By Dustin Luca
---- — Four people familiar with Andover politics are eying two seats for the Board of Selectmen in this year’s annual elections.
There are still a few days left for residents who hope to run for the open seats to pull nomination papers and gather signatures.
So far, two residents had guaranteed themselves spots in this year’s contest after filing their paperwork and having all signatures certified. They’re also both incumbents: Paul Salafia, elected the board for two years in 2011, and Alex Vispoli, elected to a third term on the board in 2010.
A third resident has filed papers to run, but hadn’t yet gone through certification as of Townsman deadline on Tuesday. Larry Bruce, of Chandler Road, filed his papers to run with 63 signatures to be certified. 50 are necessary to run.
As of Tuesday, Cyr Circle resident Mary Carbone also pulled nomination papers. She said she hadn’t yet decided on officially running for office, but pulled papers so she could keep her options open.
Bruce said he is running because “there aren’t any candidates running that have the residents’ interests at heart.”
If Bruce were to be elected, he said his top priority would be updating the town’s charter so it reflects “a better form of government.”
“If you notice, the attendance of Town Meeting on the second night can often be as low as 200 when critical articles are voted upon,” Bruce said. “There’s such a small sampling of residents, that it’s very easy for a special interest group to stuff the meeting and cast upon the residents votes which aren’t in the general public’s interest.”
When asked to respond, both Salafia and Vispoli said the current system is the right one for Andover, and under alternatives, a similar number of people would participate.
“People want to have the voice. The opportunity is there,” Vispoli said. “I think Town Meeting certainly is accessible to everybody. It proceeds to provide information on the issues so people can make a choice, and I think it allows the citizens to have direct input.”
Salafia said holding board positions in town for 20 years has given him the chance to work with other towns and see how they operate.
“Andover is run extremely well, and I think the form of government is appropriate,” he said.
Carbone, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Board of Selectmen in 2007, said “it took about five or six guys to keep me out of there. It was an experience.”
“I don’t think things are going too well right now in the town, from a financial standpoint,” she said. “There are too many big ticket items and the residents deserve a break.”
Carbone is a frequent audience member at town board meetings, especially in the case of the Board of Selectmen.
“I want to think it out,” she said. “I want to think, if I’m doing better on the other side (as a member of the audience) or if I’d be better off on the Board of Selectmen.”
Vispoli said he is returning to the ballot because “there’s a lot of work that we started that I want to work on.” His focus would be on what it has for the last several years: “to find ways to streamline and reduce the cost of delivering services,” he said.
During his time on the board, selectmen have worked with Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski to reorganize the town’s IT department. They’ve also charged Stapczynski through his contract’s goal system to outsource town functions to the private sector in order to save money.
Next, Vispoli hopes the town tackles merging the town’s Plant and Facilities Department with the Department of Public Works.
Salafia, a long-time Planning Board member elected to fill a two-year selectmen seat in 2011, said his plan for his first three-year term would be to focus on what he couldn’t do with a shorter term.
“I originally ran with 17 years experience on Planning Board to help the Board of Selectmen with zoning, and all my expertise in planning certainly does help with the Town Yard, the (Ballardvale) Fire Station, the Bancroft school,” he said.
While those projects need solutions, some of which are already in the works, “I would love to be part of the final solution on the Route 93 interchange,” he said.
The towns of Tewksbury, Wilmington and Andover have been involved in planning for a new Interstate 93 exit in an as-yet undeveloped space where the three towns meet.
Now, “we’re nearly shovel ready,” Salafia said. “The three towns have agreed, in principal. It really stands in both the state and federal governments’ courts at this point.”
During Vispoli’s last election in 2010, he took first place to Jerry Stabile Jr., whose departure later that year led to Salafia being elected to serve the two years remaining of his term. Bruce took third in the race with just over half as many votes as Vispoli.
While that campaign ran without issue, Bruce ran again in 2011 against Salafia and current Selectmen Dan Kowalski for the remainder of Stabile’s time on the board. That election ended with a state investigation into a violation of campaign law from Andover Youth Services.
Bruce brought the state’s attention to the race after Andover youth were transported in town vehicles to the polling place on election day to campaign for Salafia. After their investigation, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance said town resources were being used inappropriately to influence an election.
“The issue was the illegal busing and transporting of students on his behalf,” Bruce said of Salafia. “A violation had occurred.”
Salafia viewed it differently. While he acknowledges a violation took place, it’s why the youth came out that matters, he argues.
“A bunch of kids made signs and supported a candidate they thought would advance the ideals and causes of the youth,” he said. “One of the campaign promises I made when I was running the first time was I would support the youth center. That’s why the youth came out and supported me, and I would like to think I had something to do with the youth center being passed at Town Meeting.”