Town Election ’17: Incumbents Baghdady, Shuster Step Aside

Photo: Sami Baghdady, Elyse Shuster

Citing personal commitments, a pair of town government incumbents have decided not to seek re-election.

Selectman Sami Baghdady and School Committee member Elyse Shuster told the Belmontonian at Monday’s town budget presentation they would not be running to retain their seats on the respective committees.

“It’s about a quality of life,” said Baghdady, who noted he had spent the past 12 years as a member or the chair of groups including the Selectmen, the Planning Board, and the Warrant Committee. 

“Now it’s time for me to focus my attention on my young family and my busy practice,” said Baghdady who is an Arlington-based attorney. 

Baghdady, who help lead the Planning Board through the special permit process on the Cushing Village project, was completing his first term as a Selectman, having served as its chair and vice chair during his three years on the board.

Shuster was elected in 2013 to the committee. In 2016, she abandoned her seat to win the one-year term which remained after Laurie Graham resigned.

While she did take out nomination papers for this year’s town election, “I decided over the weekend that I wouldn’t run,” Shuster told the Belmontonian.

“A couple of commitments” prompted her not to run, she said. 

Town Election 2017: Bowen Seeking A School Seat? Sami Will Say Soon His Future

Photo: Will he or won’t he. Only Sami knows.

Catherine “Kate” Bowen, the chair of Sustainable Belmont, has taken out nomination papers for a possible race for the Belmont School Committee.

Incumbents Tom Caputo (who has qualified to be on the ballot) and Elyse Shuster (who has also taken out nomination papers) currently occupy the two seats up for grabs at the annual Town Election on Monday, April 4. Bowen and Shuster have until Feb. 14 to submit 50 signatures of eligible voters to the Town Clerk’s office.

The Bartlett Avenue resident is active in town government – she is an active Town Meeting Member from Precinct 4 – and is involved at the Butler Elementary School which her children attend.

Bowen is a program administrator at Harvard University who matriculated at Hampshire College and has an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She also has a background in teaching art and art history at several Boston-area colleges and universities.

Will Sami Run?


That’s all incumbent Belmont Board of Selectman Sami Baghdady had to say on Monday, Jan. 23 when asked if he would be running to retain his seat on the three-member committee.

While newcomers Adam Dash and Guy Carbone have been certified for the April 4 ballot, Baghdady has not passed through the Town Clerk’s office in Town Hall to pick up the necessary nomination papers.

While the attorney has plenty of time to collect the 50 signatures needed have his name before voters, residents around the coffee shops (especially the politically astute who hang out at the Dunkin’ Donuts on Trapelo Road) and town centers are asking; “Is Sami running?”

Known for his lawyerly demeanor on the board – he recently saved the town several thousand dollars in lost tax revenue when he spotted a possible legal dodge in the sales contract for the new electrical substation – Baghdady has pushed the members to complete long-delayed projects such as the community path.

While there is no indication the life-long resident who has held many roles in town government over the years isn’t running – he has been actively attending events such as the public meeting on Cushing Village this week – the curiosity of voters gets stronger by the day.

Town Election ’17: Carbone In, Dash On The Way, Waiting on Baghdady

Photo: Guy Carbone.

If anyone was wondering about Guy Carbone‘s commitment to the race for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, you could rest assure the octogenarian is serious about winning a three-year term on the board as the Woodfall Road resident is the first resident to turn in his nomination papers to the Town Clerk’s Office on Tuesday, Jan. 17. 

If 50 signatures are verified by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, Carbone will be the first official candidate on the ballot for the Selectman’s seat now occupied by Sami Baghdady. 

In an earlier conversation with the Belmontonian, Carbone said his run for office will focus on repairing and improving Belmont’s notorious roads and sidewalks.

“We pay a lot of taxes to maintain our streets, but at this stage of the game, there is no leadership among the Selectmen,” said Carbone, who touted his experience as a four-term member of the Watertown School Committee and two terms as a selectman in Watertown. 

Carbone said he would help Glenn Clancy, director of the Office of Community Development, deliver on the promises made to neighborhoods such the Hillcrest community where he lives.

While Carbone is first, in the next few days, another challenger is expected to walk into Town Hall with a stack of papers with signatures to be certified.

Adam Dash, a Goden Street resident and a member of the Warrant Committee, told the Belmontonian Monday, Jan. 16 he has 50 residents’ John Hancocks and wanted to collect a few more than needed before handing them over to Cushman.

It was expected that Dash was committed to a run for selectman as he has created a slick website for his campaign and building a team of community members to back his race.

With two potential candidates moving forward with their campaigns, the person still up in the air on a possible run is incumbent Sami Baghdady. The Arlington-based attorney has yet to take out nomination papers to retain his seat on the board he won three years ago in a race against another non-officeholder, Roger Colton. 

But before anyone makes any conclusions, hopefuls have until Feb. 14 to submit nomination papers. 

In other races, incumbent Tom Caputo will be seeking a full three-year term on the School Committee while Elyse Shuster, who is holding a partial term seat, told the Belmontonian she was still considering whether to run. 

Baghdady Named Chair of Belmont Board of Selectmen: “Time for Healing”

Photo: Sami Baghdady.

One year after being elected to the Belmont Board of Selectmen, Sami Baghdady was named the board’s new chair at the first meeting of the group after the Town Election.

“I am honored to be named and selected,” said Baghdady after the board’s meeting Wednesday night, April 8.

Baghdady’s colleague and longest serving member of the board, Mark Paolillo, was named as vice chair.

“I will need your experience” running the board, Baghdady told Paolillo.

A real estate and corporate attorney with a solo practice in Arlington, the nearly life-long resident of Belmont – Butler, Chenery, Belmont High alum – lives with his wife, Rola, and family near Belmont’s Central Square. Before winning election to fill an open seat on the board with the retirement of Ralph Jones, Baghdady is best known for his leadership of the Planning Board from 2010 to 2014.

Baghdady replaces Andy Rojas, defeated in Tuesday’s election to the board’s newest member, Jim Williams.

After the meeting, Baghdady told the Belmontonian his first act as chair will be to bring together both sides of the contentious $4.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 Override ballot question to work towards common goals.

“The time for healing needs to begin,” he said, adding that he will work to highlight the concerns of the supporters of the override – approved by nearly 900 votes Tuesday – and those who raised questions about the amount requested and spending the additional funds in the correct line items.

In the lead up to the election, the level of charges and counter-charges of petty vandalism to political signs and neighbors acting unneighborly to each other over their stance on the override resulted in the Town Clerk and Belmont Police to issue a town-wide notice for all sides on the issue to be more civil in their discourse.

“As I said at the meeting, it is the role of the Board of Selectmen to unite the community since we are all neighbors,” said Baghdady.

Baghdady Pins Selectman’s Post; Pool Passes Swimmingly

The Baghdady’s knows a bit about being tough on the wrestling circle – two from the extended Belmont family fought their ways to state wrestling championships – and on Tuesday night, April 1, Sami Baghdady took to the political mat and battled his way to the close victory to succeed the retiring Ralph Jones on Belmont’s Board of Selectmen at yesterday’s annual Town Election.

At 8:30 p.m., Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman announced that Baghdady, who is a member of the Planning Board and Warrant Committee, beat Energy Committee Co-Chair Roger Colton, 3,033 to 2,784, as nearly 6,000 voters, or about 32.9 percent, took out ballots on a beautiful, sunny spring day.

Baghdady joins his former Planning Board colleague Andy Rojas and current Selectmen’s chair Mark Paolillo on the board. Tonight, Wednesday, April 2, the board will vote on this year’s chair and committee representatives.

In the co-main event of the night, the $2.9 million debt exclusion to pay for the majority of the $5.2 million new Underwood Pool proved to be extremely popular, approved overwhelmingly by Belmont voters, 3,377 to 2,093, as taxpayers decided to pay an extra $43 (for a house valued at $777,000) in the first of the 15 years of the bond, falling a dollar a year over the term of the loan.

In the other competitive race, newcomers Kathleen Keohane and Gail Mann beat out incumbent Matt Sullivan for the two open seats on the Board of Library Trustees in a close race: 35.6 percent for Keohane (2,908 votes), 34 percent for Mann (2,787 votes) and 30.3 percent (2,475 votes). But each of the candidates were “beaten” by the 3,718 voters who didn’t mark their ballot for either of the three challengers.

Selectmen Candidates State
Their Positions In One-Minute Increments


But at the Belmont League of Women Voter’s annual Candidates Night held at the Chenery Middle School on Monday, March 24., the charges being hurled at the end of the Q&A session between Board of Selectmen candidates Sami Baghdady and Roger Colton did not come from the candidates themselves but from a segment of the audience which felt that Colton was not receiving his full 60 seconds to answer questions and from Baghdady supporters who took that charge as a slight to their man.

While the ever-so-slight uproar was going on in the   on the stage, the men – who were quite cordial – seeking to replace the retiring Ralph Jones on the three-member board were quite cordial who did have one common advisory: the stern hand of moderator Anna Whitcomb Knight who kept answers under a strict one-minute limit.

Knight’s proclamation: “Stop please!” at the end of 60 seconds left many of the candidate’s statements hanging out over the audience mid-sentence to the amusement of some attending.

With eight days before the town election on April 1, the question and answer session – there was no chance for the pair to debate issues facing the town – did reveal at times differing approaches each man would bring to the three-year term.

While stating that Belmont is a wonderful place to live, “[it] has many serious problems that need to be fixed,” said Colton, the co-chair of the Energy Committee, in his opening remarks.

The biggest issue facing the town is “we simply must start planning for the long run both by improving the existing ways we do services and finding innovations that save money and improve the quality of services,” Colton said.

Baghdady, who is a current and past chair of the Planning Board, is on the Warrant Committee  said that he was “running for selectman to maintain what we love about our town and change what we don’t.”

” … but Belmont also faces challenges. We must find the means to revitalize our [town] squares, repair our streets and sidewalks, renovate our high school and keep Belmont a place where we can all afford to live,” he said.

Both candidates highlighted their skill sets and accomplishments along with practical accomplishments during their tenures on town committees and boards; the reuse of surplus fire houses and promoting affordable housing by Colton and Baghdady including public concerns into the planning decisions of the Cushing Village development and the Wellington Elementary school.

During their 45 minutes on the stage, the candidates agreed on several topics – a reluctance to increase the commercial real estate tax rate as being harmful to small business creation, being supportive of greater “green” initiatives, and finding resources to repair the town’s notoriously poor side streets – including what will likely become the hot button issue later in 2014; the possibility of a Proposition 2 1/2 override to assist in financing the town’s long-term obligations. Baghdady said an override to meet the capital needs facing the town “is on the table with me” while Colton said an override would be “in the tool box” that the selectmen and town must have to resolve the “undeniable fact” of revenue shortfalls to resolve maintenance issues.

Yet there were times when the candidates took diverging directions on topics of general concern among residents.

Increasing student population: Baghdady would accommodate increases in student population temporarily with modular classrooms but his long-term solution would be increasing the size of a renovated High School to accommodate five rather than four grades – 8th to 12th – with the Chenery Middle School taking in 4th to 8th graders with renovations to two of Belmont’s four elementary schools; the Butler and Burbank, that will house the 600 new students expected in the schools in the coming decade.

Colton said the primer issue to come up with a long-term plan to “bring the town’s financial house in order” that will allow the hiring of teachers and support staff (such as the return of librarians) to fill rooms that are empty due to an insufficient number of teachers.

Affordable housing: Colton is supportive of using $375,000 in Community Preservation Committee funds to help up to three families whose incomes are below the area’s medium rate to subsidize the purchase of  homes in Belmont, noting the effort Belmont had committed to affordable house in the past decade, despite the relatively small number, allowed the town to receive $16 million in state funding for the Trapelo/Belmont Corridor reconstruction.

Baghdady noted that Belmont will need to create 624 units of affordable housing to reach the state’s mandated 10 percent level of moderate housing to be exempt from the state’s 40B requirement allowing developers to construct housing sites that sidestep town zoning restrictions as long as they have a certain number of affordable units set aside. He does not believe the subsidize blueprint is not a wise use of taxpayer’s money. Rather he hopes the state would give Belmont credit for the hundreds of below-market cost apartments in the Waverley Square district towards meeting the state’s affordable housing mandates.

Town Planner: When asked if Belmont should replace Planning and Economic Development Manager Jay Szklut who resigned in 2012, Colton was respective to the proposition noting that the sites of many former businesses have been replaced by financial institutions,

“Belmont is becoming not only a town of homes and potholes, it’s becoming a town of banks,” he said.

Baghdady said as Planning Board chair, he had asked the town’s Community Development Director, Glenn Clancy, and the Planning Coordinator Jeffrey Wheeler, if a planner was required and the answer came back as no.

The New Underwood Pool: Baghdady said while “strongly supporting” an Underwood Pool which is an important community resource. However, he said, the $5.2 million being spent on the pool “is a lot of money” and he has been hearing a lot of questions on the pool’s design, the cost and the required debt.  If elected, Baghdady said he would “try to find a way to give residents options when they are asking so many questions on a project like this.”

Saying the options are clearly voting yes or no, Colton is in the affirmative, saying the facility will not simply be a pool “but a community gathering spot … that will be an asset to the town.”