Signs from Needham League of Women Voters Make-Your-Own-Vote-Sign Project/ Credit: Si Si Goneconto

While not as pleasing to the eye as the emerging daffodils and tulips, the political lawn sign is a harbinger of spring that soon will begin appearing all over town as the vernal equinox approaches.

The annual “sign bloom” could begin this weekend as more than 100 candidates for elected office step up their campaigning ahead of the April 9 town election, even though only two of the 12 townwide offices will feature contested races.

The ballot will be headed by the race for Select Board, a three-candidate contest for two seats on the town’s five-member executive board. The other contested race is for an open seat on the Needham Housing Authority, a position rarely challenged over the past decade.

The other 10 elected positions offer voters the opportunity to affirm the candidacies of those who qualified for the ballot by obtaining signatures from more than 50 registered voters.

There is potential for an above average turnout, however, due to an uptick in activity at the precinct level where 98 residents are vying for 80 Town Meeting slots, or eight seats from each of the town’s 10 precincts. Eight of the town’s precincts will have contested races and all 10 precincts have at least eight candidates.

There also is a ballot question asking voters whether they wish to affirm last year’s Town Meeting vote to remove the members of the Fire Department from the state’s Civil Service system, which would shift the recruitment and promotion of personnel to local control.

Last year voters overwhelmingly approved the same removal of the Police Department from the Civil Service system.

Select Board transitions to continue

Between 2013 and 2020, the faces on the Select Board changed at the same frequency as those on Mount Rushmore as incumbents were rarely seriously challenged or even opposed at all.

That continuity was interrupted by the historic 2021 town election, a trend that will continue this year with the decision by Marcus Nelson not to seek a second term, creating an open seat.

Back in 2021, longtime incumbent John Bulian stepped down and fellow incumbent Moe Handel was unseated after finishing third behind newcomers Lakshmi Balachandra and Nelson.

The two newcomers became the first persons of color to serve on the board in an election that drew a nearly 25% turnout in an era when typical turnouts range from 10% to 15% of the town’s 24,000-plus registered voters.

Balachandra resigned five months later and was succeeded by Kevin Keane, who handily won a December 2021 special election with more than 75% of the vote. Keane is seeking reelection this year.

Two other long-term incumbents, Dan Matthews and Matt Borrelli, continued the transition trend when each opted not to seek reelection in 2022 and 2023, respectively. 

Matthews was succeeded by Heidi Frail, who ran unopposed in 2022, and Borrelli’s seat was won by Cathy Dowd, who outpolled Josh Levy by 446 votes last spring. Dowd finished about 100 votes behind last year’s ticket topper, incumbent Marianne Cooley.

The dynamics in this year’s Select Board race are similar to those in 2023, with an incumbent and two challengers competing for two seats with three-year terms. Keane will be joined on the ballot by Levy and Tina Burgos, who will be making her first try for elected office.

In addition to his two-plus years of service on the Select Board, Keane was a Town Meeting member for 12 years and spent 10 years on the appointed Youth & Family Services board.

Levy has been a member of the appointed Finance Committee for the past six years, including one year as chair. He has been a Town Meeting member for 13 years. 

Burgos has served four years and is currently chair of the town’s appointed Human Rights Commission. She previously spent five years as a member of the town’s Council of Economic Advisors.

Housing Authority

The Needham Housing Authority is not a town agency and does not receive funding through the town budget process, but its five commissioners must be Needham residents. 

The governor appoints one commissioner, and another must be an NHA tenant who is appointed by the Select Board. Needham voters elect the other three commissioners to three-year terms.

Incumbent commissioner Eleanor Evans is not seeking reelection. The open position is being sought by Jim Flanagan, a Town Meeting member, and Ross Donald, a resident of the NHA’s Linden Street property and a prior candidate for the NHA.

This seat has not been contested since 2020, when Evans earned 68.7% of the vote in defeating Donald.

The next decade or so is expected to be eventful for the NHA as it undertakes an ambitious plan to either rebuild or rehab nearly its entire inventory of 436 affordable housing units as well as adding new units.

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