Brandon selectman holds off electoral challenge

BRANDON — Brandon selectboard chairman Richard Baker won re-election by a decisive margin on Town Meeting Day, surviving a strong challenge from attorney Jim Leary.
The final vote count came in at 605-413 in Baker’s favor, ending a contentious race that many thought would be closer.
While Leary discussed his desire to bridge a perceived divide in the town between nonprofit groups and town government, Baker accused news members of the community of having their own agendas. Many believe the vote came down to an issue that has nothing to do with the selectboard: the proposed Brandon Plaza Hannaford project. Even at a candidates forum held last week, moderator Charlie Jakiela allotted the first 10 minutes for discussion and questions about Brandon Plaza, then halted all reference to that issue for the rest of the forum.
But considering that Baker owns the land where the project is proposed to be built, and Leary is part of an organized group of Brandon residents who vehemently oppose the project, it was inevitable that Brandon Plaza would become a campaign issue.
Reached at home Tuesday night, Leary said he’d hoped for a different outcome.
“I’m disappointed, but I thought we brought up some good issues,” he said. “It’s regrettable that Brandon Plaza became the central issue of the campaign.”
There were other issues that arose, however, including questions from Leary about the town website, which has been down for five months, misuse of recreation facilities and an overall sense of inaction he said he perceives from the selectboard. He said it’s that inaction that is holding Brandon back from an economic development standpoint. And, while Leary agreed with Baker that job creation is key, he said that the 100 jobs promised with the arrival of Brandon Plaza is not the answer.
Leary said he got a lot out of his campaign despite the outcome.
“I got to work with a lot of great people and made some good friends on the campaign,” he said.
He was asked if he would consider running again next year.
“I don’t know, I’ll just take it as it comes,” Leary said. “Tomorrow’s a new day and I’ve got plenty of things to keep me busy.”
For his part, Baker agreed that the race has become focused on Brandon Plaza, and he said he thought the vote would be closer.
“I perceived that this campaign had become personalized and focused on a project over which the selectboard has no say,” he said. “And I was concerned and in fact, believed that the margin would be much closer.”
Baker said his constituents voted their conscience.
“The voters were able to see through the noise machine and bogus issues and vote for what they thought was best for the town,” he said.
In the end, Baker said he was learned something about himself during the campaign and acknowledged that he has some work to do with all Brandon residents.
“I need to work harder to listen more closely to people who may not agree with me on something I’m advocating,” he said. “That’s something I have to work on.”

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