Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gephard Elected Fairview Fire Commissioner

The election held today for commissioner in the Fairview Fire District was officially uncontested, in the sense that only one name was on the ballot (Bob Gephard).  However, there have been persistent rumors of a secret write-in campaign, and the results appear to validate this rumor:  Of the 141 votes cast, Gephard received 110 votes, or 78 percent, and write-in “candidate” John Anspach received 29 votes, or 21 percent.  Of the remaining 2 votes, one was blank and the other was written in as “Robert L. Rogers”.  I obtained these results this evening as an official poll watcher for Gephard.

In my view, what is significant about these results is the large number of votes cast in an uncontested election, and the relatively large percentage of the votes for a single write-in “candidate”.  To better understand these results, it's necessary to know the recent history of the Fairview Fire District.

2008 Election
Fire district elections typically have very small turnouts, and the Fairview Fire District has been no exception — until 2008.  In early 2008, an advocacy group called Fairness for Fairview formed, and became instrumental in bringing over 400 angry residents and taxpayers to the April 24, 2008, Fairview Fire Commissioners meeting.  Most of these residents and taxpayers had no previous knowledge about fire district governance.  All they knew was that their taxes were sky high. (I was one of these residents/taxpayers.)  In the months following the April 24 meeting, some of the more outspoken residents and taxpayers continued to show up at commissioners meetings.  These newly interested residents/taxpayers continued to challenge the commissioners, who were all veterans with years or decades of experience running the fire district.  These challenges culminated in the 2008 election between incumbent Dick Martineau and resident/taxpayer Jill Line.  Line was seen as representing “newcomers” to Fairview Fire District (FFD) governance, that is, residents not previously associated with FFD.

To put the 2008 election into perspective, you need to understand that in 2007, Fairview had an uncontested election in which only 22 voters turned out. These voters tended to be the 5 commissioners and many of the firefighters and officers of the district. In the 2008 election, incumbent Martineau received 79 votes — more than three and a half times the entire voter turnout the previous year.  Martineau's total represented a concerted effort by supporters of the veteran commissioners to prevent a shift in power to the newcomers. But Martineau's support was no match for the wrath of the newcomers. A massive outpouring of voters gave Line 190 votes, or 70 percent of all votes cast.  Line's total almost certainly would have been even greater, except for the fact that dozens of voters turned away upon encountering long lines.  Many who stayed to vote stood on line for an hour or more.

2009 Election

In my view, the 2009 election shows a continuation of the conflicts between supporters of veteran commissioners and supporters of the newcomers.  Gephard is seen as representing the newcomers, while Anspach is seen as representing the veterans.  Indeed, Anspach has served on the board of fire commissioners for 30 years, including at least the last 5 as chairman.  For me and many others who've come to learn about FFD only recently, Anspach represents the heart and soul of the old guard, for better or for worse, depending on your point of view.  With Anspach leaving the board, there will be a significant power vacuum.  (Anspach plans to continue his dedicated service as Fairview volunteer and chief safety officer.)

Some may theorize from the election results that Anspach has attempted to engineer a secret campaign to win reelection.  This theory makes no sense to me.  In the first place, if Anspach had wanted to continue as commissioner, the first thing he would have done would have been to get on the ballot.  As incumbent chairman of the board, he would have had a much better chance of reelection than as a write-in candidate.  In the second place, Anspach has consistently stated throughout the campaign that he will not challenge Gephard.  And in the third place, Anspach told me after the polls closed that he did not vote for himself!  Case closed.  In effect, Anspach has given Gephard his blessing to take over as a commissioner.

Still, the 29 votes for Anspach as a write-in candidate demands an explanation.  This number of votes is considerably more than the total number of votes in the uncontested 2007 election. In my view, these votes come from the same supporters of the veteran commissioners who attempted to reelect Martineau last year, and who fear the shift in power to the newcomers.  These supporters of the status quo agreed to write in Anspach's name despite his non-candidacy.  They could reasonably have hoped that with so many votes for Anspach, Gephard could fail to gain a majority.  After all, it is this group which controlled the election until 2008.

Gephard had the political sense to be wary that he might lose this election even though he was the only candidate on the ballot.  In my view, it is only because Gephard conducted an aggressive campaign, distributing fliers to most Fairview residents, and working hard to get out the vote, that he assured himself of victory.  I can believe that many of those who showed up to vote for Gephard today didn't know that the election was “uncontested”.  Considering the secret write-in campaign, maybe it wasn't.

2010 Election

In the contest between the veterans and the newcomers, the handwriting is on the wall. In the last two elections, it's newcomers 2, veterans 0.  Next year, Commissioner Tom Ashline's term expires.  If Ashline seeks reelection and is challenged by a newcomer, he might have a difficult time winning, simply because he will be seen as representing the veterans.  His best strategy may be to show voters now that he represents their interests, in hopes that no newcomer will become a candidate to challenge him.


  1. In today's fire commissioners meeting, Jill Line was chosen by the board of fire commissioners as their chairperson. Line first became a commissioner just a year ago, as the first newcomer on the board. Her selection as chairperson represents a significant power shift away from the veteran commissioners, and toward the newcomers.

  2. Cuomo Law to simplify dissolution goes into affect at the end of March 2010.

  3. Commissioner Tom Ashline succumbed to chronic illness on March 7, 2010. His passion for the Fairview Fire District will be missed.


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