Homeowner Fights Batting Cage At Cole

The batting cage planned for Cole Middle School would sit on the west side of the school.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

It seemed like a nice idea – the EG Little League wanted to donate batting cages to the high school and Cole Middle School that could be used by school teams as well as Little League teams. The School Committee approved the offer last spring and equipment appeared at Cole to install the batting cage last Memorial Day weekend.

Except that placement of the proposed batting cage at Cole was on the west side of the school, the side closest to Sarah’s Trace, the street on which homeowners had sued the town over construction of the school in 2011 and which resulted in a settlement in 2015. When construction of the batting cage began, a Sarah’s Trace homeowner called police, citing a breach of the settlement. Police stopped the construction.

Now, nearly a year later, Little League representatives are hoping to get the construction back on track. The double batting cage at the high school was erected without incident after the failed attempt at Cole.

The challenge at Cole is there aren’t very many place to put the batting cages, Athletics Director Chris Cobain told the School Committee Tuesday night. He said there were only two sites at the school that don’t have anything to do with drainage, sewage, or electrical lines. One is near the tennis courts, close to houses on Wanton Shippee Road. The other is the side that abuts properties on Sarah’s Trace. Cobain said they chose the area closer to Sarah’s Trace because of the generous landscape buffer there. There is no such buffer on the Wanton Shippee side.

Cobain said he spoke with the homeowners who’d called the police.

“I talked to the family and heard, “We will fight, we will fight tooth and nail,” he said.

School Committee members said they needed to know just want was included in the settlement. If it was about equipment, could EGLL use hand tools to install the batting cage, they asked.

Committeeman Matt Plain said there was a difference between whether or not the settlement contained language about construction of something like a batting cage at Cole and the batting cage itself.

EGLL representative Russ Marcantonio agreed.

“If you let the threats of lawsuits dictate how you operate, that’s a bad precedent,” he said.

The School Committee decided to have their lawyer talk to the town about the issue, since it is the town that has the settlement with the homeowners.

School and Little League officials said they hoped the issue could be ironed out before spring baseball begins in earnest.


EG Write-In Votes Range From Mickey Mouse to Pope Francis

It turns out East Greenwich voters had a lot of ideas about potential office holders beyond those names that were on the ballot Election Day, especially for offices where there was only one candidate listed.

The highest number of write-in votes were for the state Representative Dist. 30 seat. Incumbent Anthony Giarrusso ran unopposed for the seat. He got 4,158 votes, but there were 77 write-ins too. Among those written in were Robert Healey and Gina Raimondo (both already on the ballot in the governor’s race), Mark Schwager (who ran for Town Council but ran against Giarrusso for the seat two years ago), TV personality Steven Colbert, actor Neil Patrick Harris, Rolling Stone Keith Richard, Harvey Milk (first openly gay public official in California who was assassinated in 1978), Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck.

The second highest number of write-ins came in the town moderator race, in which Chuck Barton ran unopposed. Barton got 4,138 votes, but there were 61 write-in votes. Robert Healey was a write-in again, as was Mickey Mouse. Other town moderator write-ins included Nellie Gorbea (on the ballot for secretary of state), Gene Valicenti (TV newsman and EG resident), James Patti (the incumbent town moderator who did not seek reelection), as well as such local notables as Norman Harris, Mason Rhodes and Lisa Sussman.

Robert Healey got yet another write-in vote for Town Council, a contest that offered eight of candidates for five seats. There were 37 write-ins in total, including one for “Bolton” (possibly for Bob Bolton, a Republican who lost in the GOP council primary in September) and one for GI Joe. A couple of people wrote in “none of the above.”

Voters were a bit more satisfied perhaps with the seven candidates for School Committee. There were 15 write ins, none famous.

For governor, voters cast ballots for candidates who lost in the primary – Democrat Clay Pell and Republican Ken Block, but Mickey Mouse got a vote there too.

Pope Francis got a write-in vote for lieutenant governor (why that position in particular we will probably never know), as did Mickey Mouse (yet again!) and his pal, Donald Duck.

Buddy Cianci (on the ballot for mayor in Providence, but also a two-time felon as well as former assistant attorney general) got a vote for attorney general and New England Patriots QB Tom Brady got a vote for general treasurer.

To see how East Greenwich voted, you’ll find the results on the state Board of Elections website here. And, for all the EG News election coverage, click here.

Here are all the write ins, as reported by the Town Canvasser. Maybe you’ll recognize a name or too!:

Town Moderator write in votes:

Robert Healey

Jodi Macauley

Alex Christie

Steve Whitney

Charles Hinman

Margaret Lebovitz

Mickey Mouse

Nellie Gorbea

Jody Sceery

Lee Cresser

Norman Harris

Erin Lynch

Linda Lavin

Stephen DeLisle

Ben Shapiro

Neal McNamara


Mason Rhodes

David Appleton

Michael Courry

Lee Cresser

Ryan Fay

Ian Sutcliffe

Donna Monroe

Tony DeSpirito

Squiggly Line

Steve Medeiros

Gene Valicenti

Lisa Sussman

Kill Joy

James Patti

Town Council

Robert Healey

Nicole Nowak

Rita Nowak

Raoul Duke or Doke

Peter Kasyn

Bob Bolton

Neal McNamara

David Appleton

None of the above

Adam Cresser

Phoebe Cresser




Patricia Fowler

Ryan Fay

Greg Pezza

Kill Joy

GI Joe

School Committee

Jill Leary

Wendy Fachon

Stephen Nowak

Chris Roy



US Representative, Dist. 2

Mike Zarella

Razea Odeh

Steve Botwick

Louis Sardelli

John Healy

Eugenia Marks

Bethany Warburton

Noreen McGeary

Stephen Skoly


Anne Armstrony

Clay Pell

Mickey Mouse

Adam Satchell

Ken Block

Lt. Governor

Max Trutza

Mickey Mouse

Rick Rusack

Maxine Walker

George Trutza

Donald Duck

Jerome Howard

None of the Above

Pope Francis

Nick Gorham

Oliver Patchano

Michael R Archambault

Secretary of State

Neil Fradin

Maurine Howard

None of the Above

Kevin J. Iannuccilli

Attorney General

Edward Mulligan

Buddy Cianci

Gen. Treasurer

David Bolton

None of the Above

Tom Brady

Steve King

Clay Pell

State Representative Dist. 30

Robert Healey

Jason Eaton

T. Guido

Alex Christie

Steve Whitney

Louis Sardelli

Alyx Healy


Thomas DeSanta

Ken MacDonald

Nhu Hang

Sally Cressar

Sharon Hazard

Santa Claus

Gina Raimondo

Linda Lavin

Carolyn Mark

Stephen deLisle

Ben Shapiro

Lawrence Fine

Mark Schwager

Virginia Lee Stilphen

None of the above

Jeff Francis

Monteque Cresser

Michelle Dee

Matt Brothers

Steven Colbert


Tony Jones

Maya Barnes

Mickey Mouse

Hank Lesperance

Jillian Sullivan

Rebecca Bliss

Jim Cunningham


Harvey Milk

Daffy Duck

Neil Patrick Harris

Bob Watson

Jim Burbridge

Donna Monroe

Tony DeSpirito

Bruce Sunderland

Gene Valicenti

Anyone else

Keith Richards

Gucci Main

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Anatomy of a Movement: How a Parents’ Group Won 3 School Committee Seats

School Committee candidates David Osborne, Michael Fain and Yan Sun and their supporters were at several of the polls on Election Day.  Credit: EG News

The victories by three allied political newcomers in the race for East Greenwich School Committee last week – and the defeat of both the School Committee chairman and a vocal member of the panel – caught some by surprise but, according to a number of parents, it follows years of growing unease with the leadership of the EG school district.

Michael Fain, Yan Sun and David Osborne had all been endorsed by the Facebook group, “East Greenwich Parents for Excellence,” and they won seats on the School Committee. Mary Ellen Winters won her third term on the panel, rounding out the four seats that were up for election. Chairman David Green and member Jack Sommer lost their re-election bids.

While the parent group initially became known in town because of the issues of later school start time and all-day kindergarten, many of those parents, including Sun, Osborne and Fain, have said in recent weeks their engagement was not driven by a single issue. Rather, they said, it’s been the overall handling of those two issues and many others by both the administration and the School Committee that has motivated them to act.

“It wasn’t any one issue, but there were enough different issues that came up over the past few years that people felt it was not just time for different leadership, but for a particular kind of different leadership,” said Joy Weisbord, a parent. She said she started paying closer attention several years ago, she said, after the former “gifted” program known as CPT was eliminated and, to her frustration, nothing was put in its place.

Some parents got involved because of how Supt. Victor Mercurio and the School Committee handled parent frustration with what the parents said was an unwelcoming atmosphere at Frenchtown Elementary School. According to some of the parents involved, in 2013 they presented a letter outlining their complaints to Mercurio and the School Committee signed by 120 Frenchtown parents. Weisbord and Fain were among a handful of parents who eventually met with Mercurio to discuss the letter. They said School Committee members did not respond to the letter and Mercurio did not follow up with the larger school community as promised, although they noted the school was doing a better job communicating with parents this year.

Meanwhile, at School Committee meetings, parents repeatedly brought up later school start time during public comment, requesting the issue be put on an agenda. Each time someone spoke, committee members listened but did not comment because the issue was not on the agenda. For parents, there was a real question: how can we get an issue on the agenda? Recently, the School Committee did establish an ad hoc panel to study later school start times. A vote on the creation of the committee was on a School Committee agenda but the topic has never been on the agenda as a discussion item.

The process surrounding the strategic plan (which the committee started working on in September 2013) also prompted frustration among some parents. Parent Kristin Lehoullier, a member of the ad hoc strategic plan committee (a School Committee-sanctioned panel established last fall), wrote this in October 2014 in a letter to School Committee members:

“The original mechanism for engaging community residents through the ad hoc committee was not authentic. [It] has not met for almost a year and has not engaged to provide substantive input into the planning process…. In addition, there have not been intentional efforts to publicize the process, engage residents in the process, or ask for their feedback. Nor has there been communication with the ad hoc committee…. In short, the district and School Committee have missed many opportunities along the planning process to get input, utilize community-based expertise, and galvanize support for the plan.”

For many of these parents, their frustration stemmed from what Lehoullier called an “overall lack of responsiveness” from both Mercurio and the committee. Late last spring, the parents began looking for candidates to run for School Committee.

“A group of us started regularly attending School Committee and subcommittee meetings … and just weren’t satisfied with the level of productive discussion that was going on. The members were all lovely people, that wasn’t our issue, it’s not personal,” said Weisbord. “It’s just that in terms of filling the seats with the right people for the job, we felt there was some needed improvement.”

Parents began meeting at people’s homes in late winter 2013 as well as attending School Committee meetings. With four seats up for election in November, talk pretty quickly turned to recruiting candidates. They wanted candidates who had a current sense of what was happening in East Greenwich schools, Weisbord said. Only two members of the School Committee (Jack Sommer and Carolyn Mark) had children in the schools. (Ed. Note: The number of School Committee members listed here with children in the school was originally incorrect.)

In addition, she said, they were looking for candidates with a team-based approach and people not be afraid to ask questions and do research. They wanted “people whose outlook was more ‘how we might’ than ‘why we can’t,’” said Weisbord. “People who would be productive, valuable, working members of the board – ready, willing, and able to put in the time and effort that East Greenwich’s schools and citizens deserve.”

Originally, four parents from this allied group filed candidacy papers but one of the candidates, Lehoullier, dropped out in August, citing an increased workload. The remaining candidates and their supporters used social media, yard signs and friends to get their message out. Parent Rebecca Bliss, who created the EG Parents for Excellence Facebook page, was one of those who worked hard on behalf of the three candidates.

In the end, Yan Sun received the most votes, Fain got second place, Winters came in third, and Osborne placed fourth.

Post-election, none of the three committee member-elects said they were looking to foment revolution.

“I just am grateful that enough people in town decided that I can represent the interests of students, parents, and teachers on the School Committee,” said Osborne, “and I want to focus all of my efforts on looking forward, not backwards.”

Sun spoke of gratitude but also of the responsibility she felt to really understand the community’s needs. As for working on the committee, she said, “I think we’ll have a good team together, that we have common ground for collaboration – to really have student interests as our top priority.”

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We Messed Up: An Apology

On Monday, Nov. 3, the night before the election, someone going by the name of “voterwatchdog” posted a comment on the landing page for the profiles of all the Town Council candidates. The comment targeted one candidate – Robert Vespia – stating what it referred to as some “facts” about him (you can read the comment here).

The comment needed approval before it would appear and I approved it. In hindsight, as editor and publisher of East Greenwich News, I should have asked Mr. Vespia for a rebuttal before allowing the comment to post. I apologize to readers and to Mr. Vespia for not doing that.

When people run for office, they put themselves in the public sphere and are subject to greater scrutiny than their private-citizen neighbors. In this particular case, Mr. Vespia did have connections to the Town of East Greenwich that were relevant to his candidacy. His wife works for the town and helps to run town elections, he receives a disability pension from the town and he is one of several people suing the town over a change in health care benefits for retired firefighters.

Those issues were raised in the profile I wrote about Mr. Vespia (find that profile here) and voterwatchdog is entitled to his/her opinion. However, voterwatchdog’s comment spoke of “facts.” Short of fact-checking every comment, in such instances EG News can and should offer the accused the chance to rebut the charges.

As it happened, Mr. Vespia did not learn of the comment until Election Day. In an effort to make things right even at this late date, here is Mr. Vespia’s rebuttal:

“I was not, as voterwatchdog wrote, ‘awarded a disability claim in excess of $2 million dollars for a shoulder injury.’ I was granted a disability pension for a shoulder injury after going to several doctors, including three independent physicians, representing the State Retirement Board. It was not a lump sum award.

“Second, I spoke to the state Ethics Commission about potential ‘conflicts of interest’ before I decided to run. According to them, I would not have to recuse myself from dealings with the fire department. And, as long as nothing affected my wife, as a Town employee, any differently than any other town employee, there would be no conflict. Also, she is not the head of the Board of Canvassers, as was stated, but is the clerk for the Board of Canvassers. And after I declared my candidacy, she did not handle anything having to do with the Town Council candidates – that was handled by others in her department.

“I put my name out there. I didn’t hide anything. How a person can go out there and post what is referred to as facts when they are not, and not sign their name – I don’t know how they can sleep at night.”

EG Election Stories – Local, State, Ballot Questions

Links to all our election coverage:

What was turnout and who’d EG vote for statewide? We have answers.

We still have the Financial Town Meeting and the road bond passes.

And Chuck Barton wins post of Town Moderator.

New council will have first woman in 10 years and mix of Republicans & Democrats.

On the School Committee, ‘EG Parents’ win big; only one incumbent of three wins reelection.

Mark Gee defeats James Callaghan to be state Sen. Dist. 35’s new senator.

In Statewide Races, EG Went Republican, As Usual

Although it was a lively campaign season in East Greenwich and we had no dearth of candidates, it turns out that turnout was lower than in the past two general elections. Including mail ballots, 5,648 votes were cast on Election Day 2014, 51.2 percent of eligible voters.

In 2012, a presidential election year in which turnout is typically higher, 6,703 votes were cast, 62.4 percent. But even in 2010, another so-called “off year” election, 6,010 votes were cast, 56 percent.

Still, our turnout was higher than the statewide average, which was 41.7 percent, and a lot higher than the national average of 36.6 percent.

In statewide races, Republicans did better in East Greenwich than overall, where Democratic candidates won the governor’s office, lt. governor, secretary of state, attorney general and general treasurer.

In the governor race, East Greenwich liked Republican Allan Fung just a bit more than Democrat Gina Raimondo, the actual winner on Tuesday, 41.6 percent to 41.3 percent. Robert Healey, the Moderate Party candidate, got 15.9 percent of the vote in EG.

For lieutenant governor, EG also preferred the Republican candidate, Catherine Taylor, to the winner, Democrat Daniel McKee. Taylor got 45.7 percent to McKee’s 43.1 percent. Moderate William Gilbert got 7.3 percent and former EG resident Tony Jones, of the Libertarian Party, got 3.5 percent of the vote.

In the secretary of state race, GOP candidate John Calevale got 51.3 percent to Democrat Nellie Gorbea’s 48.6 percent.

For attorney general, EG turned out big for Republican Dawson Hodgson (60.7 percent, who has served as most of EG’s state senator for two terms, over incumbent Democrat Peter Kilmartin (39.2 percent).

In the general treasurer race, Republican Ernest Almonte (who had supporters at every polling station) got 52.9 percent to Seth Magaziner’s 47 percent.

For U.S. Senate, even EG’s Republican leaning couldn’t help Mark Zaccaria, who got 39.9 percent of the vote compared to Democrat Jack Reed’s 60.2 percent.

For U.S. House of Representatives, District 2, Republican Rhue Reis faired better (45 percent), but still came up short against Democrat James Langevin (54.8 percent).

Barton Wins Moderator Post, Will Preside Over FTM

Running unopposed, Chuck Barton was pretty much guaranteed to win the post of Town Moderator, which he did Tuesday, garnering 3,930 votes (98.5 percent).

That said, Barton readily conceded he did not think he would actually serve as moderator, presuming that voters would approve eliminating the Financial Town Meeting on Election Day. The town moderator’s sole job is to preside over the FTM.

Lo and behold, the majority of voters thought differently, rejecting Question 8.

And, so, come the second Tuesday in June, Barton will preside over the FTM, even though there has been no quorum since 1999.

Barton said he suspected voters were thinking a couple different ways.

“There’s probably some suspicion of motives for doing away of a very participatory democratic event. We haven’t really used this vehicle in 14 years, but it’s nice to know its there,” he said. “The second is, this is kind of a tradition…. It’s kind of quaint. It’s part of the town’s heritage.”

The FTM has been in place since 1752.

Barton said the excitement over this year’s local election made him wonder if the town wasn’t moving into a different – more engaged – cycle.

“This election, there were some impassioned candidates,” he said. “The contests were a lot more vigorous than in a while. I think people were saying, ‘Let’s invigorate local politics a little.’”

Our new town moderator is hardly new to East Greenwich elected office, having served 12 years on the School Committee (1988 to 2000) and two on the Town Council (2002-04).

“I thought I was going to be a trivia question as the last town moderator,” said Barton. “Now I’m wondering if I’m the only person to serve in all three elected offices.”

Barton said he takes the job of town moderator very seriously.

“The reason I ran, even though I assumed the meeting was going to be abolished, was because I have great respect for it,” he said. “Now I have the honor of being one of a long line of town moderators, dating back 250 years.”

FTM Lives On; Road Bond, Charter Changes Approved

They may not attend the Financial Town Meeting, but voters Tuesday weren’t ready to eliminate it, with just over half the electorate, 51 percent, rejecting Question 8.

The question asked voters to approve eliminating the FTM and extending the time allowed to approve a budget. Currently, the Town Council must approve a budget by May 15 and it must go before the voters at an FTM on the second Tuesday in June.

The meeting must reach a quorum of 250 registered voters – something that has not happened since 1999 – otherwise the budget as presented passes into law.

“It’s disappointing,” said Council President Michael Isaacs, who won reelection Tuesday. “I supported abolition in light of the lack of quorums. Maybe we could have done a better job explaining our rationale but there will be an FTM in June this year.”

Bill Stone, who won a seat on the council Tuesday, said he also was in favor of eliminating the FTM.

“It seems like an effort we don’t need to go through. Moreover, with the Town Council being reelected every two years, if folks don’t like what we’re doing with the budget they can always make a change,” he said. “But apparently people like it. They voted for it, they want it. I hope all the people who voted for it show up at the next town meeting.”

The FTM costs about $2,000 annually.

The $2 million road bond (Question 11) passed much more decisively, getting 83 percent of the vote.

“I think people understood if they wanted the roads fixed very quickly, this was the best way to do that,” said Isaacs. “I think they also recognized now’s a good time to borrow money for the town.”

Isaacs had said before Election Day the reason for the bond was because road work had been put off during the economic recession. He called the bond a chance to “catch up.”

It’s unclear just how far that $2 million will go. The first road on the town’s list is Shippee Road, according to Public Works director Joe Duarte.

The two ballot questions (9 and 10) that dealt with the charter also passed by wide margins. Question 9 asked voters to approve including the new EG Fire Department in the Town Charter. It became part of the town in June 2013, but still needed voter authorization to be regulated by the charter as happens with the EG Police Department. It passed 75 percent to 25 percent.

Question 10 asked voters to approve changes to the charter to correct “minor, non-substantive errors.” It passed 80 percent to 20 percent.

Catherine Streich, a senior at East Greenwich High School, is a reporter for East Greenwich News.

Isaacs, Schwager, Cienki Win Seats On Council With Newcomers Todd, Stone

Sue Cienki and Michael Isaacs congratulate each other after vote totals are announced at Town Hall Tuesday night. Credit: EG News

Michael Isaacs (R) won easy reelection to the East Greenwich Town Council Tuesday night, with 62 percent of the vote, earning his sixth term of office. Former Town Councilman Mark Schwager (D) came in second in the vote count, followed by Sue Cienki (R), Sean Todd (R), and Bill Stone (D). Isaacs was the only current councilor who sought reelection.

Roughly 200 mail ballots have yet to be counted.

The new council will feature two elements the current council is lacking: a woman and Democrats. The last women to serve on the Town Council were Sharyn Iannuccilli and Marilyn Kiesel, who both stepped off the council in 2004. No Democrat has served on the council since Schwager stepped off in 2010.

“It’s very gratifying to win my sixth term,” said Isaacs. “I want to thank my wife Mindy for her support and her hard work every time I’ve run for office. And I’ve been fortunate to serve with good council members that have made this a responsible town which has made it easier for me to run for reelection.”

Cienki didn’t want to focus on the fact she will be the first woman to serve on the council in 10 years, but rather spoke of her gratitude.

“I’m humbled by the number of people came out and supported me,” she said. “We had terrific candidates. I think anybody that was running for the Town Council was more than qualified so it’s humbling to be voted in.”


Todd and Cienki at Ritrovo after the vote results were in. 

“I’m extremely excited for this,” said Todd. “I’m humbled by the outcome. I’m looking forward to bringing my younger vision to the council. It’s going to be a good two years.”

Todd said he thought social media played a role in his win.

“My generation speaks about issues and things through social media and online. I think I had a strong coalition of parents and friends who spoke to other parents and friends, some of that through social media. It reached enough people,” he said. “I’m flattered.”

Vote totals:

Michael Isaacs        3,284       62%
Mark Schwager      2,888       54%
Sue Cienki               2,827        53%
Sean Todd               2,552        48%
Bill Stone                 2,500       47%
Ed Field                   2,324        44%
Gene Dumas           2,316         43%
Robert Vespia         1,967         37%

See all the election results here


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‘EG Parents’ Wins Big In School Committee Race; Winters Hangs On

Yan Sun, outside Hanaford Tuesday evening, had lights to illuminate her sign. Credit: EG News

After an unusually vigorous School Committee campaign, voters gave three of the four contested School Committee seats to newcomers Yan Sun (I), Michael Fain (I), and David Osborne (D). Incumbent Mary Ellen Winters (R) also won (her third term), but fellow incumbents Jack Sommer (I) and David Green (R), chair of the current committee, lost their bids for reelection.

Sun, Osborne and Fain are all members of a group of parents who came together last spring after being frustrated with the current School Committee and have collected around a Facebook group titled “East Greenwich Parents for Excellence.” The parents were motivated, according to Rebecca Bliss, an unofficial leader of the group, by frustration over what she called the current School Committee’s “lack of transparency, responsiveness, and engagement of parents.”

Among the issues they wanted the School Committee to address were later school start times at the middle and high schools and the addition of all-day kindergarten – both of which are now being explored by ad hoc committees. In addition, they have questioned the School Committee’s strategic planning process.

Sun, the top vote-getter, made a point of telling voters in public forums she would respond “to every phone call and every email.”

“The message resonated with a lot of voters,” said Fain after the votes were counted, “particularly people with school-age kids. I think it went without saying they were looking for some changes.”

“We’re just really excited. We’re really grateful,” said Osborne. “We had a lot of support, especially from parents of school-age kids and we’re looking forward to representing their interests and we’re looking forward to working together with everybody on the School Committee and with the Town Council. There’s a lot on our plate.”

Green and Sommer were elected to the School Committee in 2010, with Green taking over as chair in 2012. Newcomer Christen Meyer (R) was the third candidate that fell short in the vote totals.

Vote totals:

Yan Sun                         2,782    52%
Michael Fain                 2,687   50%
Mary Ellen Winters     2,593   49%
David Osborne             2,472    46%
David Green                  2,279   43%
Christen Meyer             2,095   39%
Jack Sommer                1,781     33%

See all the election results here

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