Write-in campaigns for major town offices have not often occurred in Arlington. Matt Pallett launched such a drive in March, challenging Paul Schlichtman for a one-year School Committee seat. Firefighter Bryan French took that route in 2007, aiming to be a selectman.
To find a write-in campaign that succeeded in Arlington, you have to go back 40 years. In 1973, not only were two such drives put in place -- but both candidates won.
That year, Peg Spengler and George Rugg waged write-in campaigns against Board of Selectmen incumbents Jack Donahue and Ron Nigro after a court ruling removed them from the ballot.
Former longtime Selectman Charlie Lyons, first elected to the School Committee in 1972, recalled that their efforts had the support of Peter Jorgenson, then editor and owner of The Advocate.
Subsequently, a state Supreme Judicial Court decision said a Fincom member could become a selectman after resigning his or her Fincom seat.
In the town election of 1973, Spengler and Rugg upset the incumbents.
What was at stake then?
Spengler and Rugg were members of the town Finance Committee. Section 9 of the Town Manager Act appears to say that a member of the Finance Committee cannot also be selectmen.
That part of the act says:
"SECTION 9. Multiple Officers. -A member of the Board of Selectmen, or of the school committee, or of the finance committee shall, during the term for which he was elected or appointed, be ineligible either by election or appointment to hold any other town office, except the office of town meeting member and except membership on a committee, board or commission when participation of such member is required by Town Bylaw or by a vote of the Town Meeting. Any person appointed by the Town Manager to any town office under the provisions of this act or of any general or special law shall be eligible during the term of said office to appointment to any other town office, except that the town accountant shall not be eligible to hold the position of town treasurer and collector. The Town Manager may, subject to any applicable provision of the General Laws, relating thereto, and subject to the approval of the Board of Selectmen, assume the duties of any office which he is authorized to fill by appointment."
In 2010, a poster to the Arlington email list cited this language and questioned the candidacy of Dan Dunn, a Finance Committee member who was running for the Board of Selectman.
Dunn responded at the time:
"I think I have some useful information to offer on this point. I was researching this exact language myself over the weekend, and I think my research applies. The short version is that the courts have ruled that Section 9 is intended to prevent these specified office holders (BoS, SC, FinCom) from holding more than one office at a time - it does not require an office holder to 'wait out' their term before taking a new office. The ruling is very specific to Arlington's Town Manager Act.
"Here's the case: http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/364/364mass264.html
"The bottom line: 'The judge was therefore correct in ruling that the petitioner was eligible to hold the office of selectman after he was removed from the finance committee.'
"The text walks through a bunch of possible interpretations of the language and says that if they really wanted to make people 'wait out' their term, the language had to be more specific.
Dunn noted that Spengler and Rugg were not on the printed ballot because of the interim court injunction. They ran sticker campaigns and placed first and second, beating the two candidates who were on the ballot.
This story was published March 26, 2013.