Most Amherst council returnees hold off challengers: Nine of 13 elected town councilors endorsed by PAC Amherst Forward

Clare Bertrand, from left, Kursten Holabird and Peter Demling react after tallying election numbers Tuesday night during a gathering at Garcia’s Restaurant in Amherst.

Clare Bertrand, from left, Kursten Holabird and Peter Demling react after tallying election numbers Tuesday night during a gathering at Garcia’s Restaurant in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Clare Bertrand and Evan Ross tally election numbers Tuesday night during a gathering at Garcia’s Restaurant in Amherst.

Clare Bertrand and Evan Ross tally election numbers Tuesday night during a gathering at Garcia’s Restaurant in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Members of the Progressive Coalition and its endorsed candidates gather at Ginger Garden on Tuesday in Amherst.

Members of the Progressive Coalition and its endorsed candidates gather at Ginger Garden on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The Progressive Coalition and its endorsed candidates gather at Ginger Garden on Tuesday in Amherst.

The Progressive Coalition and its endorsed candidates gather at Ginger Garden on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The Progressive Coalition and its endorsed candidates gather at Ginger Garden on Tuesday in Amherst.

The Progressive Coalition and its endorsed candidates gather at Ginger Garden on Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 11-08-2023 1:52 PM

AMHERST — Five members of the Town Council who have served continuously since it was seated in fall 2018 fended off challenges at Tuesday’s town election, according to unofficial results from the town clerk’s office.

Both Lynn Griesemer and Pat De Angelis, who have represented District 2, earned 595 and 554 votes, respectively, surpassing the 396 votes for Amber Cano-Martin, a community activist who has promoted racial justice, and the 293 votes for Allegra Clark, who has chaired the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee.

In District 1, Cathy Schoen, with 404 votes, earned a third term, and will be joined by newcomer Ndfreke Ette, who got 305 votes. Longtime activist Vincent O’Connor trailed with 241 votes. District 1 Councilor Michele Miller didn’t run again after serving one term.

Andy Steinberg and Mandi Jo Hanneke, who have served as at-large councilors since the inaugural Town Council, and Ellisha Walker, who has been on for one term, earned new terms, with Steinberg earning 2,392 votes, followed by Hanneke with 2,261 and Walker with 2,191. They turned back challenges from Matt Holloway and Jamie Daniels, who got 2,129 and 2,044 votes, respectively.

Of the 13,700 registered voters, 4,480, or 32.7%, turned out. 

Another original councilor, George Ryan, who was defeated in District 3 in 2021, made a return to the Town Council, earning 530 votes. Heather Hala Lord, a former School Committee member, will join him, getting 545 votes. Patrick Drumm trailed in that race with 320 votes.

At the Amherst Forward political action committee party at Garcia’s Mexican restaurant, cheers erupted as results began being put on large pieces of paper, with chants of “Lynn and Pat” when they were poised to win, followed by similar chants of “George and Hala.” All had been endorsed by the PAC.

Ryan said in the lead-up to the results coming in that he would remain nervous until it was made official.

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For School Committee, incumbents Irv Rhodes and Jennifer Shiao will be joined by newcomers Sarah Marshall, Deborah Leonard and Bridget Hynes.

Elected in District 4 were Pamela Rooney and Jennifer Taub, collecting 374 and 369 votes, while incumbent Anika Lopes and Dillon Maxfield, a member of the Board of License Commissioners, fell short, with 330 and 114 votes.

Only in District 5 were the results obvious due to the lack of a contest. Ana Devin Gauthier won a second term and Bob Hegner, a member of the Finance Committee, replaces Shalini Bahl-Milne, who stepped off after two terms. They got 952 and 921 votes, respectively.

Amherst Forward appeared to have a good night, endorsing Ette, Griesemer, De Angelis, Ryan, Lord, Devlin Gauthier, Hegner, Steinberg and Hanneke in their wins. The only Town Council candidates the group endorsed who didn’t prevail were Lopes, Maxfield and Holloway.

“This election was proof positive that Amherst voters want experienced, collaborative, and optimistic town officials who will work hard to help Amherst thrive,” Katherine Appy, who chairs Amherst Forward, said in a statement. “Our volunteers knocked on over 1,200 doors and made over 1,000 phone calls, and during those conversations, voters shared their hopes for a vibrant community with affordable housing for all residents, thriving small businesses, well-resourced public schools, and safe, accessible roadways and sidewalks. Today’s election is yet another example of how positive civic engagement can better our community.”

Meanwhile, for Town Coiuncil, the Progressive Coalition endorsed Walker, O’Connor, Clark and Cano-Martin. That group doesn’t endorse in uncontested elections or who opted against questionnaires.

At the Ginger Garden restaurant, Pat Ononibaku, who chairs the Progressive Coalition, said she was thrilled to have a diverse slate who pushed difficult conversations.

“Whatever the result tonight, you are all winners,” Ononibaku said.

Vira Doungmany Cage, a former School Committee member, called them brave and courageous candidates who brought “amazing unity, diversity.”

Walker said she was ready for the results to be known. “I’m anxious, but excited to see the outcome,” Walker said. “It’s anybody’s game.”

Clark said she did door knocking, had community picnics and drove people to the polls.

Five candidates, Daniels and Schoen, Drumm, Taub and Rooney, opted against seeking endorsements.

The next council will be more diverse in its gender composition, with nine women and four men, replacing the current council that has 12 women and one man. Both councils will have the same racial diversity, with three councilors identifying as members of the Black, Indigenous and people of color communities.

At Amherst Regional High School Tuesday mid-afternoon, where residents in four precincts vote, Lopes was the lone Town Council candidate on hand greeting voters. Lopes and her mother, Debora Bridges, had set up lawn chairs and signs on a grassy area along the driveway, and were joined by other supporters when the polls opened at 7 a.m.

Volunteers for other campaigns were holding signs, including former Town Councilor Evan Ross for Griesemer and De Angelis, and former Select Board member Bryan Harvey, who is married to Griesemer. Members of the youth Sunrise Amherst also were campaigning for their endorsed candidates, both for Town Council and School Committee.

At the Bangs Center polling site, resident Chris Williams, an immigrant from the United Kingdom, voted a bit before the 8 p.m. closing time.

“I’m a new citizen, and felt it’s my civic duty,” Williams said. “I think local elections are just as important as national elections. Democracy starts local.”

As a teacher, he said he would be wearing the “I voted” sticker that was handed out. “That’s what I came for,” Williams said.

Before in-person voting Tuesday, 1,676 ballots had been returned, said Town Clerk Susan Audette, meaning just over 12% of Amherst’s 13,700 voters had already voted. That included 409 voters participating in five days of early in-person voting at Town Hall and 1,267 voters returning their by-mail or absentee ballots.

In the last biennial election two years ago, when there were 16,187 eligible voters, 4,962 individuals voted, for a turnout of 31.2%.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.