Preliminary figures updated with official certified results Tuesday, March 7 at 5:20 p.m.
Fewer than 10% of voters turned out in Lexington’s local election on Monday, according to official election results certified Tuesday.
Townwide elections for Select Board, School Committee and Town Moderator were uncontested, with incumbents running to keep all open seats. A Planning Board election was uncontested until about two days before the election, when Lin Jensen launched a write-in campaign challenging incumbents Robert Creech and Charles Hornig. Creech and Hornig were both reelected for three-year terms, with 1,476 votes and 1,040 votes respectively, but Jensen managed to draw 619 votes – a significant number relative to the overall 9% turnout and her last-minute campaign.
For Select Board, Vice Chair Doug Lucente and Mark Sandeen were both reelected with 1,527 votes and 1,478 votes respectively for three-year terms. School Committee Chair Sara Cuthbertson was reelected for a three-year term with 1,442 votes. Longtime Town Meeting Moderator Deborah Brown received 1,574 votes for her next one-year term.
In an interview Monday, Jensen, a Town Meeting Member (P8) and community volunteer, said she mounted her last-minute campaign because she had been attending Planning Board meetings since 2016 and felt that Planning Board communication and collaboration with residents needed improvement.
This year in particular, Jensen felt that the Planning Board was rushing through consequential zoning articles that she said needed more analysis, amendment and discussion, including a controversial article to satisfy state multi-family zoning requirements and an article that would make some multi-family housing easier to build.
“When we disagree with these articles, I think we are told we’re NIMBYS,” Jensen said, referring to the acronym for “Not In My Backyard” that in some cases has become an accusatory label for those who do not support affordable, multi-family housing. “I think that’s not a very productive way to communicate to the community as a whole.”
Jensen stressed that she supported the community’s need for affordable housing, but did not see these articles in their current form as the best way to meet the community’s needs. “Town folks are not NIMBYs in general; they just have concerns,” she said. “A lot of these proposals could have been improved.” More analysis, clearer explanation of complex zoning and frank reckoning with the consequences of potentially making Lexington denser needed to be done and widely communicated outside of the Planning Board’s hours-long Wednesday evening meetings, potentially by delegating some of that work to staff or community volunteers with expertise, she said.
Jensen said she considered joining the race back in December as an official candidate, but a family medical issue took her out of the country around the time nomination papers were due, so she had decided against it.
She took the leap to launch a write-in campaign at the last minute after she heard about a Planning Board meeting last Wednesday where the board unanimously voted to refer a Town Meeting Member’s proposed article to reduce the maximum floor area of single-family houses to the Planning Board, which she interpreted to mean the article would be perpetually buried beneath other Planning Board priorities.
It seemed unfair to Jensen that the Planning Board asserted the citizen-proposed article needed more consideration while the board was moving its own proposals through to Town Meeting so quickly. “It has to be fair,” she said. “You give other people’s articles a chance; you give your own articles a chance.”
On her campaign website, Jensen encouraged community members to vote for Creech “for his experience on the Planning Board, his balanced, thoughtful approach and long-term vision for Lexington” but made no mention of Hornig.
“I do respect Mr. Hornig’s dedication and knowledge on zoning,” Jensen wrote in a follow-up email. “Had I been elected, I would have sought his advice, as well as the advice of many talented residents and staff members.”
Jensen’s last-minute candidacy, and the support she secured within a short timeframe, represent some community frustration with the Planning Board.
Town Meeting Member Tina McBride and resident Diane Pursley were supporting Jensen outside the Community Center on Monday afternoon.
Pursley said she was worried about mansionization, and felt that the citizen-proposed article would have helped address this. With her own children in high school, Pursley and her husband have been discussing downsizing, but “how could we ‘downsize’ when all that’s being built is larger than what we currently have?”
Despite the Planning Board emphasizing its own commitment to creating more affordable housing, Pursley said the Planning Board was issuing too many permits for larger developments.
McBride, who grew up in Lexington, agreed. “I was born and raised in Lexington; it’s a very different place now. There is a definite missing middle now,” she said.
At the same time, McBride said that with multiple articles up for consideration at Town Meeting that would allow different types of housing by right – rather than with a control like a special permit – “as a community, we have less and less input on where we want our town to be.”
“I think a lot of people… they want affordable housing, they want missing middle housing built, but they also want to be able to live in a small town,” McBride said.
McBride hopes that Jensen’s candidacy sends a message to the Planning Board that “people really feel like [the Planning Board is] not doing what [it] need[s] to do; [the board is] not listening.”
Yifang Gong was also holding a sign supporting Jensen outside the Community Center. Gong is a member of the Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL) PAC, which endorsed Jensen’s campaign at the last minute. Gong said CAAL PAC thought endorsing Jensen’s campaign would be a good thing for the Town, potentially driving up turnout. “We really want to encourage residents to participate in the process,” Gong said.
On the other hand, enough voters like Melinda Walker ultimately turned out to ensure both incumbents kept their seats.
Since Town Meeting passed its Systemic Racism Resolution in 2020, “the Planning Board has been working tirelessly to bring measures to Town Meeting that will pave the way for Lexington to become a more welcoming community for people from diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds,” Walker wrote in an email to LexObserver. “As a result of their hard work, we now have an opportunity to make significant progress towards our goal of making Lexington a more just and equitable community.”
Walker wrote that she “enthusiastically support[ed]” Creech and Hornig both on the basis of their work and her experience collaborating with both on another town committee. “Their re-election will help us to make progress in making zoning more suitable for the shifting demographics of our Town.”
Write-in candidacies shook up a few Town Meeting precinct-level races, too.
Of the nine Town Meeting precinct races, only Precinct 7’s race was contested on the ballot, with eight candidates running to fill seven seats. But the Precinct 2 race morphed into a last-minute contest as well, with write-in candidate Laura Swain knocking out official candidate Charles Hornig. Swain earned 182 votes to Hornig’s 119.
In Precinct 8, where five candidates were running for seven seats, four write-in candidates joined the race. Write-in candidates Tom Díaz and Robin Lovett secured the two additional open seats, with 66 votes and 35 votes respectively.
The slim Town Meeting margins and low turnout meant that just a vote or two could determine race outcomes. In Precinct 3, for instance, Stanley Yap received two more votes than Delanot Bastein. While both were reelected to Town Meeting, Yap’s two votes secured him a three-year term to Bastien’s one-year term.
Even after results were certified, the outcomes of at least two Town Meeting races remain up in the air. In Precinct 7, both Umesh Shelat and Benjamin Charles Lees gained exactly 100 votes – meaning community members still not know which candidate makes it to Town Meeting.
In Precinct 9, where eight candidates were running for eight open seats, all official candidates were elected. But Mark Valerian Andersen and Diana Donovan both earned exactly 134 votes. Because one of Precinct 9’s eight seats is open for a two-year term, one of the two candidates will be reelected for three years, and the other for two years.
“We’re still resolving write-ins this morning,” Town Clerk Mary de Alderete wrote in an email to LexObserver on Tuesday prior to results certification. She noted that if the results remained tied, per Lexington’s Representative Town Meeting Act, “the Precinct would hold a vote to choose the candidate between the two.”
In all other precincts, the official candidates matched the final outcomes.
Turnout varied by precinct, ranging from just 5% in Precinct 1 to 12% in Precinct 2. This year’s townwide turnout is the lowest since 2018, when, similarly, 9% of voters turned out for an uncontested townwide election.
But Phyllis and David Wells turned out to vote together at the Community Center on Monday. They make sure to vote in every local election.
“We’ve lived in Lexington all our lives, and that’s just one of the things you do,” David Wells said. “That’s part of being a Lexingtonian.”
All Town Meeting precinct results are listed below (newly elected candidates are indicated with an “N” next to their names):
Noah S. Michelson
John C. Bartenstein
Albert P. Zabin
James C. Luker
John F. Rossi
Bella D. Tsvetkova
Carolyn M. Goldstein (N)
Sarah S. Daggett (N)
Mark Allan Manasas
Jonathan E. Suber
Laura Swain (N)
Jeffrey C. Howry (N)
Avram S. Baskin
Norman P. Cohen (N)
Cynthia E. Arens
Steven P. Heinrich
Henry S. Lau
Bronte M. Abraham
Andrew Zoltan Juhasz (N)
Kathryn R. Colburn
Alessandro A. Alessandrini
Nancy Ann Shepard
Katie Ponty Cutler
Michael P. Boudett
Heather Lynn Hartshorn (N)
Ruth S. Thomas
Pamela B. Lyons
Judith A. Crocker
Anthony Grant Galaitsis
Lily Manhua Yan
Steven B. Kaufman
Bridger E. McGaw
Jonathan Andrew Himmel
Innessa Anne Manning
Thomas C. Barry
Morton G. Kahan
Ryan Samuel Wise
Tina M. McBride
Harry Clarke Forsdick
Samita A. Mandelia
Umesh Shelat (TIED: RESULT UNDETERMINED)
Benjamin Charles Lees (N) (TIED: RESULT UNDETERMINED)
Robert M. Avallone
Lauren Deems Black
Thomas Díaz (N)
Robin Lovett (N)
Suzanne D. Lau
Todd O. Burger (N)
Alice J. Adler
Shireen Ahmed (N)
Jeanne P. Canale
Lisah Susan Schmidt Rhodes
Mark Valerian Andersen
Diana J. Donovan (N)