Tracy Watson stood outside in the cold winds last week holding campaign signs. She was on a mission; to stay on the Board of Selectmen.
Voter turnout was low, so it was anyone's game. But Watson managed to get
"Absolute euphoria," Watson said about hearing she had won. "There were lots of hugs and cheers in my house Tuesday night!"
The election also gave Watson a sense of validation for her first term. First elected to the Board in 2008, she served during the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression -- a national economic storm that created a fiscal mess at the local level. Housing values dropped to the floor, bringing property tax revenues with them.
"I am so grateful to the people in town who cast their ballots for me," Watson said. "Their vote of confidence means so much to me. In regards to my first term, I do think the voters have a positive impression of it; bumps and all. I worked very hard to not only work cooperatively with other boards and committees, but I attempted to foster a strong and more effective business climate as well. There is a sense of validation to a degree regarding what we as a Board have been able to accomplish over the last three years. I think we have been very effective."
One accomplishment was achieving a consensus budget -- a budget agreed upon by the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee and the School Committee -- for the past three years. And during that time, North Andover has been the only community in the Merrimack Valley to have not laid off workers or cut services. The selectmen negotiated contracts that had increased employee health care contributions.
"I think the folks in town saw that goals were set and actually met over the last three years," Watson said. "My hope is that is what contributed to their voting my way in the numbers that they did."
While Watson has spent years making connections in the community, she has also severed some.
Once upon a time, Watson was a Democrat. She was elected as a Democrat and even on the Town Democratic Committee. But last year, when Scott Brown was running for the Senate, Watson supported him and decided to leave the Democratic party, saying that her beliefs were no longer in line with the party. Watson has described herself as very liberal on social issues but conservative on fiscal issues.
"I would prefer to be in a position where I can listen to both sides of the issue and not be locked into 'party lines'," Watson said. "This I feel has allowed me to be more true to myself and my own political beliefs. Being a Selectman is about doing what is in the best interest of the town and its people."
National -- and even state -- political parties do not play a major roll in local government, and Watson did not want to be tied to a national platform while serving on the local level. So she switched to unenrolled.
It was a gamble. She was at times accused of being a sell-out and an opportunist. And that was one thing that Watson felt would come into play as she sought re-election.
"The decision to leave the Democratic party and the Town Committee certainly cost me some votes this time around, and yes I did anticipate that when I made the decision to leave the party last year," Watson said. "However, the benefit was that I realized the freedom of being unenrolled would allow me to be more accessible to citizens of both parties and those others who are also unenrolled."
And it seems Watson was embraced by those on the right. She won a recent over the only Republican in the race, Rick Nardella. She at that party's fundraiser, which she did not attend.
"I am still the same person I have always been and my core beliefs have not changed," Watson said. "Being unenrolled just allows me a freedom that party affiliation did not."
Either that gamble paid off, or that gamble didn't matter. In last week's election, Watson won the most votes on the ballot. At the same time, her fellow incumbent, Republican Rick Nardella, lost his re-election bid when he was edged out by Democrat Don Stewart -- by an astoundingly thin margin of just 12 votes.
Watson set the election behind her, and her eyes focused forward Monday night as she was sworn in for a second term. Priority number one: balancing the 2012 budget. With a drop in revenues and increase in costs, the town is facing a $1.3 million budget shortfall for next year.
"Nothing is more important than that right now," Watson said. "How we work together and hammer this out will affect our residents for years to come so it must be our first priority."