[Updated] Return of Belmont Robo Call with Harvard Prof as Voice of ‘No’ Group

Photo: Professor Graham Allison.

It’s the return of the robo call to the Belmont political scene.

But unlike an infamous automated call from an unknown group/individual sent to resident in 2010,  this time the sponsor and speaker are out front with their identities and agenda. The group seeking to defeat the Proposition 2 1/2 override on the April 7 Town Election ballot sent the call around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 2, voiced by a prominent resident and national political insider.

“I’m Graham Allison, professor of government at the Kennedy School at Harvard, and a Belmont resident for 47 years,” said the call by Graham, the husband of the chair of the “Vote NO on Ballot Question 1 Committee,” fellow Harvard academic and economist Elizabeth Allison. 

And Graham doesn’t mince words how he and the committee feels about the override and residents who are running the “Yes for Belmont” campaign to pass the $4.5 million multi-year override. 

“I’ve never seen a campaign in Belmont in which advocates resorted to such crude scare tactics against fellow Belmont parents and citizens. I’m a student of government crises, and know the difference between a manufactured crisis and a genuine one. This is a manufactured crisis, a phony crisis. Belmont’s excellence in education does not require a $4.5 million dollar mega override. I’m Graham Allison and I hope you’ll join me in keeping Belmont affordable for all our citizens by voting no on question 1. Approved and paid for by the Vote No on Question 1 committee.”

Asked to respond to the message, “Yes for Belmont” co-chair Ellen Schreiber said “the YES campaign has consistently communicated the facts, and just the facts,” which include:

  • The fact that enrollment is skyrocketing.
  • The fact that 40 school positions will be cut or reduced if we don’t pass this override.
  • The fact that the Financial Task Force unanimously proposed this multi-year override as part of a long-term strategic plan.
  • The fact that the override is supported by the vast majority of Belmont’s selectmen, school committee and warrant committee members.

“The ‘No’ campaign may not like the facts. And yes, I agree that the facts are scary. But that is not a ‘scare tactic’,” she noted.

“The YES campaign has sincerely and respectfully worked for the best interests of our Belmont neighbors, and I assumed this was true of the ‘No’ campaign. We were shocked to hear words like ‘scare tactic’ and ‘phony’ and ‘manufactured’ in the ‘No’ campaign’s robocall,” she said.

“The Town Clerk wrote in her election communication yesterday, ‘Let’s start displaying that respect right now.’ We think that sounds like good advice,” said Schreiber.

The recent history of robo calls on town-wide ballot issues is one that continues to rankle many residents who recall a series of automated political calls and “push polls” – which attempts to influence voters under the guise of conducting a poll – a week before a June 2010 special election in which residents voted on a $2 million Prop 2 1/2 override for schools and roads. 

The content of the 2010 calls inaccurately stated the override funds would pay for school teachers salaries and would not be spent in the designated town services. The calls were seen as motivating residents on the fence to vote “no” and defeating the override measure, 3,431 to 3,043, on June 14.

Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman filed a formal complaint with the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance to investigate the calls as a violation of reporting political activity costing more than $250. The state would end its investigation in August with no findings.

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  1. Jonathan Birge says

    I support the override, but it is pretty clear any salary increases were indeed unsustainable if we’re in this position. In fact, the completely untenable pension promises to town employees in the past is one reason we are in the unfortunate position of having to bail out the school system with an override. You can’t have it both ways. If the salary increases were sustainable, then the override isn’t necessary. I’m not saying teachers don’t deserve more, just that we can’t afford to pay them more unless something else changes. Everybody wants to say “YES” to everything: teacher salaries, pensions with unlimited benefits, expensive special education out of district, etc. All good things, but our inability to prioritize and say no to some things (both at the local and state level) is the reason we are now forced to use an override just to make it through the next 3-4 years. What happens when that override money runs out? Are we going to have a never-ending series of overrides? Isn’t that even politically tenable? Maybe those professional economists aren’t as foolish as you think…

    • Tony Oberdorfer says

      Feeling as you do, the logical course would be for you to vote against the override as that is the only way the town will be forced to face the issue as you have presented it.

    • Idith Kisin says

      The baseline reason you need to have overrides is that when inflation is higher than 2.5%, it eats at away at your budget.

      I’m grateful for the people who dedicated their time and professional services to work on the budget and keep spending in line.

      However, my comment is due to the fact thatI’m frustrated that the motivation of the “NO” group is that it appears that they are displeased that the Town is not doing things exactly to the letter of their strict standards.

      My response was to point out that using one datapoint could also be considered a scare tactic to support the meme that teachers salaries are out of control,

      However, this is not the case – the growth in the school’s budgets over the last three years can be accounted for by increased enrollment and inflation.

  2. Idith Kisin says

    Scare tactics?

    The “NO for Belmont” crowd claims they are worried that the 2014 salary increase is “unsustainable”. However, In 2011, the teachers took home less pay in their negotiations. Why not at least use both data-points? Do these professional economists REALLY not know that you can’t extrapolate from one datapoint? Could it be that they just don’t like the idea of unions?http://patch.com/massachusetts/belmont/school-committee-teachers-reach-3-year-agreement

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