Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Keeping Longmeadow Great by Alex Grant

            I have thrown my hat into the ring.  I have written this column every two weeks for five and a half years, an experience which has surely earned me the disapproval on at least one occasion, and perhaps many more, of every reader of the Longmeadow News.  After all, one cannot please all the people all the time, and I have scarcely tried.  With that inauspicious beginning, I have gathered the necessary signatures and will be on the ballot for this Spring's Select Board election.

            I am running for the same reason my family moved here six years ago, because Longmeadow is a great place to live.  And it really wasn't about the schools.  My wife and I assumed the schools were pretty good, but then again, there are other towns where dedicated students with mindful parents can do just fine.  Our concerns were more basic.  We had lived on a street in Washington, DC where we could hear sirens blaring all night, where drug deals took place just a few doors down from our stoop, and where three shootings had occurred within one block during the last 12 months.  A young man had recently died on the corner from swallowing crack cocaine after the police had stopped him.

            We came to Longmeadow because the streets were safe, the town was a short distance from our jobs, and there were decent homes we could afford.  The leafy green avenues of Longmeadow looked picturesque, and with parks and conservation land and town pools, the town seemed like a perfect place to raise a family.  And at night, it was blissfully quiet.

            National magazines have rated our little suburb a top place for families and for retirees, and they were not wrong.  One can see the sense of community on the youth soccer fields, where there is overwhelming participation by kids, parents, and grandparents.  Greenwood is a microcosm of our town, with seniors rubbing elbows with preschoolers and all of the kids in the parks and recreation programs.  The countless volunteer hours expended by parent teacher organizations and at the Senior Center show that we believe in something larger than our individual selves.  Every year, I marvel at Longmeaddowe Days, which is nothing less than a rededication to our history and to our community.

            Our form of town government also makes Longmeadow great.  We have held on to an unadulterated, direct democracy that Longmeadowites of the 1700s would recognize.  Our charter makes the voters at Town Meeting, and no one else, the legislature of our town.  It is a testament to the notion that men and women are fit to govern themselves.

            The challenges facing Longmeadow are modest in comparison to those facing many towns and cities across America.  We are not tasked with constructing a sense of community where none exists.  We are not faced with the job of revitalizing a once great community ravaged by crime, de-population, and financial ruin.  There are towns wondering how to make themselves walkable, or pondering how to create green space, or fighting to control sprawl.  We need only to keep Longmeadow great.

            I start this campaign with an appeal to our hopes and aspirations, rather than a discussion of grievances and limitations.  Above all, I aim to open up our town democracy.  In recent years, town politics has been a conversation involving a fairly small number of people, that is, people who hold elected office, people who serve on committees, people who attend Town Meeting.  If Longmeadow is going to do great things in the future, if Longmeadow is to remain a place for all ages, our town politics has to engage a larger number of voters.

            Opening up town government requires elected officials to explain what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Watching a meandering, lengthy meeting on LCTV, if it is televised, is no substitute for a cogent explanation of the policy choices and the trade-offs that the Select Board makes.  A Select Board member, having taken the time to study the issues and having the relevant documents at hand, can distill the Board's decisions down to their essence.

            If elected, I will continue this column, and I will reach out in other ways.  If elected, I will know more about town government, and the voters will know more.  In the next couple of months, I will stake out my positions on the important issues facing the town, and I hope to debate the other candidates in this race in as many venues as possible.  I intend to make this campaign the most informative and substantive we have had in recent years.  Longmeadow deserves nothing less.

Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow.  His email address is

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