© The Stoneham Independent

STONEHAM, MA - - Local voters will cast ballots next April in a municipal election that will feature four contested races, including challenges for open seats on the Board of Selectmen and School Committee. 

According to Town Clerk Maria Sagarino’s office, though several interested parties never returned nomination papers for certification, there will be a two-way race for a vacant selectmen’s seat between Rodgers Road resident Cristine Warren Linn and Franklin Street’s Shelly MacNeill. 

Current Board of Selectmen Chair Ann Marie O’Neill, first coming to office in 2013, will not be seeking re-election. 

Linn, a political newcomer in Stoneham, is a lifelong resident who works as a registered nurse at Lahey Hospital.  Her first foray into local politics will prove difficult, as she will square off against MacNeill, a veteran School Committee member with ties to Beacon Hill as the chief-of-staff to State Senator Michael Moore (D-Milbury).

In making a venture towards higher office, MacNeill, first elected in 2007, is in turn vacating her School Committee seat, which opens up a three-way race for two seats on the board. 

Incumbent School Committee Chair David Maurer is running for re-election, while Lawndale Road resident Elaine Brown and Pine Street’s Nicole Fenocchi Nial are also certified candidates.  

In another interesting contest, Town Moderator Larry Means’ bid for re-election will be opposed by Duncklee Avenue resident Jeanne Craigie, a seasoned politician who most recently stepped down from the School Committee last year.

Notably, both Means and Craigie briefly butted heads during the special Town Meeting in October, when the town moderator ruled “out of order” a warrant article seeking to lease town-owned land to the MWRA. 

Planning Board Chairman August Niewenhous is also facing a somewhat unexpected challenge to his re-election campaign from Beacon Street resident Devon Manchester, who is a member of Stoneham’s Finance & Advisory Board.

According to Sagarino, though she anticipated more candidates would emerge — given that two veteran town officials are stepping down from office — she is excited to see so many contested races, which she hopes will attract more voters to the polls on April 4. 

“Usually, [when someone doesn’t seek re-election], it drums up more interest from people wanting to run, because they see it as an open seat.  Sometimes, [citizens] may want to run for office, but don’t necessarily want to go against an incumbent, because it’s seen as too hard,” said the town clerk.   

“I think it would be nice if all elected seats were contested every year.  I think it would show interest in being part of the local government.  Now they’ll be a lot of signs out, and hopefully people will take notice of that and come out to vote,” she added. 

Generally, turnout at local elections tends to be lower than participation in state and federal contests, a trend that has always baffled Sagarino since the Board of Selectmen, School Committee, and Planning Board in Stoneham have such a direct impact on residents’ everyday lives. 

The town clerk is hoping the presence of multiple contested races on the ballot will draw out more voters.  Last year, when two incumbent selectmen were unseated in municipal races, fewer than 2,300 citizens, or less than 15 percent of registered voters, cast a ballot during the April election. 

“Everything at the local level effects people whether they realize it or not.  The Board of Selectmen set your taxes.  The School Committee controls your schools.  The Planning Board sets zoning.  Even how your trash gets picked up…everything is just a product of this election,” said Sagarino. 

Local residents have until March 15 to register to vote at the town clerk’s office, if they wish to cast a ballot at the polls on April 4.

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