‘Farewell and thank you, Belmont’ – Town Meeting Member Bids Adieu

Dear Precinct 1 Belmontians:

Thank you for the opportunity to serve on Town Meeting these past three years. I’m grateful to have worked with such intelligent and committed public servants, and for the tireless work and dedication of everyone who contributes to our town — and I’m proud of what we accomplished these past three years. I am graduating from college this May and may soon be moving out of Belmont, so I am not running for re-election.

I look back on the victories — whether it be the moment we stood up for undocumented immigrants with the overwhelming passage of the Welcoming Town resolution, the many votes we took to turn the new Belmont High from concept into reality, and smaller victories such as whenever Don Mercier moves a question. I’m proud to be born and raised Belmontian, and I’m grateful to have worked with such committed and passionate community servants to play a small role in moving our town forward.

Reflecting on the past three years as a Town Meeting Member, and my time involved in this community since childhood, I am proud of the direction our town has gone: From the corruption of the Monahan days to an increasingly diverse and forward-thinking town government, from underfunding our schools when I was in Chenery to 76% of voters approving the new Belmont High last fall.

Splitting this Town Meeting term between my teens and my twenties, I’m grateful to only once have had a Selectman mistake me for a custodian and tell me to throw out his trash. But in all seriousness, I’m glad to have brought a youth perspective to the table, whether in conversations regarding the future of Belmont schools, immigrant protections, affordable housing, or environmental policies — young voices form a perspective that’s needed now, more than ever, in our town and in our country, and I hope that Belmont expands opportunities for students to engage in local advocacy and town government.

I’d like to thank my Belmont Public School teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade. Their tireless work and dedication was fundamental in building my desire to engage in advocacy and public service, and in driving me to where I am today. I am proud to be part of a community that values and invests in its public schools.

I want to recognize the Belmontians who are no longer with us, but who mentored and shaped me growing up. I first met Dan Scharfman when he knocked on my door while running for School Committee when I was in 7th grade. No one had ever cared what I thought, but he took the time to ask and to listen — and in doing so, inspired me to start engaging in advocacy around town. That year, when my teachers were at risk of being laid off, I wrote a cringeworthy but well-intentioned Citizen-Herald op-ed about the 2010 override and held signs outside Precinct 1’s polling place for the first time. I would also like to thank Trish Lohmar, who mentored me about progressive advocacy and civic action as I grew up. I’m inspired by the dedication of Dan and Trish to bettering the Belmont community, and more importantly for being incredible welcoming and supportive people.

There have also been harder moments. When I was canvassing during my campaign for Town Meeting, a person first said they would vote for me, then asked me if I am Jewish, and then told me they would probably not vote for me because of my religion. That interaction demonstrates the importance of staying vigilant for antisemitism and other forms of prejudice and white supremacy in our community. Addressing complaints as a member of the Belmont Human Rights Commission and answering the civil rights complaint hotline for Attorney General Healey’s office provided reminders that antisemitism and racism are more common in our community than most people realize, and must be fought accordingly.

I said this when I first ran for Town Meeting, and it is still just as true as I finish my term: Never be satisfied with the status quo. Question, innovate, and embrace bold ideas. These past few years have reinforced my belief in the importance of never listening to the tired arguments that “Belmont isn’t ready” or “it’s too difficult” or “it’s too controversial, people will be angry.” I’ll be the first to acknowledge the many issues facing our town — but local government has reminded me to never be deterred by entrenched institutions. Particularly in the Trump era, local government has enormous power to lead the way, stand up for our values, and fight for justice and progress.

Belmont’s successes leave gaps that must be addressed by thinking big and acting bold. With federal inaction and a state legislature that has failed consistently to pass adequate climate legislation, it’s up to local government to lead the way on addressing the climate crisis by adhering to and expanding on the emission reductions in the Belmont Climate Action Plan. Watertown, for instance, just became the first city to mandate solar panels on all new commercial buildings. Belmont could send a bold message of climate leadership by being the second. We must face the reality that single family zoning in affluent suburbs like Belmont has consistently facilitated socioeconomic inequality and racial disparity, and contributes to the region’s affordable housing crisis. We must support lower-income residents by continuing to build safeguards for those who cannot afford the increasing tax burden, and ensuring adequate affordable housing through zoning reform to allow for increased density. We must increase awareness of issues of racial justice and immigrant justice in a relatively homogenous environment that is conducive to facilitating ignorance about race and inequity. To grow and strengthen our town, it’s important to face these hard truths by acknowledging and then tackling them head on.

There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m confident that we have a strong group of Town Meeting Members and a strong Selectboard, and I look forward to both bodies continuing to become more forward-thinking, diverse and representative of our community in the coming years. The choices on April 2nd are clear.

And to Belmont’s students and young people: this is your town, too. Raise your voices, demand they be heard, and ensure that our generation has a seat at the table. Get involved in town government and advocacy. Run for office. Not only do your voices matter, it’s critical that your voices are heard and elevated in decisions on town and school policy.

It has been my honor to serve Precinct 1 in Town Meeting these past three years, and to be part of the Belmont community while growing up. One thing is certain: I’ll always be grateful for everything I’ve learned from our town community these past 21 years, and I will fight for racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice, and education justice wherever I end up.

Thank you, Precinct 1, for the opportunity to serve you these past three years. Thank you, Belmont.

Daniel Vernick

Town Meeting Member – Precinct 1

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