I remember when campaigns for local office started in September and went through the winter until May. Fundraisers were held before Christmas. Candidates were holding “ladies teas,” neighborhood meetings, and if you didn’t have a “captain” in every precinct, you were considered gone.
Somewhere along the way, all that changed and running for office became a 45-day sprint.
I’ll blame Dennis Williams, my friend and former colleague on the Board of Selectmen. He was the master of what he called the stealth campaign. Stay under the radar as long as you can and come out firing in the last few weeks. It worked for him, but few have his skill set.
This year has the potential to be a throwback election, one that could make a significant impact on the Dracut School Committee.
For starters, two school board members, Ron Mercier and Nancy Gagnon, are up for re-election, and will have at least one formidable challenger. Dracut businessman Paul Nutt, 37, operates two of his own companies, is a lifelong Dracut resident and a graduate of Dracut High School. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a degree in health education, and later completed his studies at Boston University concentrating in network administration.
In addition, board member Mary Gail Martin and her husband Brian have had their home for sale for some time, and it seems clear they will be leaving the community. Brian Martin is also one of Dracut’s elected representatives to the regional vocational technical school committee.
A sudden sale of their home would be followed by their resignations and require a combination vote of the selectmen/school committee to appoint replacements until the next election, a process that already has been heavily discussed in political circles.
Knowing their departure is imminent, the couple could follow the example set by the aforementioned Williams, and put their replacement in the hands of the voters. After listing his home for sale, Williams timed his resignation with a fall election so the community would not have to run a special election to fill his seat. The Martins would have to resign some time in late January for their seats to be added to the spring ballot.
Having three seats on the town School Committee on the ballot in the same year would bring the focus of the election to the schools, where there is no shortage of issues. Town Meeting recently agreed to fund a feasibility study of the high school, and the results are likely to set off a debate about building a school or significant reconstruction of the existing facility.
Additionally, the schools are about to go through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation peer review process, and based on results in other Merrimack Valley school districts, it’s likely to generate drama for school political leaders.
Clearly, the next three years will be a challenging time for Dracut’s School Committee, and a public discussion of these issues in the spring election will give the voters a voice in shaping the future of their schools.
Warren Shaw is a former Dracut selectman who hosts a popular Saturday morning radio show on WCAP-AM from 6 to 10 a.m.