Jeffrey Johnson and Wade Hasty will take seats on the Williamstown, Massachusetts select board after Tuesday’s high turnout municipal election.
According to official numbers released Wednesday, 1,823 voters representing a 38% turnout went to the polls in the community of around 7,500. Amid a series of scandals regarding police misconduct and larger conversations about systemic racism in Williamstown, some townspeople – including candidate Albert Cummings – felt threatened by the discourse.
“I'm worried about the town," said Cummings. "I've never seen the town- In my whole life. I've never seen this much tension, I guess you'd call it. I mean, I think it could even go into turmoil. I mean, the town is, is a mess right now. And there's people that are just trying to find everything bad there is about Williamstown, and I'm not going stand for it.”
Voters sent Hasty to the select board over Cummings to serve out the final year of a three-year seat in a 990 to 772 vote.
“If you were to peel back much of the animosity and high-octane emotions, the idea of whether something could be changed for the better, or if change itself was inherently threatening to that organic structure," said Hasty. “They’re ready for change, ultimately. There was an old way of doing things, and I think that they want to see more transparency and more accountability.”
Hasty, a Maine native and Army veteran, was among those who had their records illegally searched by Williamstown Police after speaking out against bombshell allegations of racism and sexual harassment in the department. He says his priorities are Williamstown’s search for a new permanent town manager after the resignation of Jason Hoch and reaching out to those who supported his rival.
“Even though their candidate they were hoping for to get elected didn’t get elected, that they still have representation," Hasty told WAMC. "That this town coming together is something that both sides want and need.”
“I give credit to the people for doing their research, attending the events so they could make a choice about really what they wanted – because there were two distinctive platforms in regards to which directions we’re going to go in our town," said Johnson. "I think the people overwhelmingly decided what they wanted and who they wanted on their select board.”
Johnson, who works for the state’s Department of Developmental Services and sits on the town’s Diversity Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee, enters office on a wave of disillusionment with Williamstown’s leadership in the wake of the scandals.
“The people want somebody that’s going to listen to them," he told WAMC. "The people want somebody that’s going to have honesty and integrity, and that’s going to bring forth the information so we decide, because that’s what we are as a select board. Our bosses are the citizens of Williamstown, and I think in me they see somebody that will truly listen and value their opinions.”
Johnson, who campaigned on his tri-racial heritage as a means to bridge gaps in the community, says he’s telling both his supporters and those who voted against them to close their computers now that the election is over.
“Take a week to be off social media and go next door to your left and your right and talk to your neighbors," said Johnson. "As I went around this town walking and knocking, I was energized because people that weren’t voting for Jeff Johnson, I still had very productive, meaningful, civil conversations which were done with smiles on our faces, and I think that’s how you talk. And I think we need to simmer down on some of the personalized attacks and we need to realize what we truly share.”
The intensity of the election was reflected in the turnout.
“Last year – do consider that we did have a pandemic going on – we had about 750 turnout, thereabouts, as far as votes for last annual town election which was held on June 23rd of 2020," said Town Clerk Nicole Pedercini. "So the number right now is 1,820 for this year, so – significantly bigger.”
She says the fact that almost all of the town races were contested helped fuel the turnout beyond the ongoing controversies.
“There was campaigning – we didn’t have that!" noted Pedercini. "And that last time that we do sort of have that, it’s one race or another, not multiple.”
Steve Dew topped Joan Diver in the race for an open Housing Authority seat 958 to 542. In the tightly contested bid for a seat on the planning board, Roger Lawrence beat incumbent Susan Puddester 640 to 622, with Kenneth Kuttner in third with 450 votes. Charles Bonenti and Laila Boucher went unchallenged in their respective bids for library trustee and Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District representative.