What do you think of the weird circumstances of the Ward 4 contests? What does it tell you about the need for charter reform?
On the one hand, you have a first-time at-large candidate, Josh Krintzman, who will win his seat in an uncontested race. As pointed out on a wild thread on the Newton Parents listserv, this is not exactly unusual. At least one sitting councilor, Marc Laredo, first won his seat without a third candidate.
On the other hand, you have a first-time ward candidate, Christopher Markiewicz, who attracted a write-in opponent, Allison Sharma. If there’s been a ward councilor who first won her seat without an opponent, I’m not aware of it.
The obvious explanation for this state of affairs? Channeling my inner No-bird, it’s a hell of a lot easier to launch a first-time bid for a Ward seat, especially an outsider. In fact, it’s so easy to launch a Ward campaign, you can do it as a write-in!
Once Josh put his hat in the ring, he became a favorite to win. Though a non-winner in his first bid for elected office (school committee), Josh was a long-time state-house lawyer and the chair of the charter commission (which is also elected office); he’s connected. Inarguably, he’s got a leg up in a city-wide race. Seems he cleared the field.
When it became apparent that Christopher would run unopposed for ward councilor, the barrier to entry was so low, Allison has mounted a write-in campaign. With just a few hundred votes to win, anybody can do it!
So, the situation in Ward 4 is compelling advertisement for No, right?
Not so sure. I’m inclined to think it demonstrates that ward representation doesn’t matter and that the Charter Commission was unnecessarily nervous about ward councilors. For sure, the at-large race is a cautionary tale about the advantage an insider has in a city-wide race. But, the ward councilor rates illustrates what I don’t think the charter commissioners wrestled with: the fact that rule changes change strategy. In a world of eight ward councilors on a council of twelve, the insider juggernaut can and would concentrate its efforts on the ward races. We’re seeing it a bit in the Ward 4 ward race. The insider machine sure seems likely to deliver. In a write-in campaign.
It’s all a bit reductive. The world doesn’t divide so neatly into insider/outsider. And, we’ve seen “outsider” Bill Brandel unseat insider Christina Samuelson in a Ward 5 ward alderman race, years ago.
But, I’ll stand by the basic theory: insiderdom would have fared just fine with ward councilors. And, by eliminating ward councilors, the commission made itself a political problem that jeopardizes the effort to deliver a smaller board.