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Winds of change sweep Fairhaven Espindola, McKenna, Acksen win

FAIRHAVEN – Robert Espindola, a well known Fairhaven native who opposed the wind turbines, won a seat on the Board of Selectmen by a wide margin Monday, while two other turbine opponents also won.

Their wins bring new faces to three boards – his to the selectmen’s, Barbara Acksen to the Board of Health and Donna McKenna to the School Committee.

It was a resounding victory for Mr. Espindola, especially considering that it was a four-way race. He won by more than 300 votes, with 1,164 to 828 for Phil Washko.

Mr. Washko ran a strong campaign and had backing from many incumbents, including outgoing Select Board Chairman Michael Silvia. He was known for organizing Yes4Fairhaven, which helped bring out the vote for the new elementary school.

Also in the selectmen’s race, Jaime DeSousa of the Planning Board received 591 votes and Jeffrey Messier, a former Finance Committee member, received 154 votes in the count Monday night.

Mr. Espindola promised to work with other board members but also do what’s best for Fairhaven. He said he carries the concerns of the voters with him from meeting with people during his campaign. Mr. Espindola said, “I promised each person that I talked to that I would remember what they said…and I will do the very best I can for the town.”

He added, “Just having lived here so many years. I think that helped me.”

Mr. Washko said, “I did everything I could. I had a tremendous amount of support and am hugely grateful.”

As for why he lost, he said, “There were a lot of factors, in current issues and the number of candidates, and past town politics.”

Some people who voted for Mr. Espindola said they did not agree with him about the wind turbines but knew him personally and admired his integrity. And some voters said Mr. Washko erred by receiving so much support from insiders in an election where, with several incumbents not seeking reelection, there was an opportunity to upset the apple cart and bring about change.

The victories by Ms. Acksen and Ms. McKenna also bring more faces.

Ms. Acksen, who has tried many times for a seat on the Board of Health, said, “I think Fairhaven wants open government.” As for the victories by three Windwise activists, she said, “I’m so excited that the three of us won.”

Of the turmoil over the wind turbines, Ms. Acksen said, “People were getting mad. They didn’t like the process. They really wanted it to be open and it should be.”

Ms. McKenna won more votes than incumbent David Gonsalves, who won reelection, and former School Committee member Colin Veitch. Ms. McKenna said her win was largely based on all the volunteer work she’s done in the schools. “I’ve lived in Fairhaven all my life and went to all the public schools,” she said.

On top of that, she has volunteered at many of the schools as her children moved up the grade levels. Ms. McKenna, who works in banking, said her background in finance should be a help with the school budget.

“It’s been an overwhelming experience for me.,” Ms. McKenna said, adding, “It’s the first time I’ve been involved in politics.”

In other contested races, incumbents won, however. Robert Hobson and Steven Riley were reelected to the Board of Public Works and Antone Medeiros will continue as tree warden.

While some School Committee members and selectmen openly supported Mr. Washko, some members of other town boards said it was time for changes on the Board of Selectmen.

Voting at the Wood School on Monday, Mr. Hobson said the select board was like a rowboat going in one direction. He said when one member said something the others all say yes.

Janice Medeiros, who’s been married to the tree warden for 50 years, said she was impressed by all the candidates. “I went to all the candidates’ nights and was surprised by every one of them,” she said. “Everyone who was running for office was a super person and very intelligent.”

The turnout for the election was about 25 percent, less than Town Clerk Eileen Lowney said she’d hoped for but more than the usual percentage of voters in previous town elections.