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Patton, Fippinger prevail over Ansari in Williamstown select board race

Cars drive on a road in a small New England town.
Josh Landes
Williamstown, Massachusetts.

In the annual town election Tuesday, Williamstown, Massachusetts voters chose incumbent Jane Patton and Diversity, Inclusion, Racial Equity committee chair Randal Fippinger for three-year seats on the select board.

Years of local division over police department scandals, conversations about racial equity, and high profile resignations from town employees did not ultimately impede Patton’s path to a fourth term.

“I'm just extraordinarily grateful to the voters who, you know, even with the challenges of the last two years, supported me and believe in me. And what I'm really looking forward to is kind of what I've been talking about, you know- Bringing even more transparency and accountability to the board and trying to move forward on some of these things. There's just a lot of healing that we have to do. We have to listen with compassion and empathy," said Patton, who spoke to WAMC after results came in on election night. “Something that I really, really want to do is find some women who think they might be interested in public service like this, and have concerns or what have you, and mentor them. I really think we need younger people running for these offices, younger people on boards. Sometimes I think people forget that diversity includes women. And women are intimidated by doing it, right, by public speaking, by putting themselves out there.”

Fippinger says he sees his election to the five-member select board as an opportunity to foster more conversations from varying voices in Williamstown.

“Having office hours at least once a week, going to the senior center. Showing up. You know, as it was once said, you know, 80% of life is showing up. So I've made a commitment to a number of people along the way that I will be present and that I listen," said Fippinger, who identified police reform as his top priority on the campaign trail. “I have spent some time at the police department talking to officers, starting to hear their perspectives, starting to hear their frustrations. But then equally, I need to go out and reach out to people, my neighbors, my friends, who feel scared and unsafe when they see a police officer, and I need to start bringing out those conversations. I want to participate in the Department of Justice Special Police and Community Partnership Council. I want to try to bring their voices into the conversation. We just start having civil conversations together so that we can all feel heard.”

Balil Ansari, who failed to secure a seat, told WAMC that he wished Patton and Fippinger well on their victories. A Williams College assistant vice president and an original member of the DIRE committee, he campaigned in part on the town’s need to continue admittedly difficult conversations about race.

“I bring that, just my expert, my professional knowledge and experience with that," Ansari told WAMC. "And then just my lived experience, just my life, how I am in my own skin, how that has played up throughout my life. So when those conversations are had with somebody who has my expert experience and lived experience, it can't be replicated. You can mimic the motions of dialogue in that way, but it's really hard to have meaningful dialogue without that, you know, particularly around race."

He says he’s willing to offer whatever he can to Williamstown, but that the campaign experience has not been without its frustrations.

“It was good to hear people say Bilal, I think you're a bigot," said Ansari. "Bilal, I think you're a racist. Bilal, I think you are, like, a divisive. That's what I heard in the past, you know, running this [campaign]. And I heard a lot of that even today as I was shaking hands, as people walked by. And so, you know, I sit with that. You know, I sit and meditate and think about it deeply and know that the will of the people has spoken.”

The race also saw contests for town moderator, library trustee, planning board, and Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District.

As the sole new select board member this election cycle, Fippinger will be officially seated before the annual town meeting on May 17th.

In the fellow Berkshire community of Great Barrington, Steve Bannon and Leigh Davis were both returned to the select board in an uncontested race for three-year seats on Tuesday as well.

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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