By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — Under 5 percent of voters sent Board of Selectmen incumbents Alex Vispoli and Paul Salafia back to the board for three years yesterday, but voter apathy was the largest conversation piece following yesterday’s annual town elections.
Vispoli took 843 votes in the race with 1,054 cards cast, awarding him his fourth term since 2004. Salafia took second with 646 votes, earning him his first full three-year term after joining the board two years ago to finish off a term vacated by a prior member. Blank votes beat the third candidate in the race. Larry Bruce received 305 votes, while 308 voters cast blank votes.
With 22,862 registered voters in Andover, only 4.61 percent of them voted yesterday. Standing at the high school’s field house moments before the polls closed, Bruce said of the 4.6 percent turnout: “I wouldn’t interpret it as a positive. The first question is, ‘Why?’”
Those who won didn’t seem enthusiastic about the turnout either.
“I believe the selectmen race is one of the most important races to every citizen, because it is so direct,” Salafia said. “When is the last time a U.S. senator had a direct effect on every citizen? This vote should be very important to them, and I’m discouraged that the turnout is so low.”
“When we talk about what could have been, I would say there are people that didn’t even know there was an election today,” Vispoli said. “How do we notify (the public of the election) or get the word out?”
Vispoli said local media was partially to blame for that. Salafia extended his concerns to a lack of candidate forums that, in previous years, were key avenues for those in the race to project their platforms.
With three or four forums typically taking place before each election, only the League of Women Voters put the candidates on the air this year, according to Salafia.
Town Clerk Larry Murphy said he “didn’t expect a big turnout, but I frankly hoped for something better than this.”
“There was only one race, and you had two incumbent selectmen against a non-incumbent challenger,” he said. “That didn’t seem to draw a lot of public attention.”
Focusing not on what caused the low turnout but instead on how to fix it, Bruce said the town’s charter needs an update.
“If anything, this should be a signal that voters aren’t involved at the local level,” he said. “We should be looking at our charter and our form of town government.”
Even the voters that came out to the polls had something to say about the turnout.
“There is only one contested race, so it’s not that surprising that people didn’t turn out,” said Peach Tree Path resident Dan Ossoff. “But I wish people would turn out to vote.”
Both Vispoli and Salafia said they were humbled by the voter confidence they received, and they’re eager to continue the work they’ve done on the board in previous years and continuing the initiatives they’ve championed while on the board.
“We’ve got some very significant challenges ahead of us,” Vispoli said. “One is to finally solve the Town Yard issue at a reasonable coast. We’ve got several facilities that need attention.”
Salafia said he plans to help arrive at a Town Yard solution and to be there as the Cormier Family Youth Center comes out of design and into construction.
He also hopes to “re-energize the I-93 project,” he said, calling attention to the tri-town effort to build a new Interstate 93 interchange on the corner of Andover. “If we can re-energize that, that would be great.”
Marilyn Fitzgerald, Andover representative for the Greater Lawrence Technical School’s school board, said she voted for Vispoli and Salafia because “I feel the two incumbents have done a very good job.”
Ossoff also supported the incumbents, saying “they’re well-intentioned people that are trying to do the best they can for the town.”
Ballardvale Road resident Linda Lecomte said she voted for Bruce “just to shake things up a bit. He has run a couple times. He is just not the status quo.”
Of the other four races on the ballot, School Committee incumbent led the two-seat contest for the committee with 748 votes. Candidate Barbara L’Italien, the lone challenger in the race, took the second seat with 657 votes.
Three other races were on the ballot, each for one seat and each with one candidate. Sheila Doherty, an incumbent for moderator, received 823 votes to return to her position for this year. Under the Housing Authority, candidate Janice Burkholder received 787 votes. For the Trustees of Punchard Free School, candidate Randall Hanson received 811 votes.