North Andover Selectman Says North Andover is Corrupt
By: Tom Duggan – March, 2011
NORTH ANDOVER – Last month former North Andover Selectman Don Stewart called into the Paying Attention! radio program with Tom Duggan on WHAV.NET to discuss his campaign to recapture a seat on the board. He faces two incumbents: Tracy Watson and Rick Nardella and one other challenger Joe E. Smith. Two will get elected on March 29th.
TRANSCRIBED BY DAWN Brantmuller
Duggan: Can you talk to people at home about why they should vote for you, what your ideas are, if you get back on the Board of Selectmen and what you will do better or differently than the two current incumbents who are there now.
Stewart: Well, I have been there for a long time, 15 years. I am very fiscally conservative. Being 70 years old now, I would not do anything differently than what I’ve done in the past. To serve the community, I’ve basically been the face in the community for many years. I go to all of the functions, you know, people have problems, they give me a call. It’s nice to be able to solve these problems. Basically, when I was on the board, I was licensing chairman for 11 years and I am very proud of the fact that I kept an eye on these package stores to make sure they weren’t selling to minors. That was one of my pet peeves; we did a very good job of that. Other than that, there are a lot of things that come to mind that I’ve done in the past and do you want to hear about those, or…
Duggan: You have two incumbents, now. You’ve got to unseat one of them if you want to win, and both of them have a pretty good list of accomplishments. It is very hard to defeat an incumbent. How do you plan on appealing to the people of North Andover to unseat an incumbent to put a guy in who is already there?
Stewart: Um, If I told you that, you would know my campaign strategy…. It’s not gonna work! Trust me, I have a palm card coming out in a week, OK? I’ve never had palm cards.
Duggan: How many years were you a member of the Board of Selectmen?
Stewart: 15 years on the board, 20 years as Commissioner of Disability, I worked that very hard and I’ve been the town Santa for 20 years. I basically have to rely on the people out there in town, the people I know. Every time I run, last time I lost by 100 votes, I still got 1,300 votes. It’s not that far off and you find an incumbent, if they are there, there are a lot of people that they lose faith in them or for some reason, and this happens when you are an elected official. If you don’t do things the way they want you to do them, they change on you and they go the other way. And that’s what happens and, to be honest with you, people have gone south on me because I refuse to sit in their illegal meetings with the Selectmen who want to so something that wasn’t right, it was illegal. I refused to take bribes. People tried to bribe me to get something done. I walked out and didn’t do that and these people turned south on me. Yeah, people wanted me to deny licenses for restaurants because of their friend who had another restaurant and they didn’t want competition. If I can’t stand by my morals and stand by the way I feel, I am not a phony. What you see is what you get and it’s not going to change. I don’t have a mean bone in my body. I am constantly trying to help people and get things done.
Paul: You mentioned that you were offered bribes in the past. Is this something that is common place in politics?
Stewart: I don’t know if it is common place, but people have offered me something to do something that wasn’t legal. I didn’t make a big mess out of it, I said “no” they said that they would not vote for me next time and I said “then, I don’t want your vote, sorry”. I don’t come big puppet with this kind of bullshit, this is, pardon my English, it didn’t set with me. I didn’t like being manipulated by certain groups that wanted things, I just turned the other cheek and I said “ok, this is not going to happened. You don’t want to vote for me next time? At least I have my better judgment and I have my pride” . I can hang my head on that. I mean, if people haven’t served in politics for a long time, a lot of stuff goes on…..
Duggan: Who is managing your campaign these days, who is your contact guy?
Stewart: You want to know all of my secrets?
Duggan: How is your campaign manager a secret?
Stewart: In all the years that I have been in office, I’ve never had a campaign manager. It was I and my wife. Let me put it to you this way; I have 15 young kids behind me. Energetic, they have a lot of energy. I am sure you are going to find out who they are
Duggan: I already know, I just wanted to know if you were going to be honest with me.
Stewart: No, I won’t be honest, I won’t tell you who my campaign manager…
Duggan: I know who it is, it is Phil Decologero, I just wanted to see if you would be honest.
Stewart: No, I wasn’t going to tell you that, no! And you think he’s doing it for a certain reason, he helped me with my campaign 2 years ago and, basically did a good job. There is always these younger kids who want to help, who want to make phone calls and I am energized by it. I am saying “I finally have somebody to help walk the streets with me, because I have been doing it all myself. …I did see a comment in The Valley Patriot when you asked Tracy Watson “how does it feel to have an easy race?” … and I am still laughing now. Once you’ve been in office, you know this, you make enemies. I truly believe that a lot of enemies I’ve made in the past have come back and [they’ve] said “Don, you were always right and we are willing to help you now”.
Stewart: As long as you give your views on how you feel, there is no really right and wrong in life. As long as your mind set is good and your heart is in the right place and you might say things that are off color sometimes and you don’t mean them, when push comes to shove, my background nobody can match it as far as what I have done for the town.
Duggan: What are you most proud of, either as a former board of selectman member, or whatever capacity you have worked in the town?
Stewart: I’ve missed three meetings in 15 years. You should check the candidates on what they’ve missed, it is unbelievable. I fought against the GLSD and that crap they had over there. I found out we were being overcharged for water and sewer and let the Enterprise account brought our water rates down. That’s huge. I fought the battle for the cell towers and made sure they went up to Osgood Hill, $500,000.
I got so much flack for my 3rd vote on the trash transfer station. If anybody has been down there, that place is spotless. What happens is part of the deal with that third vote, is that I make sure that the dumps and industries provide the truck and manpower to do the recycling in town from now until forever. It is between $150,000 to $200,000 per year, it saves the town. Nobody knows these things and I don’t toot my horn, but those are the things that I am most proud of. Keeping the alcohol out of kids hands, being licensing chairman.
Being on the commission of disability and putting these lights in and raising the fines for parking and a camera program for people who are parking, we take the pictures and give them a ticket on our own. The GPS, the young kids and the Autistic kids, they get lost, we can find them within a minute in this town. We’ve done an awful lot, this is…
I make it a full time job, whatever I do. Even though I haven’t been a selectman, I was out of politics for one year because I had to survive prostate cancer. If I can survive that, I can jump back into a race and just be myself. Here I am guys, you either like me or you don’t. It doesn’t really matter, because all I want to do is help this town.
I have been here all of my life and I have such pride in this town and people can’t take that away from me. I will give you one example that I am concerned with, Oscar Hill, they are always saying that they are in the red, they are losing money, but when I do the figures, they don’t include the $500,000 that is coming for rentals for those cell towers. That should be considered with the property, therefore they wouldn’t be losing money.
The answer I get is “we are using that money to pay off the debt”, well guys, guess what? We had an override and people’s taxes were raised to pay that override. If that is the way you are doing it on your accounting system, then, that $500,000.00 should be coming back to the residents in this town as a rebate in their taxes, because they voted for that override.
Duggan: You mentioned twice that you were offered bribes. That is a pretty heavy thing, if you were offered bribes for your votes on the Board of Selectmen, when you were a member of the licensing board, did you go to law enforcement, did you report those things, and those are crimes.
Stewart: I walked away, I don’t need that. Some people, they might have been kidding, I don’t know if they were or not, but I wasn’t going to get involved in that kind of a scuttle but and it’s not my nature. I just walked away. I mean, even people were trying to buy me a coffee, I don’t even want a coffee from somebody, because they might say I accepted a bribe from somebody.
Those are small bribes, I mean, they have larger amounts, they want a license [and say] “what you want to do for me, I’ll make it worth your while…” and I say “no, don’t talk to me about this, go bug somebody else”. You know, you can go to the authorities, but nothing is on video, nothing is on tape and you are blowing smoke. So, why make something that is going to cost you an awful amount of stress, just walk away, turn your back on the whole thing and just go on with your life the way you do things and that is all I can do.
I think Mark Reese, the Town Manager has done such a great job of running the finances and a lot of the times before, I didn’t agree with the way he did things, because I had my emotional mind run my fiscal mind. He has a destination to reach. He has things he has to get done. He is a really sharp fellow for doing this. There is some stuff that has happened in the last year, I thought somebody was head hunting him again, I didn’t like that, you know? I didn’t like some of the reports that came in, that confusion about the purchasing agent selling all of that property. That was awful and you can’t blame Mark Reese for that, because that is just one of the things, you have a person like that with great credentials and nobody is at fault for it. You just have to move on from that whole thing. There are some people that think that he should be watching the sky 24 hours a day. You can’t do that, he is the guy that holds this town together with the budget and the finance committee; he is the one that puts us in the right direction.
He’s been there for like 10 years, I was on the board when he was appointed. I’ve seen those qualities and they are still there now and you couldn’t have a better guy for a town manager.