Opinion: Is the Amherst Forward PAC Representing Our Interests?


Rendering of the new undergraduate student housing off Massachusetts Avenue. Photo: umass.edu

Darcy Dumont

Since 2004, when Karl Rove came up with his anti-gay marriage campaign in order to get George Bush elected, political strategists have mastered how to get the public to vote against their own interests.

 It appears to me that the Amherst Forward PAC is following this playbook. Its priority is to represent the interests of real estate developers, investors, and builders. The votes of Amherst Forward-backed members of the Town Council (see also here) have been highly supportive of those special interests. Nonetheless, Amherst Forward represents their priorities as benefitting us all.

In 2018, the first question on Amherst Forward’s candidate questionnaire was:

Will you support zoning bylaw changes to densify downtown and village centers (in order to  broaden the tax base so Amherst can pay for high-quality services and infrastructure), while  preserving open space?

They were asking candidates to pledge their support for as-yet-to-be identified zoning bylaw changes. And they did not even publish the responses.

A top issue in Amherst is what to do about housing the students UMass has admitted without providing housing for them. Where should they be housed and who has the responsibility to provide that housing? The logical answers to those questions from the perspective of most year-round residents is that it is the responsibility of UMass to house its students and provide student housing on campus.

Most recently, Amherst Forward-endorsed town councilors have taken to stating that the town (rather than UMass) has the responsibility to house UMass students. They turned down a temporary moratorium on new downtown construction that would have given planners time to work out zoning guidelines. That moratorium was supported with petition signatures from over 1,000 residents. So far, the council has allowed five massive buildings that house only students to be built downtown. They have done next to nothing to protect our downtown and family neighborhoods from being taken over by (undergraduate) students and profiteering real estate LLCs, nor to retain our existing housing for low- and moderate-income families.

As District 4 candidates Jennifer Taub and Pam Rooney astutely stated in their recent Gazette piece, real estate interests in Amherst are in the business of housing UMass students  downtown and in our neighborhoods. Housing students at UMass wouldn’t profit them. Amherst Forward strongly supports the real estate interests.

Amherst Forward will state that the reason they want to “build, build, build” is to bring in tax revenue for the town. The argument about generating more revenue has however not proven to be effective in the last five  years for anything except lining the pockets of developers and landlords.

Most of us know little about the town’s relationship with the colleges because those relationships are not transparent. Do you know that the president of the council, Lynn Greisemer, is a former 30-year administrator at UMass with tremendous loyalty to that institution? Do you know that she attends, but apparently does not report on, Town Manager meetings with UMass administrators? Do we know what she is doing, saying and possibly “promising” in those meetings?  Is this possible conflict of interest the reason why the town has been so slow to explore, with UMass, what they might do to address town problems that originate on campus, like the shortage of on-campus housing for UMass students?

 Polarizing Politics
Amherst Forward has been a source of polarization in town since the creation of the Town Council and has played on resentments to foster the division. In 2021, it purposefully reignited the remaining anger  that resulted from the 2017 elementary school project vote.  In an email urging a yes vote on the Jones Library referendum, Amherst Forward urged supporters to recall how they felt when the school project vote failed.

When the school debt exclusion override vote passed this year, Amherst Forward invited news coverage but not the long list of folks who had provided crucial support for the campaign, attempting to take all the credit. Not even the Zero Energy Task Force and Elementary School Building Committee were invited. How is that collaboration with, or even respect for, the community members who provided support?

Most recently, the Amherst Forward PAC played the game of calling community members who criticized them “bullies” when the spotlight should have been on the Amherst Middle School students whom everyone agreed had been harmed by actual bullies. I think that’s called gaslighting. School Committee members Peter Demling and Alison MacDonald obstructed investigations into the LGBTQ scandal at the middle school and then, when parent demands for accountability persisted, resigned and said they were “bullied” out of office.

And in a recent Amherst Forward Op Ed in the Gazette calling for collaboration in town, the authors undermined that call by resorting to name calling and insults, suggesting that their antagonists who want to protect housing in family neighborhoods and the downtown from development profiteers are engaging in “NIMBYism” and have “conspiracy mindsets” rather than simply respecting that people have different views. Since day one of the Town Council, there has been hostility toward, rather than collaboration with, anyone and everyone who disagreed with their agenda, including deriding the Amherst Indy for consistently publishing diverse views on an array of topics.

A Big Tent
I support candidates who will undertake big-tent politics, where there is room for all of us and where all of our needs and concerns will get serious consideration and respect.  I support people who are proposing a kinder, more inclusive, more democratic, more transparent, and more accountable government.  We haven’t seen any of that from the Amherst Forward people and so…instead, I recommend voting for:

Ellisha Walker and Jamie Daniels for At Large Councilor;
Vince O’Connor and Cathy Schoen for District 1;
Allegra Clark and Amber Cano Martin for District 2:
Hala Lord and Patrick Drumm for District 3;
Pam Rooney and Jennifer Taub for District 4;
and Jennifer Shiao, Bridget Hynes, Laura Hunter and Martha Toro for the School Committee.

Voting for the current Town Council leadership of Greisemer, Hanneke, and Steinberg, their followers Lopes and DeAngelis, and for former Councilor George Ryan is voting against our own interests.

Darcy DuMont is a former Town Councilor and sponsor of the legislation creating the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee. She is a founding member of Zero Waste AmherstLocal Energy Advocates of Western MA, and the Amherst Climate Justice Alliance.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.