats on the Community Preservation Committee. The races for Harbor and Shellfish Advisory Board, Board of Water Commissioners, and Moderator are uncontested.


The ballot questions mostly seek funding for local projects, aiming to override property tax limits to repair Newton Road, maintain Tom Nevers Park and the Jetties Beach tennis courts, expand a cell at the landfill, and improve some local government facilities. The town also hopes to fund new equipment for the Department of Public Works and the Fire Department. Other questions, including ones aimed at funding a study to supply employee housing on Fairgrounds Road and buy the former Surfside Lifesaving Station on Western Avenue, were rendered null when they were defeated at Town Meeting. Without support from Town Meeting, overrides cannot pass no matter their margin of victory at the polls, though there is precedent for leveraging success at the ballot box into future support at Town Meeting. After its initial defeat at Town Meeting and subsequent support in the town elections, town officials managed to guide a proposal for renovating the Nobadeer playing fields through the special town meeting last fall.

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