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Three competing for two select board seats in Williamstown’s annual town election

A brick building with white columns sits under a blue sky
Josh Landes

Three people are competing for two seats on the Williamstown, Massachusetts select board in Tuesday’s town election.

Each of the three candidates are known quantities in the Northern Berkshire Community.

Jane Patton is seeking her fourth three-year term on the five-member select board. The only incumbent on the ballot, she served the community through the last several years of controversy stemming from the town’s police department. The upheaval, which saw the resignation of the town manager and police chief, began in summer 2020 and included instances of sexual harassment, racial hostility, and illegal searches of the department’s critics in the community.

“I have learned so much over the last two years, and have consistently shown the willingness and the tenacity to take in all of that feedback," said Patton. "A lot of it was not easy to hear. Some of it was said in ways that were not always kind, some folks made things very personal. But I listened to what they had to say, I saw past some of those personal things, and have been making strides towards making things better.”

Patton points to her work establishing the town’s Diversity, Inclusion, Racial Equity Committee as evidence of her ability to steer the community through the choppy waters.

Bilal Ansari is a Williams College assistant vice president and an original DIRE committee member. As early as the 1920s, Ansari’s great-grandparents were active in the community. His family knows firsthand what Berkshire County racism feels like.

“There was trauma with my father when he was a child, when he came here during the summer," said Ansari. "He was, the n-word was hurled at him and he struck back. And my father- and his mother, who grew up in Pittsfield, and her father lived in Williamstown, was never invited back because my great-grandfather's job would have been threatened from the school where he was working, and so he was not welcomed back into town. So there was a kind of disruption between my connection with the town as a child, and as a teen because of my immediate family, my father's trauma here.”

Ansari is also known for his work as a founding member and president of Higher Ground, a non-profit set up to support community members displaced by Tropical Storm Irene when it wiped out more than 200 mobile homes in 2011.

The third candidate is Randall Fippinger, the current DIRE committee chair. He says that after years of turbulence, Williamstown is moving in the right direction with action toward carrying out diversity, equity and inclusion trainings for town employees.

“First is police reform and how we have law enforcement in Williamstown, because we asked so much of our law enforcement officers," said Fippinger. "So having a conversation with them, including the CARES social work interviews and the Special Police and Community Partnership Council, to reimagine law enforcement. That's number one. Number two is thinking about affordable housing in Williamstown. Again, what makes me so optimistic is that we're not talking about if, we're talking about how we should have affordable housing in town.”

Williamstown residents can cast their votes at the elementary school gym from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Unofficial results are expected shortly after polls close. Also on the ballot are races for town moderator, library trustee, planning board, and Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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