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Brownsberger and Me

Some thoughts on one of the candidates for State Senate.

Brownsberger and Me

Hope you won’t mind a little foray into politics this week. I feel moved to say a few words in support of my friend, Will Brownsberger, as he runs for the State Senator seat vacated by Steve Tolman.

For full disclosure, let me say right up front that I have served in various capacities in support of Will, most recently as his Treasurer, for four years. I transferred that responsibility this summer, but I still support him.

I first encountered Will in 2006. Slowly that year, I emerged from the haze of relentless parenting and began to pay attention to the world around me, including the nebulous world of Belmont politics. I wanted to understand how things worked in Belmont, but I felt muddled most of the time. What was Belmont’s organizational structure, who was leading here, and did anyone know what was really going on?

I attended occasional School Committee and Board of Selectmen meetings, and there I met then Selectman Will Brownsberger. Meeting Will was like having a ray of sunshine break through the clouds. In the midst of that year’s fiscal crisis, here was someone in complete possession of the matter at hand, someone who spoke with authority, intellect, balance, and reason. He listened calmly and carefully to comments from both his colleagues and from the audience and spoke with genuine concern about whatever cuts were being proposed that year. Will was committed not only to balancing the budget, but also to balancing the needs of all the parties involved.

From everything I have observed, then or since, this is a rare combination of traits in someone in the public sphere: someone smart who also listens, someone realistic about the bottom line without being a slave to it, someone concerned with the whole community rather than a prisoner of rigid ideology, partisanship, or special interests. 

Will is the real deal.

Shortly after that particular budget crisis reached resolution, Will announced his candidacy for State Representative. He asked me if I would consider joining his team. I did not hesitate. Never mind that I had three little kids at home and was desperately seeking part-time employment that actually paid, Will personified exactly the type of person I wanted representing Belmont on Beacon Hill. So I happily joined his cadre of volunteers.

Throughout the years, Will has proven to be a strong and thoughtful leader advocating for his district on Beacon Hill. He has the necessary experience. His record is based on considered and thoughtful responses to complex issues and has worked diligently to make the budget process work long term, and to ensure transparency in the proceedings of the government. Will continues to negotiate effectively with people who come from different political perspectives. 

Possessing intelligence, integrity, and thoughtfulness, Will has served the House of Representatives and Belmont extremely well.

I was impressed once again just last spring when, as parents’ anxiety to the School Committee’s available revenue budget was soaring to apoplectic heights, Will appeared at a Board of Selectmen meeting to offer his insights into the budget process. 

When asked if he would support placing an operating override on the ballot, Will bravely advised the parents present that it was too early to call for one. He said there was a possibility that additional state aid may become available. A palpable hush descended over the room. Many believed that an override was the only path out of this morass of school cuts. As it turned out, Will’s calm and thoughtful advice proved prescient, as state aid helped mitigate draconian cuts thus reducing the need for the override.

That’s how he’s always been: patient, thoughtful, looking to the future but also working realistically with diverse communities to reach workable solutions.

One thing I especially like about Will is that he is not a cookie-cutter Democrat.  In this he reminds me of the late (and much missed) Paul Tsongas. His votes reflect a nuanced and thoughtful analysis of the issues at hand, not some reflexive ideology. Recently, for example, he voted against a “three-strikes” crime bill that would sentence habitual violent offenders to mandatory life sentences. He was one of only 12 who voted against the bill. Why did he do it?

“In dealing with criminal offenders,” he told me, “we need to distinguish between the monsters and the minor players.  Otherwise, we won’t have the resources to deal with the monsters.” 

Will drew on his many years of experience as a prosecutor, as a substance abuse researcher at Harvard Medical School, and as a defense attorney. Will brought all of that to bear on his decision. There were probably only a handful of people in the House that fully understood the issue, and he was one of them.

That’s what I like about him: he not only has the knowledge, but he applies it anew in each case. He doesn’t rely on crystallized opinions, he actually thinks about things.

Will was one of only three Democrats who voted to cap public pensions, to ensure that pension funding was sustainable and was one of a handful of Democrats who voted not to increase funding for State House staffing in the middle of the recession. Will fought for budget transparency, for opening up the books on public spending and led the House to pass a rule that contracts for House business be put out to competitive bid, as opposed to awarding them on a secret, no-bid basis.

Will has a vision on education, the environment, roads, public safety – the things that state government dwells in. And he knows there are no simple answers.  Which is why it’s so important to have someone in the State Senate who is wrestling with the questions with fresh eyes and an open mind.

Anyway, this is why I’m voting for Will Brownsberger for State Senator on December 13.  I hope you will consider him for your vote too.

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