I watched my friend Wendy Wakeman lose an election two weeks ago. Wendy, who was running for a second term on our town’s Board of Selectmen, and who had chaired the Board for much of that time, had invited me and my ten-year-old son Bud and a host of family and friends and supporters to her house on Tuesday night to greet the returns. Wakeman family and pals brought a fine selection of cookies and cakes and other goodies for the buffet table. As at most such gatherings, I felt small — the Wakeman circle could readily patronize a chain of big ‘n’ tall shops. And I felt especially small as we all pressed toward the low-ceilinged New England kitchen, where the wall phone hung, and where tall husband Brad with his Mr. Peepers glasses waited anxiously, thumbing his Blackberry.
One of Wendy’s most devoted campaigners, who I think of as Big Dan, had lined out the local statistics for me. Out of 33,000 citizens, North Andover has about 17,000 registered voters. An ordinary election, with no tax question on the ballot, might draw as few as three or four thousand voters. This year, we had a yes/no question to override state Proposition 2 1/2, a tax limit, and to use the special levy to build a new police station. Dan expected that as many as 6,000 people might vote.
The phone finally rang. Brad answered.
“It’s Licciardello-Xenakis,” he said first, announcing the news that Wendy had lost a five-way run for two seats. “The police station goes down. School committee is Pybus-Kelly.”
Wendy spoke graciously from the kitchen, thanking everyone for their support and recalling the good work she had done. I could see over and around the big shoulders and backs in front of me in the tight little room. Wendy’s face was red. Some time later she would need a good cry. You don’t work that hard and care that much without it hurting when you lose.
A MONTH BEFORE THE ELECTION, a sign campaign blossomed all over town: “Licciardello: Respectful Leadership.” The signs blanketed the main roads, and, most tellingly, the central housing district where Brad and Wendy live. It was a smarmy cut, and an effective one, the more effective for being so vague.
Wendy, tough-minded and blunt-spoken as she is, felt it. She let loose a blast at a private gathering (humorously), “You’re not the one who has to live with signs all over town saying, ‘Wendy Wakeman is an asshole.’”
I reviewed the campaign in an interview with Wendy a week later. She minimized the effect of the signs. I’m not so sure. Tactically, however, it has to be acknowledged that the signs illustrated a truism of politics: If you don’t answer an effective attack, you lose.
The “respectful” innuendo traces back to one of our local controversies, one I described in my column “Naked Politics Is Local, Too.” A local family of business owners, the Thomsons, proposed to build a high-tech recycling plant on land they owned at the north end of town, a parcel zoned for industrial and “adult” use (you’ll see). The local NIMBYs, as Wendy calls them (“I refuse to call them environmentalists”), howled that they didn’t want any more smoke and pollutants in the area (never mind that the plant would be smoke and emission free), and brought pressure through the town’s zoning board to refuse a permit for the plant to the Thomsons.
The Thomsons, irked, responded that they would simply build New England’s biggest strip club, instead, which of course irked many other residents.
Wendy, first as a selectman, then as chairman of the board, negotiated the increasingly hostile conflict between local interests. She helped hire a national counsel on adult entertainment interests to elucidate the town’s rights as against the Thomsons’. She hammered out what is called a “host community agreement” with the Thomsons, where they agreed, in exchange for stringent controls over the trash transfer plant, to pick up the town’s entire recycling bill.
There’s more, but it’s been nearly endless, and has gone on for years. The environmentalist faction would not give up.
“It became much more like the Jerry Springer show than local government,” Wendy said. “I’d sit from seven till midnight listening to same people over and over again.
“It became clear this was going nowhere. We were doing a disservice by allowing these 25 or 30 people to hijack our meetings. I clamped down on the rules. With my experience in the Congress and the legislature [note: solid and vast], I thought it was amazing that people were allowed to behave this way at all.”
Tom Licciardello, Wendy explained, “was one of the people who stood up at meetings and spoke out of turn. I did ask him several times, very respectfully and very nicely, either to address the matter at hand or sit down. He didn’t just refuse, he didn’t pay any attention at all. I had to gavel him down. That’s what he saw as disrespectful leadership.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?