By: Brian Genest – July, 2020
Times are a-changin’ in Dracut. After the town scandals of 2019, it’s about time! Just ask the voters…
This year, in a five-way race for two open seats on the board of selectmen, political newcomer Alison Genest topped the ticket, leaving some well-known town politicians in the rear of the pack. (Full disclosure: As Alison’s husband and campaign manager, I’m completely biased about her and her incredible victory. As a columnist, former news reporter and observer of Dracut politics since the late 80s, I’m completely thrilled! Change may come slowly in Dracut, but it has finally arrived.)
My wife is a town native, but she isn’t part of the political establishment. And that wasn’t the only thing that made her attractive as a candidate. As a financial services professional, she has relevant, real-world experience that can help move the town through what could be some very challenging economic times ahead. Voters responded, overwhelmingly supporting an experienced outsider with a fresh face and a positive message.
One familiar face rejected by the voters was Phil Thibault. He lost his sixth town election. Thibault, who was pushed heavily by the Dracut Connection (and a couple former selectmen), is close with the hosts of the cable TV show and often appears as an on-set guest.
In its post-election opining, however, the Lowell Sun speculated that perhaps it was Thibault’s service as chairman of the town manager screening committee that cost him the race.
“It just might be that in Thibault’s case, familiarity breeds more contempt than content,” the paper speculated in a post-election editorial. “It could also be payback for the decision by that screening panel he ran not to put interim—now permanent—Town Manager Ann Vandal on the list of finalists for that position.”
Regardless, like other candidates in the race, Thibault talked a lot about his board service. Like the other candidates who talked about their board service, he mentioned few accomplishments that benefitted the town as a result. Whatever the reason for his loss, one thing’s for certain: Thibault touting his service on just about every board in town over the last two decades wasn’t enough to help him win and neither were his connections.
Joe Espinola, a former member of the school committee at the Greater Lowell Technical High School and a failed candidate for state senate in 2018, did practically nothing as far as campaigning – and his embarrassing numbers showed it. One of the few things he did was show up for the televised debate. Next time, he should show up prepared! Espinola was all over the place with his answers; at one point, he outed a member of his family while answering a question about LGBTQ students.
Espinola has had quite a metamorphosis himself: In 2018, he was a Republican, one of Gov. Charlie Baker’s chosen superdelegates to the Massachusetts Republican State Convention and a self-proclaimed supporter of President Trump’s. Today, he’s unenrolled and apparently suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. That won’t help him with Republican voters in any future elections in Dracut, which the president won by the largest percentage in the Merrimack Valley and will no doubt carry again this year based on his incredible economic results, supporting our police, rebuilding our military, taking care of our veterans and all the other winning on his amazingly long list of accomplishments.
Mark Pease, chairman of the planning board, never had a chance to finish anywhere but dead last, as a result of calling for the town to defy the governor’s COVID-19 directives. His debate performance, like his Facebook rants, was somewhat amusing nonetheless.
Speaking of the debate, one question submitted by a resident put all the town’s recent problems front and center once again: “Procurement issues, lawsuits against the town, no confidence votes and internal investigations have put Dracut in the news this past year. Do you think that’s a problem?”
The voters of Dracut apparently thought it was a problem. Maybe they’ve finally had enough with the political shenanigans. Maybe they want fiscal discipline, transparency and accountability. Maybe they want an independent voice, private-sector experience and civility in town politics. Perhaps that’s the reason they so strongly rejected the politicians and politics of the past at the ballot box this year.
—Brian Genest is chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee and a member of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee representing the Second Essex & Middlesex district of Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury. He’s also a proud husband. ◊