The price of apathy


Last Saturday’s Special Election, which saw 18 percent of the voters give 100 percent of Wakefield homeowners a hefty tax increase, brought back a hazy memory from about 40 years ago.

As a member of the Board of Assessors in the 1980s, Paul Faler was a fierce advocate for residential taxpayers. As I recall it, Paul narrowly lost re-election one year, and the next year he ran again in an attempt to return to the Board.

At a Wakefield League of Women Voters candidates’ night, he was asked, if he lost a second time, would he run again the following year as the taxpayers’ voice. Paul smiled at the question.

“At some point,” he said, “people have to save themselves.”

What’s surprising about the recent Special Election is not so much that the high school question won. I predicted that. What’s jaw-dropping is that for about 75 percent of the town’s voters, the question of whether or not to build a new high school and raise the average homeowner’s taxes by about $1,300 a year was not even on their radar.

The town bent over backwards to make voting easy, scheduling the election on a Saturday and offering citizens weeks of no-questions-asked absentee voting. And still, less than 20 percent of the voters supported building a new high school. Three-quarters of registered voters couldn’t have cared less one way or the other. It didn’t matter enough for them to even cast a ballot.

Inspiring message, Yes for WMHS.

The next time you hear someone complain about taxes in Wakefield, ask them how they voted in the March 11, 2023 Special Election. The odds are 3-1 that the answer will be, “I didn’t.”

Some people are old enough to remember TAW. It stood for “Taxpayers Association of Wakefield.” A few short decades ago, Wakefield had populist figures like Sam Benedetto, Paul Faler, Phil Porter, Mike Conley and Phyllis Hull to speak and organize on behalf of residential taxpayers.

But they’re all gone now, either deceased or moved out of town.

In their place we have those who want to remake Wakefield into Wellesley – or at least Winchester or Lexington. Not so very long ago, being a townie was considered a big advantage in Wakefield politics. Now, there isn’t a single Wakefield native on the Town Council.

That would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. But the town has changed. Despite all the lip service from local officials about “affordable” housing, many middle and lower-income residents find themselves squeezed out of Wakefield by high home prices and soaring taxes. And there’s an endless supply of upwardly mobile young professionals of means waiting to swoop in and fill the void. Among the Blossoms at the Beebe set, Wakefield natives are something of a curiosity, an endangered species to be studied before its inevitable extinction.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of my favorite Wakefield residents weren’t born here. But they tend to be people who arrived years ago because they liked living in a well-run, affordable, middle-class town. They didn’t come here looking to change it into an upscale People’s Paradise.

If you’re a beleaguered taxpayer, don’t expect a lot of sympathy from your elected leaders.

The next chairman of the Wakefield Town Council was one of the biggest donors to the “Yes for WMHS” campaign. The Committee to Elect Jonathan Chines gave $1,000 to the cause and Chines made personal donations totaling $350.

This is the same Jonathan Chines who recently pushed a measure through the Town Council that virtually guarantees that, going forward, the town will increase the property tax levy by the maximum allowed under Proposition 2½. Chines’ measure will make it much more difficult for future boards to offer taxpayers a break by increasing the tax levy less than the full 2.5 percent allowed by law, as the Selectmen did every year from 2014-2019.

Those days are gone forever.

They’ve been traded in for a future of bike lanes, solar panels, high-end schools and higher taxes.

[This column originally appeared in the March 16, 2023 Wakefield Daily Item.]

5 Responses to “The price of apathy”

  1. 1 Dr. Ed

    All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to simply do nothing.

    —- Edmund Burke

  2. The Roman republic exercised similar events when Cato and Cicero attempted to open the eyes of leaders and citizens. Same mistakes, just different people who have not read history.

  3. 3 Nancy Trimper

    I f a new High School is really a necessity, must it be a palace? the Greenwood school is still standing and functioning and it is much older than theHigh School. but no one cares about lowly Greenwood. I voted no, but I knew it would pass.Of course the same arguments were used as they are every time something like this is proposed; i.e. “if we wait it will cost more, we must take advantage of the funding offered now . i think people didn’t vote because the special election was not well publicized–not everyone in town get the Item. Also because the people who would have opposed it knew ,as I did, that it would be useless. I wish they had gone anyway, maybe if there were enough it may have made a difference.

    • 4 Anonymous

      With all the development people want to do and all the senior citizens the town is forcing out of their homes, will the new high school BE BIG ENOUGH in 10-20 years, or is this going to be like the Public Safety Building where we have to spend even more to rebuild it?

  4. 5 Anthony Antetomaso

    We voted at Town Hall on the day before, worried a storm might be a problem the next day. The joint was dead. A few showed up to vote early besides us and I was surprised. I don’t know why – I KNOW one of Wakefield’s biggest problems is nobody really gives a shit about this town anymore. Beyond the excitement of seeing their property investment soar.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: