Violette ousted from Westbrook school board by two votes

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WESTBROOK — It was a tight race Tuesday for two incumbents seeking reelection to the School committee, with the Ward 5 race separated by only two votes as of Wednesday afternoon.

Veronica Bates and Jim Violette for the first time faced challengers for their school board seats.

Bates, a committee member since 2011, was narrowly able to fend off her challenger, Republican Kristen Beahm, by fewer than than 75 votes in Ward 2. That unofficial vote tally was 691-618 Wednesday afternoon.

In Ward 5, Violette wasn’t as lucky, appearing to lose to Elizabeth Schultz 881-879, according to unofficial tallies. Violette has been on the committee since 2010 and currently is chairman.

Violette said Wednesday morning was waiting until the results are official before deciding to request a recount or not.

Westbrook City Clerk Angela Holmes a recount, if requested, would be done by hand count and conducted as soon as possible. She said the last recount in a municipal election was in 2015 when Steve Berry defeated Alex Stone for a Ward 1 School Committee seat.

In the uncontested School Committee races, Berry retained his Ward 1 seat and Suzanne Salisbury was elected as an at-large member, a position she held from 2007 until she left the committee in 2017. Salisbury replaces Odilia Harmon, who was appointed to the position last year when Salisbury stepped down.

Voters also overwhelmingly passed a local referendum question that asked whether voters wanted Westbrook School Department to join a regional service center with area school districts to look into joint purchasing, training, recruitment and student intake.

Bates said she was impressed with her opponent.

“It was a great race. It was a close race. (Beahm) ran a really strong first campaign. I would be thrilled to have her on the board at some point, and I told her if she ran again, she would have my support,” she said.

Schultz said the closeness of her race with Violette was to be expected.

“I wasn’t surprised it was so close because Jim is well-liked and well-known and has a loyal base in Westbrook,” Schultz said.

“I am very pleased and honored my message resonated with so many people that having someone with a background in education (on the committee) was a good idea,” she said.

Bates said both her race and the Ward 5 race was swayed by the action of executive board of the Westbrook Education Association in early October in which the group endorsed Schultz and Beahm due to their backgrounds in education.

“People who do not keep a pulse on the day-to-day things (the School Committee does) were swayed. They didn’t look at records or what we have done historically,” Bates said.

Schultz, now retired, spent many years as a teacher and administrator in the Biddeford, Bonny Eagle and Gray-New Gloucester school systems. Beahm woks as the assistant director of academic assessment at the University of Southern Maine.

Schultz supporter and Ward 5 voter Karen Barry said she couldn’t overlook the experience Schultz would bring to the board.

“She has a strong background in education and she seems to know her stuff,” Barry said at Pride’s Corner Congregational Church Tuesday evening.

Beahm was endorsed by the Westbrook Republican Committee to vie for the Ward 5 seat, something that played in her favor for Ward 2 resident Margarita Regler. If she’s not familiar with the candidates, she votes by party, she said.

“I don’t love all Republicans, but for me unless I know the person, it is a safer bet.”

For Ward 5 voter Nancy Dean, who voted for Violette, it wasn’t just who was on the ballot, but who was right outside the polling place that mattered.

“I know it is kind of quirky, but people who tend to be outside the polling place get my vote. I respect people who do that,” Dean said, steps away from Violette, her neighbor, who was greeting voters as they arrived at the polls.

Violette also got the support of Ward 5 voter Sharon Kirkpatrick.

“I think he has done a good job and has been fair,” she said Tuesday morning.

Bates said if a recount occurs and doesn’t swing in Violette’s favor, it “will be a big loss for Westbrook.”

New School Committee members will be sworn in prior to the Dec. 3 city council meeting.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews

A little early morning rain didn’t keep scare off voters in Ward 2 and Ward 3 from forming a line outside the Westbrook Armory on Stroudwater Street. Voters in Ward 2 has two contested races, the at-large city council seat won by Mike Foley and the Ward 2 school committee seat that incumbent Veronica Bates narrowly won again.

Veronica Bates

Veronica Bates

Veronica Bates

Elizabeth Schultz

Voters in Ward 5 deposit their ballots into the voting booth at Prides Corner Congregational Church Tuesday. The race for Ward representative on the school committe resulted in a near dead heat, with Elizabeth Schultz coming out on top over incumbent Jim Violette by two votes based on unofficial results.

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