By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — Worst turn out ever?
Actually, no. The 672 voters who made the effort to vote in Tuesday’s annual town election may have represented a measly 6.3 percent of the North Reading’s enrolled voters, but it wasn’t the lowest in town history. That dubious distinction belongs to 2004 when only 5.6 percent of registered voters came out for a state primary election, so in terms of voter apathy the May 2015 annual town election will have to settle for the silver, not the gold.
But considering the lack of contested races on the ballot, it’s almost understandable that nearly 95 percent of voters decided to stay home. Still the winners on Tuesday represent a balanced mix of veteran incumbents and new faces.
Stephen O’Leary was re–elected to another term on the Board of Selectmen with 494 votes and Kathryn Manupelli, making her first run for elected office, won the other open Selectmen’s seat with 422, replacing Joe Foti on the board. There were no other candidates and 11 blanks and 417 blanks.
For School Committee, incumbent Chairman Jerry Venezia won re–election with 431 votes and was upstaged slightly by new candidate Julie Koepke who won the other open seat with 436. Write–in candidate John Barrette, who ran specifically against Venezia and in opposition to the Common Core standards and PARCC tests, pulled 52 write–ins. There were 21 other write–ins cast and 404 blanks.
William C. Bellavance won his first elected term on the Community Planning Commission, pulling 482 votes for the three–year term and Patricia Romeo, another incumbent, garnered 505 to win the one–year term. Joe Veno and Mark DeSimone competed as write–in candidates for the other three–year CPC term, with Veno coming out on top, 97 to 22.
John Murphy won his 11th term as Moderator with 526 votes and Mary Prenney was re–elected to the North Reading Housing Authority with 548 votes.
Venezia, Koepke, Manupelli and O’Leary were all at St. Theresa’s Parish Hall when the vote totals were announced and although the numbers were small, their spirits were high.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to work on the school project and the contract negotiations and the school budget and carrying on with the work of the school department,” said Venezia. “We need to find the resources to do things even better and move forward. PARCC and Common Core were a consideration but they are only part of what we do. It’s a serious issue, but there are other serious issues that we deal with.”
Manupelli thanked the voters for giving her the opportunity to serve and said she’s looking forward to her first meeting next Monday night to reorganize and discuss water supply issues. “I’m ready to start,” she said.
Koepke said, “I’m very excited and very appreciative to all my friends and family who were here for me, their support meant everything. Monday is my first meeting, it’s at the Hood School, so I’m excited about that.”
O’Leary said he’s looking forward to another three years on the board and to serving with Manupelli. “I think Kathryn is going to be a great addition to the board. We have a lot of issues on our plate and I think she’s going to bring a lot to the table. I appreciate the support. I wish the voter turnout was greater, but I appreciate the vote of confidence.”
Tuesday was a long and tedious day for the poll workers in the town’s four precincts, as voting progressed at a snail’s pace throughout the day. Polls opened 7 a.m. and three hours later, at 10 a.m., only 113 people had voted. By noon the number had increased slightly to 204 and at 4 p.m., the total was only 399. Things picked up a little by 6 p.m., when the number 547 and the final number two hours later was 672.
The last voter, from Hayward Farms, checked into Precinct 1 at 7:58 p.m. Poll workers read the unofficial results shortly after the polls closed at 8 p.m., but the night wasn’t over for the election department. Because of the three write–in candidates, the ballots were then recounted to determine the write–in winners and the complete results were posted online before 11 p.m.
Sign of the times: When it came time to close the polling locations at 8 p.m., Town Clerk Barbara Stats and the precinct workers ignored wristwatches and the wall clocks in the parish hall. Everyone had their cell phones out, watching the seconds tick down.