Rain shrinks turnout for JPNC election

David Taber

Gazette Photo by Lori DeSantis
Candidates greet the community in front of J.P. Licks as people come to cast their votes for the JP Neighborhood Council Sept. 12, 10 days before the city preliminary election. From left to right are volunteer J.C. Gangi and candidates Ben Knappmiller, At-Large; Edith Murnane, Area B; Steve Laferriere, Area B; and Jeremy Harold, Area C.

Organizers declare success; Baron loses seat

Despite torrential rains that forced an emergency relocation of one of its main polling places, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s (JPNC’s) 2010 election was held Sept. 12.

One incumbent, David Baron, who was getting married the day of the election, narrowly lost his seat in the election’s most competitive race.

The election drew a little over 300 voters. “It would have been incredible if it wasn’t for the rain,” election coordinator and former JPNC chair Jesús Gerena told the Gazette.

The weather was better in 2007, but that election was marred by poor volunteer coordination that left some polling places un-staffed at points during the two days of voting. Only 332 votes were cast. That was an increase from the 2005 elections, when around 250 people voted. In 2003, over 1,000 people voted.

The JPNC is a neighborhood group that advises the city on JP issues, notably concerning zoning and business licensing issues. It also sometimes acts as a liaison between the city and the community.

This year’s election was originally scheduled for May and then rescheduled for June. The second election was called off when only 10 candidates returned papers to run for the council’s 20 seats.

This time around, there were 22 candidates. Eight of them were vying for five seats in “Area B” (east of Centre Street between Egleston Square and Forest Hills.) The polling place closest to that area, at J.P. Licks on Centre Street, saw about 200 of the 300 voters in the election.

The other two polling places, at the Forest Hills T Station and at the Stop & Shop in Jackson Square, collected about 50 votes each.

The rain that day meant the election committee had to quickly abandon its plan to have a polling place at the popular Jamaica Plain World’s Fair when that event was cancelled. [See related article.]

“What is so disappointing is we changed the date to the World’s Fair in an effort to increase the turnout,” said Francesca Fordiani, who was re-elected as an at-large council member.

Colleen Keller, JP Coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of neighborhood Services and an election ombudsperson, told the Gazette the Stop & Shop location was selected in a pinch because it has an awning. E-mails were sent out and signs were posted alerting potential voters of the change, but locating the impromptu polling place at the grocery store likely also helped pick up some walk-in voters, she said.

The election featured one major upset. Area B incumbent David Baron, who has been praised by many for his work chairing the JPNC Zoning Committee and Bylaws committee, was unseated. Baron was unable to join other Area B candidates in campaigning on election day because he was getting married.

He told the Gazette he believes the low turnout and the cancellation of the World’s Fair also hurt him. “Given the turnout and that [the World’s Fair] polling place, which was an important polling place for me, closed, and given that I was flat-out busy the two weeks before the election…I don’t take it as a referendum on my performance,” he said.

Baron has been “hugely valuable to the JPNC and I hate to see him go,” Fordiani said. “He did a great job of keeping people on task without being a dictator,” she said of his work on the two committees he spearheaded.

In an e-mail the day after the election, JPNC member Carlos Icaza, who was reelected as an Area B representative, offered his resignation so that Baron, who placed sixth in the polling, could take his place.

But Gerena told the Gazette that, according to council by-laws, Icaza’s resignation would not mean the seat would automatically go to Baron. Since Icaza offered to withdraw after the votes were tallied, his replacement would have to be picked by the council, Gerena said.

Icaza, who did not return Gazette phone calls for this article, withdrew his resignation in later e-mail.

Fordiani noted that the bylaws allow for members to be elected to area seats even if their address is outside of the area, as long as no one who lives in the area is interested in serving.

But, Gerena said, that might not be an option for Baron. Gerena said he knows of at least two people from the one area left under-represented—Area A (Hyde/Jackson/Egleston Square area)—who are planning to present themselves to the council as nominees for the three seats left vacant after the election.

Gerena noted that Baron could still serve on the committees he chaired, and potentially serve as vice-chair. Those slots are open to unelected community members.

Baron said he plans to attend the first meeting of the new council—Tues., Sept. 29 at 7 p.m., Curtis Hall, 20 South St. “I assume they will certify the new council and announce any vacancies. If it is appropriate, I will stand for a vacancy,” he said.

If he does not gain a council seat, he said he plans to continue to work with the zoning committee, and will continue to provide administrative support for the committee until a new chair is up to speed. That includes tracking neighborhood zoning matters that come before the city; sending out information about the community process to zoning relief applicants; sending meeting announcement flyers to abutters; organizing the Zoning Committee schedule to ensure advisory decisions are submitted to the city zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) in a timely manner; and contacting the ZBA regarding those decisions, he said.

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