Status quo prevails on Amherst School Committee

  • Amherst Town Manager Paul Bokelman and poll worker Carol Hepburn, the town’s animal welfare officer, talk to a voter on Election Day at the Bangs Center. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst election day at the Bangs Center on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst election day at the Bangs Center on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amherst election day at the Bangs Center on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter Demling

  • Eric Nakajima running for 3rd Hampshire District at the Gazette Tuesday, July 24, 2018

  • Kerry Spitzer, candidate for School Committee, speaks March 15, 2018 during a League of Women Voters forum at Amherst Regional Middle School.

  • Benjamin Herrington, candidate for School Committee, speaks March 15, 2018 during a League of Women Voters forum at Amherst Regional Middle School.

  • From left, Artie McCollum, Katie Lazdowski, Gil McCollum KEVIN GUTTING

  • Brooklyn McCall, 3, Kylie MCall, 18 months, clap to the UMass Marching Band after a press conference held to welcome their father, Matt McCall, as the new UMass men's basketball coach Thursday at the Champions Center. The coach's wife, Allison, right, captures the moment. Lauren Mills, a family friend who worked with the coach during his last job in Chattanooga, looks on, left.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/5/2019 11:43:14 PM

AMHERST — All four incumbents seeking reelection to the Amherst School Committee easily won new two-year terms at Tuesday’s town election, while a candidate who narrowly lost his initial bid in March 2018 will join them.

In the only contested election on the ballot, incumbents Kerry Spitzer, Eric Nakajima, Allison Bleyler McDonald and Peter Demling were returned to the committee.

Benjamin Joseph Herrington, with 1,739 votes, trailing only Nakajima’s 1,776 tally, was the lone newcomer elected.

Demling received 1,522 votes, Spitzer 1,519 and McDonald 1,490, while two other challengers, Katie Lazdowski, and Lauren Mills, trailed with 876 votes and 535 votes, respectively.

The 2,367 voters who cast ballots represented a 13.7 percent turnout of the town’s 17,269 voters.

All five residents who will be serving said that a priority of their tenure will be to confront the deteriorating condition of Fort River and Wildwood schools.

As a school employee, Herrington said he understands that facilities need to be improved,

“I appreciate the challenges and am looking forward to it,” said Herrington, who gathered with supporters, including former School Committee members Vira Douangmany Cage and Amilcar Shabazz. at the Woodbury Room at the Jones Library. He received hugs and had pictures taken as the unofficial results were tabulated on a whiteboard.

Herrington, a custodian for the schools, said getting the second most votes was gratifying after losing by 199 votes 18 months ago.

Gathered with two other incumbents at The Pub restaurant, McDonald said she is thrilled that voters kept the committee intact, which could bolster the town’s application to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for a project to replace Fort River and Wildwood.

“The fact that the community has put four of us together will be a signal to MSBA that we have come together and we will figure this out,” McDonald said.

“I’m proud to be working with this group of people and can’t be happier that Ben has been elected to join us,” McDonald added.

Spitzer echoed McDonald’s comments, pointing to Dec. 11, when the MSBA decision is due. She also said strategic planning in the district won support from voters.

“I think the vote shows support for the work we’ve been doing,” Spitzer said.

Demling agreed. “This election bodes well for a very productive committee,” he said.

“I take it as a strong electoral mandate not to leave Fort River or Wildwood behind in the next building project,” Demling said.

Nakajima, reached by phone, said he appreciates the support of residents and that it shows the need for stability and continued strategic planning.

“There’s a lot of work to do in the next couple of years at the elementary schools and the secondary schools,” Nakajima said.

“Ultimately it’s about supporting teachers and kids, and there’s more work to do,” Nakajima said.

Mills joined Herrington at the library. “I wish the new School Committee well,” Mills said. “Parents’ choice, parents’ voice.”

In a phone interview, Lazdowski said she was glad Herrington, who was considered one of the three independent candidates separate from a slate endorsed by the Amherst Forward political action committee, broke through and came in second.

“I see him as a strong addition,” Lazdowksi said.

She said she will remain involved with the School Equity Task Force, but advised that prior to the 2021 town election residents need support before running a campaign.

In other elections without challengers, the six incumbent library trustees won reelection. They include Lee Edwards, Tamson Ely, Christopher Hoffmann, Alex Lefebvre, Robert Pam and Austin Sarat. Amherst Housing Authority incumbents Michael Burkart, Nancy Schroeder and David Williams were also reelected, as was Elector under the Oliver Smith Will Carol Gray.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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