PAC backs council, school committee candidates in Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/5/2021 10:42:51 AM

AMHERST — Three challengers running for the three available at-large seats on the Town Council have won endorsements from the Progressive Coalition of Amherst, a new political action committee whose members say they are working toward a more inclusive democracy in town.

Former School Committee member Vira Douangmany-Cage, longtime Town Meeting member Vincent O’Connor and Community Safety Working Group Co-Chairwoman Ellisha Walker earned the endorsements. Also running for the seats are incumbents Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg.

Other endorsements by the coalition are going to Jennifer Taub, chairwoman of the Local Historic District Commission, and incumbent Dorothy Pam, who are both running in District 3, alongside incumbent George Ryan, and newcomer Anika Lopes, who is facing fellow newcomer Pamela Rooney and incumbent Evan Ross for the two seats in District 4. No endorsements were made in the other districts.

The coalition also endorsed Jennifer Page, Phoebe Merriam and Ben Herrington for School Committee seats. Among the three, only Herrington is an incumbent. The other incumbents running for reelection are Allison McDonald, Heather Lord and Peter Demling, and another challenger is former School Committee member Irv Rhodes.

Candidates seeking PCA’s endorsement were required to complete a questionnaire about issues, including public health and safety, emergency services, capital spending and borrowing, housing, development, equity and social justice. A candidate’s public service and voting record were considered to determine if they would be invited for an interview.

“The PCA Board, after studying several completed questionnaires, was struck by the passion and commitment that these progressive candidates displayed toward the goal of improving the lives of all community members,” said Pat Ononibaku, the coalition’s chairwoman, in a statement. “We believe that these individuals can help revitalize Amherst as a democratic, welcoming and equitable community for all residents.”

After an endorsement was offered, each candidate had to confirm their acceptance in writing.

That final procedure is different from that used by Amherst Forward, which also made a series of endorsements, though the lone overlaps for Town Council are its recommendations to vote for Walker and Lopes.

Walker issued a statement Monday objecting to the Amherst Forward support on grounds that she didn’t seek it and the organization is creating polarization in the community. Lopes, though, has accepted the endorsement from both PACs.

“We feel that this process, in which candidates affirm their wish to be endorsed, is the right thing to do,” Ononibaku said.

The candidates being supported, if elected, will be strong advocates for the public, with Town Council plans fully transparent and all voices being heard, Ononibaku said.

“These candidates will also initiate needed steps by the town government to attract locally owned shops and restaurants to Amherst, and to preserve existing ones. They will fight for social justice issues and housing development which is appropriate for our town and provides the affordable homes and apartments that our local families need.” Ononibaku said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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