Voters will head to the polls Tuesday for Nantucket’s annual town election highlighted by a competitive four-way race for two open Select Board seats, a contested race for a seat on the Land Bank, and a series of ballot questions seeking nearly $34 million in tax overrides for local projects.
In the Select Board race, incumbent Malcolm MacNab, a former physician who previously served on the Board of Health, is running for his first full term after winning a a special election last November to fill the seat vacated by former Select Board member Melissa Murphy. Fellow incumbent and Select Board chair Jason Bridges opted not to run for another term, so at least one challenger will win election.
Two of the challengers have run for Select Board before, including perennial candidate and airway systems specialist Clifford Williams. Williams, who has campaigned 11 previous times for a seat on the Select Board, finished just ahead of fellow challenger Kathy Richen in the November special election won by MacNab. Both Williams and Richen have experience in local government. Williams served on the Finance Committee, and Richen spent much of her career in the Town’s Finance Department before retiring. The fourth candidate, Tom Dixon, assistant director of Nantucket’s Food Fuel and Rental Assistance program, previously served in state government as a legislative liaison to Rep. Dylan Fernandes. Dixon is the affordable housing advocate on the Short Term Rental Work Group formed after a contentious vote at last year’s Town Meeting to study the issue of short-term rentals on Nantucket.
At a “Meet the Candidates” event organized by the Nantucket Civic League, Dixon pleaded for more time for the group to finish its work. “I would implore the community to allow us to finish up our work and send something to [the] special Town Meeting in November,” he said, emphasizing the progress the work group has made. He was joined by Richen.
MacNab disagreed, referencing the group’s initial deadline to provide the town with a proposal, which they missed. “When the working group failed to meet their deadline, I think [the Select Board] should have just said ‘thank you for your volunteering, you’ve done the best you could,’ and disbanded it, and we as a Select Board should have taken it on ourselves,” he replied. His concerns were echoed by Williams.
All four candidates stressed the importance of affordable housing and improvements to local government, though they differed on whether the Town Meeting system should be reformed.
“I feel that Town Meeting is a precious thing. It’s democracy in action,” Richen said. “I really love Town Meeting.”
“I think that Town Meeting is great in many respects, but due to lack of participation, and that a lot of folks just can’t make it…it may not be the best way for Nantucket any longer,” Dixon said. “A Town Council, whether it’s nine members, seven members, elected by district, elected at large, that could be talked about and debated.” Dixon expressed his support for an article passed at the most recent Town Meeting that established a commission to study a Town Council form of government. Williams advocated for changes to the format of Town Meeting without abolishing it completely, and MacNab remained more neutral on the issue.
The only other competitive election is for a spot on the Land Bank Commission, where newcomer Kelly Steffen is challenging incumbent Allen Reinhard.
Steffen, who works for the non-profit Process First and has been involved with food security initiatives on Nantucket, has a background in community development and applied economics and is a former member of the political action group ACK•Now’s advisory council.
Reinhard is seeking reelection to his fifth term, and has served on the Land Bank since 2003. The former middle moors ranger for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, Reinhard has served on numerous boards and committees over the years, including the Select Board, the Cemetery Commission, the Roads and Right-of-Way Committee, among others.