Clifton residents went to the polls Tuesday and re-elected all their incumbent town officials, racking up a record voter turnout along the way.
Jim Chesley will serve a sixth, two-year term as mayor, and Laura Harrington, Mac Arnold, Wayne Nickum, Bill Hollaway and Margo Buckley will return to the Town Council.
"We had a phenomenal turnout — 79 percent," said Chesley. And with 142 of Clifton's 180 registered voters casting their ballots — including 19 absentee voters — it's an achievement that would be hard to match in any other jurisdiction.
"I'm extremely pleased [about it]," said Chesley. "It's a testament to the people and their interest in their local government."
He was challenged for mayor by popular Clifton Store owner, Tom McNamara, in a race that turned nasty and bitter at times and pitted friends against friends in this small town where practically everybody knows everybody else. Calling his margin of victory "extremely close," Chesley beat McNamara by just 14 votes, 78-64, garnering 55 percent of the votes to McNamara's 45 percent.
Although the polls in the Clifton Town Meeting Hall closed at 7 p.m., the final vote totals were not in until 9:30 p.m. Said Chesley: "About 50 people stood outside waiting for the results."
McNamara is well-known in the town, but so is Chesley, having lived there since 1976. And in his 10 years as mayor, he's made invaluable connections throughout the county and state for Clifton's benefit and has been able to obtain several improvements for the town.
Most recently, with the help of Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), he was successful in getting a full-time police officer to crack down on motorists speeding through Clifton. And he's already got a variety of traffic-calming measures in the works to deal with the town's cut-through traffic problem.
Still, town residents are divided on certain issues — such as the renovation of an old barn for public use and how best to accomplish it, so one of Chesley's first goals as he starts his new term will be to try to bridge the gap. Said Chesley: "We need to all get together on the same page and move ahead with the town's best interests at heart."
In the Town Council race, six people competed for five seats, with challenger Taya Abbott being defeated. Top vote-getter was Harrington, with 112, followed by Arnold, 106; Nickum, 104; Hollaway, 99; Buckley, 90 and Abbott, 77. Traditionally, the candidate receiving the highest vote total in this race becomes Clifton's vice-mayor; that decision will be made at the next Town Council meeting, June 4.
And for Harrington, Tuesday's election results were bittersweet. "I'm really happy to be re-elected and part of the council again," she said. "But it's a small town, so it's tough to see your friends and neighbors lose." However, since McNamara is also on the Clifton Betterment Association (CBA) and Abbott is a member of the town Planning Commission, said Harrington, "both have leadership positions, so both will still have strong voices [in the town]."
Overall, she's optimistic about Clifton's future. "As a council, we work well together, and we're seasoned now," she said. "And we've established good communication with the county."
Serving in the town's government takes time and commitment, is unpaid and, in Harrington's case, sometimes takes her away from her young children. But she says it's important for children to learn the value of civic participation.
Furthermore, she said, she volunteers because "you're ultimately doing it to build a strong community for your kids. The decisions you make continue to build a better future for Clifton and for everyone here."
Like Chesley, Harrington hopes some of the town's wounds may be healed to everyone's advantage. "One of my missions is to get the town and the CBA to work more cohesively and collaboratively together," she said. And, as the Town Council's representative to the CBA, she's well-positioned to do so.
She's also concerned about the effects of the cut-through traffic on the neighborhoods on the outskirts of Clifton. Said Harrington: "We need to watchdog and take a more active role in what happens in the greater Clifton area."
So if she becomes vice-mayor, what will her duties be? "The vice-mayor runs the Town Council meeting when the mayor is away," she said. But she's not exactly holding her breath until then. Said Harrington: "Jim has only missed two meetings in 10 years."