Voters Tuesday ousted an 18-year veteran of the Board of Selectmen and put in his place a candidate who for the last two years has run a watchdog website calling for increased government transparency, reduced property taxes and fiscal austerity.
Bob Landry, 53, of 4 Seminole Circle came in second place with 1,840 votes — just 17 votes shy of incumbent Chairman Dan Kowalski, who topped the ticket in a four-way race for two selectmen seats in the annual town election.
Incumbent Brian Major, who was running for his seventh, three-year term, placed third with 1,623 votes, with first-time challenger Neil Senior in fourth with just 600 votes.
For School Committee, another incumbent was bounced from the ticket, as David Birnbach came in last in the field of four candidates running for two, three-year seats.
Topping the ticket was Susan McCready with 1,795 votes. At second was former selectman Ted Teichert with 1,574 votes.
Challenger Kim Sousa’s bid came up short, with 1,322 votes.
Incumbent Chairman Annie Gilbert gained one more year on the School Committee, topping challenger Paul Properzio to finish out the term left by newly elected state Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover.
Town Clerk Larry Murphy said about 15 percent of the town’s registered voters came out, which he called “respectable” for a local election.
Candidates and their supporters said the election showed that residents want change.
“From what I’m hearing, the residents want transparency and fiscal responsibility,” said Landry, celebrating at Casa Blanca restaurant in downtown Andover with friends and family. “This was a very important election. It’s clear what the issues were. The selection of the next town manager, the budgeting process and controlling the rate of growth of taxes. The voters sent that message.”
Kowalski, celebrating with 20 to 25 friends at his home on Enfield Drive, said he was “flattered” that he topped the ticket.
“We ran a campaign based on my accomplishments and successes,” he said. “We tried to keep it positive.”
He said he wasn’t sure what to think of the fact that his colleague, Major, wasn’t re-elected.
“This was a tough one to call,” he said. “I wasn’t sure which way it would go. I’m more surprised that I came in first.”
Neither Major nor Senior could be reached for comment.
Landry supporters said they think the election was historic.
“This was a momentous election,” said local activist Bob Pokress, who worked with Landry on their watchdog website townofandover.com, which became Landry’s campaign website. “It reflects the voice of the voters expressing their desire to see material change in how the School Committee and selectmen face the big issues.”
Selectmen Alex Vispoli, on hand at Casa Blanca along with Selectman Mary O’Donoghue to congratulate Landry, said voters sent an important message to town leadership.
“The town wants the Board of Selectmen to watch out for the taxpayer,” he said. “That’s the message of today.”
Political newcomer McCready said she was thrilled to top the ticket for the School Committee race.
“I didn’t expect that I’d beat out everybody, but I have a lot of people I’ve touched and who have been supporting me, so at this point, I’m not surprised,” she said.
“This is the first campaign I’ve ever been in. It was definitely more intense than I expected it to be, but I thought it was a well-run campaign by everybody. I just wish the camaraderie we felt outside holding signs today can carry over, because it’s really important and everyone was great to everyone today. I hope that continues, because it will help the community move forward.”
Teichert, a former member of the Board of Selectmen, said his goal is to work closely with the other School Committee members and do what’s best for the town.
“As a selectman, I listened,” he said. “You’ve got to listen to people. We can do better. It’s not what you can’t do, it’s what you can do.”
First-time candidate Sousa, who came in third, said she had a “great experience,” despite losing.
“I have met some really amazing people, and I feel like it was a great experience to get my name out there,” she said. “I’m extremely disappointed, but I hope that some good came from this. I think I ran a good campaign.”
Incumbent Birnbach was traveling in India with some of his students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and could not be reached for comment.
Gilbert, the incumbent who won election for the one-year seat vacated by L’Italien, said she was “delighted and humbled. Also, I appreciate the support and the vote of confidence.”
She said the three-year race was “too close to call” in the days leading up to the election.
“I talked to so many people over the course of the last few days, and everyone had a different take about how it’d shake out,” she said. “I felt I’d be surprised no matter what, but I think new, fresh perspectives are good for any board and I’m really excited and looking forward to working with Ted and Susan.”
Her opponent, Paul Properzio, said it was the first time he had run a campaign for political office, but that he learned from it.
“I feel like I’ve grown from it,” he said. “It was a great experience and I’ll try again next year.”
For many people voting at Andover High School Tuesday, the election was about high taxes and fresh ideas.
Sue Stamas, 49, of 5 Thresher Road, said it was time to upset the status quo.
“Our taxes keep going up,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a given that the budget goes up every year.”
While she wouldn’t reveal who she voted for, she said it was “time to put our hats on and think about different options.”
Bill Suglia, 57, of 26 Tilton Lane, agreed.
“We need new blood in there,” said Suglia, who voted for Landry and Kowalski for selectmen and Teichert and McCready for School Committee.
Kevin Reid, 70, of 2 Cattle Crossing, concurred.
“I want good people who are willing to work hard for the town and the schools,” he said. “I think new blood is good. I don’t want things to get stale.”
Some voters have been keeping a close eye on spending.
Peter Gori of 43 Essex St. said he thought that while the Board of Selectmen was doing a “good job” keeping an eye on high property taxes, he was disappointed during last year’s Town Meeting when voters narrowly defeated an amendment to the budget proposed by Landry that would have cut $1 million from the health insurance line item. The amount proposed to be cut was roughly the same amount that would have been saved if the town’s unions had agreed to switch to a new health insurance plan.
“That was a big disappointment,” he said. “It looked like $1 million went away that could have been used elsewhere. That upset a lot of people.”
Amy Ferraro, 42, of Avon St., said she came out to vote for Properzio, who ran against Gilbert, because he was a neighbor and a friend of her parents.
“I don’t usually vote, but ... I think it would be good to get some fresh blood on the School Committee,” she said. “And I think he’d be a good advocate for our schools.”
While some voters wanted to see cutbacks in the schools, others wanted to see the opposite.
“I had to vote for School Committee,” said Sonia Vermani, 40, of Sunset Rock Road. “I have three kids. There’s a lot at stake. I don’t want any more teachers fired.”
She said she voted for Sousa and McCready because “I think they’ll do the job.”
The town clerk said turnout was steady throughout the day.
As of 3 p.m. 1,862 ballots had been cast, representing about 8.3 percent of the 22,422 registered voters.
“It’s not overwhelming,” Murphy said.
He said there was a bump in turnout after the evening commute and during the dinner hour, which pushed turnout to just over 15 percent.
Last year, just 5 percent of voters turned out, but there were no contested races. In the past, contested races have brought out as many as 20 to 25 percent of the voters for a local election.