Meet the candidates up for votes this town election
In just over a month, voters will cast their ballots to elect a number of new faces to prominent elected roles in town.
Three of the five Select Board seats are up for votes with only one incumbent in the race, and newcomers are running unopposed for Town Moderator and the School Committee.
Two are three-year positions currently held by Patrick Tropeano, who isn’t running for reelection, and Jim Munise, who is. Ronald Besse, Jody Santagate, and Jared Chadwick will join Munise on the ballot for those seats, and the top two vote-getters will be elected.
Also up for a vote is a one-year seat to be vacated by Peter Teitelbaum. Brenda Eckstrom, a former member of the board and the author of many petition articles up for votes at the Spring Town Meeting, will be on the ballot, as has Tricia Wurts, who ran a write-in campaign last year.
Incumbent Michele Bissonnette is running for a second term as Town Clerk, and faces a challenger for the seat: Jenna Deane, another town employee.
Margaret Ishihara is the only candidate for Town Moderator — a role that has been held by Claire Smith for the last 12 years.
Brennan McKiernan is running unopposed for School Committee.
Two incumbents are also unopposed: Peter Dunlop for Sewer Commissioner and David Halberstadt for Assessor.
A Candidates’ Night is planned for Monday, April 4 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
The event will be held in the Selectmen’s Meeting Room #320 at the town’s Multiservice Center, 48 Marion Road. The event will be hybrid with help from WCTV so voters can watch and ask questions either in person or from home.
To submit a question for the candidates, email Jody Smith at email@example.com.
Select Board - two 3-year seats
Ron Besse currently serves on the Conservation Commission, Open Space Committee, Solar Bylaw Committee, and the board of the Wareham Tigers. A retail manager about to open his own custom printing business, Besse has five children — four of whom are current students at Wareham Public Schools.
He says he has a passion for supporting the town’s young people, and wants to help protect the town’s natural resources — a priority he says is shared by the people in town.
“I think we’re at a point in town where I think some change is necessary, and I think it’ll be good,” Besse said. “With three seats up for election, there will be change. I’d love to be a part of it.”
Besse said he’s learned a lot about the community through his service on various committees.
“I’m really investing my time in the town to see good things moving forward,” he said.
Jared Chadwick works at two different fire departments in Dennis and Marion as a firefighter paramedic, and for the Select Board candidate, improving Wareham’s EMS services is a top priority.
Right now the town has two ambulances that respond to 911 calls, and the town sometimes requires help from nearby towns’ EMS teams, he said. Making sure first-responders get to people in trouble quickly is something close to his heart.
Chadwick also hopes to improve Wareham’s youth and recreational programs. The firefighter paramedic also works as president of the Wareham Tigers sports program.
“I want to see more things in this town that are going to benefit the youth,” Chadwick said.
A third priority for Chadwick is working on run-down buildings.
“We have a lot of dilapidated properties in town that are not only an eyesore,” he said, “but also a danger to people that aren’t supposed to be going into them.”
Jim Munise was first elected to the Select Board in 2019, and serves on the Decas School Steering Committee. He also was integral to the town’s transition from the former waste district to the current trash pick-up and town-run transfer station. Munise retired from Bridgewater State University, where he began as a low-level employee and ended as a mid-level administrator and the elected head of three unions.
During his first campaign, he said he hoped to focus on improving communication between the town and residents, increase senior housing and improve areas like Merchants Way and the Tremont Nail Factory.
Jody Santagate — a current member of the Decas Steering Committee, Council on Aging, the Decas Foundation and mentor with CYE — is a second-time candidate for the Select Board.
Since her first run in 2020, she’s served on various boards and worked to expand her knowledge about municipal law, in part by attending seminars hosted by the Mass Municipal Association.
“You need to know the basics of town government and how things are run,” Santagate said.
She said her goal is to “strengthen the community as a whole” and to be accessible to citizens.
She’s particularly invested in working with Onset residents and making sure their voices are heard; supporting conservation efforts and supporting development on already-cleared land; and supporting the town’s seniors, in part by moving the Council on Aging into a building that will be safer and better-suited for the group’s needs.
Select Board - One 1-year seat
Brenda Eckstrom is running for Select Board again after serving on the board for two three-year terms about a decade ago.
For her, accountability is a prime concern. Making sure the town follows through on items residents vote on is important to her, she said.
“People come out at Town Meeting, they vote in things they believe in,” Eckstrom said, “So often, they fall through the cracks. If the townspeople vote for something, it’s the job of the town to see it through.”
Eckstrom also hopes to address affordable housing if she’s elected — something she’s already working on, through a citizen’s petition she spearheaded for the upcoming Town Meeting.
Eckstrom said she decided to run again when she learned current Select Board member Peter Teitelbaum would be resigning, leaving his seat up for grabs for a one-year term.
“Well, this will be a good opportunity to vie for that seat,” Eckstrom said.
Tricia Wurts is a second-time candidate for the board, having scored about 33% of the votes in a write-in campaign last year.
After working to survey dozens of Wareham residents in past months over their opinions on downtown redevelopment and town communication strategies, Wurts says municipal outreach and communication is one of her top priorities.
She also hopes to leverage Wareham’s natural beauty more strategically, showing off the town’s environment. Another area of concern for her are solar projects, she said, though she clarified that solar energy is an important resource.
“I do not believe in putting industrial solar in residential areas,” Wurts said.
Wurts is running for current Select Board member Peter Teitelbaum’s seat, which has one year left after he resigns on Election Day. The fact that the term has just one year left, Wurts said, would help her focus on a few key issues if she were elected.
Town Clerk: Jenna Deane has been a town employee for six years, and now she’s running for Town Clerk after her first write-in campaign in 2019.
She brings to the table her 15 years of experience in office operations and administrations, experience as a justice of the peace and a notary public, and her familiarity with town bylaws, zoning rules and office software, she said. Her familiarity with the town’s inner workings is something she thinks will help her in her candidacy, she said.
Making some town processes available online for residents, like ordering certificates and dog licenses, is something she’d like to try if elected, Deane said.
“I would love to implement a Facebook page,” Deane said on improving communication between the town and its residents.
“I have a lot of energy,” Deane said. “I’ve lived here my whole life.”
Michele Bissonnette, current Town Clerk, said, “This is one of those jobs that found me.”
She’s running for reelection for a second three-year term. Bissonnette’s first experience with the role was in the Mattapoisett Town Clerk’s office, and before her time in Wareham, Bissonnette was the assistant Town Clerk in Marion for 12 years.
“I’d really like to continue marrying people and continue to update the election systems and get those even more refined,” Bissonnette said.
Since her election three years ago, she’s worked to update election day procedures by bringing in poll pads — tablet devices used to electronically check in voters — and new voting booths. She hopes to continue that work.
Bissonnette also said she’d like to do more work with students. She’s spoken to high school classes, but she’s hoping to give younger students a taste of electoral action by having elementary school students vote to pick out the town’s dog tags.
Town Moderator: Margaret Ishihara, a Main Street-based lawyer, is running unopposed for the position of Town Moderator.
“I really love Wareham,” she said. “If someone is in trouble or has a problem — illness, accident, fire — the people here really step up to help the other people in the community.”
She’s served on a number of committees over the years: Planning Board, Finance Committee, and a past Master Plan Committee, and has volunteered with her church.
“I actually think lawyers are well-suited for this sort of work,” Ishihara said. She said she wants to contribute to the town by making sure that all points of view get a fair chance to be heard, and to maintain a respectful environment during debate.
“I think it’s important to maintain respect and civility for other civilians in town at Town Meeting — not that everyone’s going to agree,” Ishihara said.
School Committee: Brennan McKiernan is a third-generation Wareham High School graduate, the father of a current student.
“I care about this town, and I care about the schools in particular,” McKiernan said. He said Wareham students are “doing amazing things in the schools” but people often don’t hear about it.
“The schools are doing good things, but all you hear about are the negative things,” he said. “I think that we need to just start focusing on the positive and give these kids a little more pride in their town and their schools.”
McKiernan said he wants to see more Wareham students staying in district, and said he hopes to decrease the emphasis on MCAS.
McKiernan, a chef at Charlie’s Place, started the Wareham Helping Wareham Facebook page, and through that has helped coordinated homeless outreach and clothing drives.
“Working together is the spirit of Wareham,” he said.
Board of Assessors: Dave Halberstadt is running for reelection for town assessor and says after his first two-year term, he feels he knows how to do the job well.
“I think I’ve gotten up to speed pretty quickly,” Halberstadt said.
He first became assessor in 2020, after retirement, he said. Halberstadt is also a water commission for the Onset Water Department.
Halberstadt repeated his praise for others who work alongside him in the assessor’s office, for their help in answering his and other residents’ questions.
The official explained that his office assesses the value of properties around town, but doesn’t have the power to set the tax rate. People sometimes call the assessor’s office to ask about tax rates going up, Halberstadt says, and office workers help explain the process.
That’s how Halberstadt first got involved with the assessor’s office too — by swinging by to ask the office questions he had as a resident.
“You owe something to the town,” Halberstadt said. “This is my small way of giving back.”
Sewer Commissioner: Peter Dunlop, first elected in 2016, said he hopes to continue to work on improvements to the sewer system — adding he wished the board had done more in the past few years.
Among top issues, he said, is connecting Wareham’s water pollution control facility to the outfall pipe at Mass Maritime — but he said the town won’t be able to do it on its own. He is also still invested in making the EDU billing system more fair, but that’s a complicated task when the sewer department doesn’t get water usage data for homes, as that service is provided by the fire districts.
Now, every household that’s tied into the sewer pays the same fee each year, whether one person lives there or six. Even tracking the number of bedrooms in a home as a proxy measure of residents is difficult, Dunlop said, because the sewer department would have no way of knowing if a house had an addition built, for instance.
Aging infrastructure is another concern of Dunlop’s.
“Our system is old and the can has been kicked down the road too many times,” he said. He said the two projects up for votes at the spring Town Meeting are vital.
“That pipe [from the Narrows] has outlived its usefulness, and if it ever breaks, we’d be in a world of…” he trailed off, joking he wasn’t sure what could be printed in the paper. “Should this pipe rupture, the entire town would suffer.”