Is Malcolm MacNab "Crazy" To Run For Select Board? His Friends Think So. But He's Running Anyway

JohnCarl McGrady •


After years serving on the Board of Health, with the last fiew mired in a string of controversies generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Malcolm MacNab knows a thing or two about how thankless it can be to serve in elected office. And he’s running for a seat on the Select Board anyway.

“My friends say I’m absolutely crazy,” MacNab said. “Maybe they’re right.”

Inside his home on North Water Street last week, MacNab shared more with the Current about his candidacy.

“I am very good at seeing both sides of the issue,” he said. “Some people say that’s a strength...some say it’s a weakness.”

In some ways, MacNab is quite similar to the other candidates seeking to replace departing Select Board member Melissa Murphy, a fact he was quick to acknowledge. He, like them, realizes the importance of affordable housing and worries about the ‘missing middle’—islanders who don’t qualify for affordable housing but still can’t afford a house on island.

He wishes the Town was moving faster to address the housing crisis, and while he supports the idea of a transfer fee that would raise funds to create more affordable housing opportunities, he’s wary of throwing money at projects that aren’t guaranteed to solve the island’s problems.

“I think we need to look at the data and make the best decision we can,” he said. “I like the idea of a land trust, but everyone thinks the solution to every problem is ‘just spend money,’ and I’m not going to support any policy until I know exactly how they’re going to spend that money.”

He supports regulations to prevent corporations from buying up year-round homes and turning them into short-term rentals but supports year-round residents renting their homes short-term to supplement their income. He considers the environment a priority—both the natural environment and the political one.

“No one listens to each other; they just shout and God, you’d think each side of an issue were devils,” he said, shaking his head and laughing. “This island has a culture of debate...but it should be a civil discussion.”

But MacNab stands out from the other candidates in ways that are hard to miss.

MacNab received both a PhD and an MD from Temple University, and a bio written by the Nantucket Historical Association in 2018 lists an impressive array of accomplishments, most of which MacNab dodged bringing up during his interview with the Current. The bio lists him as Board Certified in internal medicine and haematology and as a Fellow of the American College of Clinical Pharmacology and the American Heart Association. MacNab has also served on the board of the Maria Mitchell Association.

“I’m a scientist by training, and I’m very data-driven,” he said.

Thoughtful yet unafraid to voice his opinion, MacNab sounds like a scientist. He stands by his principles but pauses to ensure that the facts support everything he says—especially his more divisive opinions, such as his support for offshore wind.

“We all talk about how we want solar energy and wind energy, and yet no one seems to want solar panels or wind [turbines] anywhere. So yes, I’m for renewable energy, and there will be parts of that people aren’t going to like, but we have to balance it,” he said. “We need green energy in this country, and we can’t be selfish on Nantucket...I mean, what do you want to do, put a nuclear plant in Madaket?”

MacNab wants to listen to Nantucketers but isn’t worried about making everyone happy.

“Probably sometimes, a lot of people won’t like what I do,” he said. “Everyone won’t always be happy, but we have to do what’s best for the island.”

He applied that logic to the Select Board’s controversial decision to approve a contract with Michael Cranson as the new fire chief.

“You have to respect your administration...but sometimes the Board, whether that’s a non-profit board or the [Select] Board, has to disagree, because otherwise why have a board?”

Still, MacNab doesn’t know if he’ll run again in the spring if he wins. A political campaign is a lot of work, and as he said again toward the end of the interview, his friends already think he’s crazy.

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