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Making history: Amherst ushers in first-ever town council 

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Darcy Dumont, standing, celebrates her election during a party at El Comalito in South Amherst on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Stephen Schreiber, right, talks with Jeff and Marilyn Blaustein as he waits for results on election night at The Pub in Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Jim Pistrang, center, prepares to mark a tally board with vote figures provided by David Rothenberg, left, at the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. At right is Barbara Pistrang. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Darcy Dumont, standing, celebrates her election during a party at El Comalito in South Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Jim Pistrang tallies election results provided by David Rothenberg, left, at the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Stephen Schreiber talks with Jeff and Marilyn Blaustein as he waits for results on election night at The Pub in Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Darcy Dumont talks with supporters during an election night party at El Comalito in South Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Shalini Bahl-Milne, second from right, reads vote tallies sent to her phone during an election night party at Mission Cantina in South Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Joining her are, clockwise from foreground left, Nelson Lacey, Tom Davies, Kate Atkinson and George Milne. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Shalini Bahl-Milne, center, reads vote tallies sent to her phone during an election night party at Mission Cantina in South Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Joining her are Kate Atkinson and George Milne. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate John Page, second from left, looks over vote tallies coming in with, from left, Jack Eccles, Jeremy Brownholtz and Clare Bertrand during an election night party at The Pub in Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Town Council candidate Evan Ross, left, talks with Nick Grabbe during an election party at The Pub in Amherst on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 07, 2018

AMHERST — Voters ushered in a new era in Amherst town government Tuesday, electing 13 councilors to serve on the first Town Council, with at-large seats won by two current Select Board members and the former Charter Commission vice chairwoman. Nine of the 13 newly elected officials are women. 

With 4,860 votes, Mandi Jo Hanneke, the former charter commissioner, topped the six-candidate field of at-large council candidates, followed by Alisa Brewer with 4,271 votes and Andrew Steinberg with 4,193 votes also winning seats. They outpaced Jim Pistrang with 3,696 votes, Rob Kusner with 2,100 votes and Robert Greeney with 1,982 votes.

Celebrating at The Pub in downtown Amherst, Hanneke, who was an architect of the new town charter, said she was happy about winning a seat, as well as how engaged residents were in the election.

“This shows how the voters in Amherst really embraced a campaign of information, positions and issues,” Hanneke said.

She pledged to begin fulfilling her new duties next month. “I look forward to working with the other 12 councilors to get a capital plan in place, planning and development that they can get behind, and have public participation involved,” Hanneke said.

Steinberg said he is grateful to the voters for the confidence they showed in him.

“I feel the campaign allowed me to express my views on a vision for Amherst to a lot of residents and to listen to the concerns of the voters, which is something I’ll carry with me on the council,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg added that he feels good about being able to join Brewer, who has been on the Select Board since 2007, in bringing stability to the new council. He was elected to the Select Board in 2014 after earlier serving on the Finance Committee.

The at-large councilors will be joined by 10 people elected from the five districts. All councilors will be sworn into office at an event at Amherst Regional High School Dec. 2 and are expected to have their first official meeting Dec. 3. Those elected will serve until 2021.

In District 1, Sarah Swartz, who captured 715 votes and Cathy Schoen, who got 668 votes, beat out Nicola Usher and Sharon Povinelli, who trailed with 318 and 314 votes, respectively.

District 2 saw Lynn Griesemer tally 1,468 votes and Patricia DeAngelis garner 1,159 votes, followed by Victor Nunez-Ortiz with 734 votes and Vickery with 681 votes.

In District 3, Dorothy Pam collected 451 votes and George Ryan earned 408 votes, edging John Page with 397 votes and Stephen Braun with 267 votes.

District 4’s top vote-getters were Evan Ross with 892 votes and Stephen Schreiber with 790 votes, followed by Jaqueline Maidana with 729 votes and David Reffsin with 476 votes. 

In District 5, Shalini Bahl-Milne received 1,502 votes, narrowly edging Darcy Dumont, who got 1,497 votes. Trailing these two candidates were Paul Bobrowksi with 1,081 votes and Samuel MacLeod with 946 votes.

Bahl-Milne, was joined by her campaign manager Irv Rhodes, as well as supporters and volunteers at Mission Cantina in South Amherst. She said she is prepared to join a council that will present a “united face,” though she acknowledged there have been divisions in town, such as over appropriate development in downtown.

“I’m ready to work with other councilors to heal the town and pursue a shared vision for Amherst,” Bahl-Milne said.

Across Route 116 at El Comalito, Dumont, who has advocated for a temporary moratorium on downtown development, said that her priority will be looking at all issues through the lens of sustainability, while also letting diverse voices be heard.

“I’m looking forward to reaching out and making sure we have a full complement of residents from all groups and all viewpoints represented on the town council,” Dumont aid.

DeAngelis, who was also at El Comalito, was overjoyed by her win. “It means a lot to me because I really care about Amherst,” DeAngelis said.

Addressing issues of diversity and promoting development with more housing available for low- and moderate-income families are objectives she will pursue. “As an activist I feel that’s a direction we need to move in,” DeAngelis said.

Griesemer said she was delighted to win a seat on the council.

“I look forward to a very solid council,” Griesemer said. “All people who won believe in good government  and will make the council exceptional in all ways, and to make Amherst an example for the rest of the country.”

Ross said the election showed voters are ready to have a new form of government. The youngest elected to the council, at just 31, Ross said he is confident to represent a new generation of residents, as well as the town’s numerous renters.

“I think this is a crucial step to work for a broader swath of the town,” Ross said.

Tuesday’s results mean that Amherst Forward, the political action committee that endorsed a slate of 13 candidates, got eight of those elected who support sensible development and a plan for capital projects, including a new elementary school.

Swartz, Schoen, DeAngelis, Pam and Dumont are the new councilors who were not part of the slate.

Ginny Hamilton, co-chairwoman of Amherst Forward, said the organization would defer comment until a later time. “Tonight’s about the candidates,” Hamilton said.

One concern critics had about the new charter that didn’t come to pass was that councils statewide are dominated by men. For Amherst’s first council, nine of the councilors will be women. Ross said when organized, he will push to have the president and vice president both be women.

But even though census data shows around 23 percent of Amherst is non-white, only Bahl-Milne, an Indian-American who immigrated to the United States 17 years ago and became a citizen three years ago, is a minority who will serve on the council.

What kind of downtown development is appropriate was not only an issue Amherst Forward and for Dumont, but also in District 4, where Schreiber, faced criticism for being the chairman of the Planning Board that has permitted projects such as One East Pleasant and Kendrick Place.

What kind of development is appropriate was an issue for voters.

Rosemary Malfi, a voter in District 3, said while she and her family are newcomers to Amherst, they are familiar with development issues from time spent in another college community, Davis, California.

“Given that it’s a new form of government, we did research on local candidates and went with people who aligned with our views of town development,” Malfi said. She added that the need for more affordable housing was also a consideration in examining candidates’ platforms and their door-to-door campaigns.

Judith Fish, a voter in District 4, said she’s not upset with the new buildings that have gone up in downtown, and that the old-fashioned college town she has lived in for the past 12 years remains much the same.

“New buildings will bring new money into the town through taxes,” Fish said.

Clare Bertrand, one of the organizers of campaign to form a Charter Commission in late summer 2015, said though she expects there to be some rocky moments when the council begins its work, with many of the councilors learning on the job, Amherst is ready for the new form of government where councilors will be accountable to voters.

“People had to take positions and are now going to be held to their promises, predictions and concerns,” Bertrand said.

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