FAIRHAVEN – In a redo of a controversial April 1 election, incumbent Peter DeTerra retained his seat on the Board of Health Monday with unofficial numbers giving him a more than 500-vote lead over challenger John Wethington.
The tally was DeTerra, 1,269, and Wethington, 717. With a 31 percent turnout (compared to 23 percent in April), Monday night’s results provide DeTerra with a far more decisive victory than his one-vote win in April, which was subsequently ruled a tie by Superior Court Judge Robert Kane, who questioned one of the ballots.
At Town Hall Monday night, DeTerra attributed his win by a large margin to his educational outreach effort.
“I explained to more people about what the board does and people see what I actually do now,” he said.
DeTerra swept all six Fairhaven precincts, including Precinct 5, where the town’s two wind turbines – a focus of this election – are located. There, he beat Wethington by 169 votes.
In April, the candidates shied away from discussing the town’s controversial wind turbines, which some opponents say cause sleep deprivation and other health effects.
This time around, the race seemed to be squarely centered on the turbines, with pro- and anti-turbine groups forming political action committees over the summer.
Wethington attributed his loss to the success of the pro-turbine Friends of Fairhaven Wind, saying that in this re-match “the machine stepped in and got the vote out.”
“It’s a shame for the people of Fairhaven who are affected by the turbines,” Wethington said. “I hope (DeTerra) doesn’t forget about them.”
He added that the developers of the turbines will be pleased by the results, saying, “The happiest people should be Fairhaven Wind.”
Turbine neighbor John Methia, who is also a member of the turbine-opposition group WindWise, said “We obviously don’t feel good.”
He also attributed DeTerra’s win to a better-mobilized base this time around.
“They realized they got caught last time and energized their vote,” he said. But, he added, “Our resolve against the turbines isn’t going anywhere.”
Dan Freitas, of Friends of Fairhaven Wind, said he thought DeTerra’s victory symbolized that residents were wary of WindWise.
“In the end the people of Fairhaven don’t want people who can’t behave at public meetings, like WindWise,” he said. “They were tired of WindWise’s shenanigans.”
The large margin of victory wasn’t the only thing different Monday from April.
Before reading the results from each precinct, Town Clerk Eileen Lowney outlined a new set of rules for Election Night. The most notable was that the winning candidate would be sworn in today, not on election night, as Wethington was in April before all the votes had been counted.
By press time only the machine counts for each precinct were available. Poll workers at each precinct had yet to turn in tallies for hand-counted ballots and write-ins, which were expected by the end of the night.
On Monday afternoon, voters trickled into the Recreation Center to cast their votes in Precinct 5, in full view of the turbines.
Many voting for DeTerra today cited their approval of the turbines as their reason for voting.
Karen Diggins said she lives near the turbines and voted for DeTerra because “the things don’t bother me at all.”
Lauren Masapollo cited similar reasons, saying she voted DeTerra because “he’s not against the windmills.”
Asked if the turbines affected why he chose to support DeTerra, Daniel Silvia, who was holding a sign for the incumbent, noted that, “The turbines are a big issue for everyone in town.”
Wethington supporters shied away from the turbine issue at the polls, with William Fields saying he cast his vote for the challenger because of his background as a nurse.
“I just think he has a better outlook on things,” Fields said. “I’m not unhappy with Pete (DeTerra), I just think it’s time for a change.”
Karen Isherwood, who has been outspoken against the turbines, was also at the Recreation Center holding signs for Wethington.
But, she said, “Even if the turbines didn’t exist I’d be voting for John (Wethington) anyway.”
“He really has so much more qualifications,” she said.
Ann Espindola, also holding a Wethington sign, agreed.
“It’s not just about the turbines any more,” she said.
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