Five-Day Grassroots Campaign Wins Barsamian School Committee Seat

Jennifer Barsamian ran a successful write-in campaign to pick up one of the three open seats.


Despite just a, Jennifer Barsamian earned a seat on the Dedham School Committee Saturday night.

Barsamian received 784 votes, second most among the four major candidates receiving votes.

"I was overwhelmed by the support - this was a community win. This was not about me," Barsamian said Saturday night. "This was about [784] people who came out to voice their desire for some change in the School Committee."

Incumbent chairman Kevin Coughlin received 885, the most votes.

Joe Heisler picked up 715 votes to take the third and final School Committee seat. Incumbent David Roberts finished four votes behind Heisler with 711.

Roberts could challenge the results and petition for a recount within the next 10 days, and he would need signatures from 10 people in each of the town's seven precincts supporting his petition, according to state law.

A call to Roberts went unreturned late Saturday night.

Just a week ago Barsamian was receiving "phone pressure" to run a write-in campaign, and by Monday fellow parents launched Facebook page that put her forward as a candidate.

From there, a group of supporters helped get the word out through emails, social media, making signs and placing phone calls.

Election turnout was low, even for a town election, Town Clerk Paul Munchbach said. Of the town's roughly 16,500 registered voters, 1,908 went to the polls.

As a write-in candidate, Barsamian won Precincts 1 and 4. She said she wrote a letter to voters at , a senior living complex in Precinct 1, where she has spent time volunteering.

For about six weeks, the three incumbents - Coughlin, Heisler and Roberts - thought they were running an uncontested campaign for three open seats.

But following two controversial discussions, and an , Barsamian and other parents were upset over what they called a lack of communication and lack of community involvement in the descisions.

"It just goes to show that if the community is aware of what's going on, and they are engaged that they want to be part of it. They just need to be aware," Barsamian said. "Half the battle is just getting them to know what's happening."

Barsamian admitted she didn't know specific details of the Memorandum of Understanding between the school and police departments, she opposes a policy that infringes on how parents discipline their children, she said.

"[It] doesn't allow [parents] create consequences for their kids," Barsamian said.

Barsamian, who is a co-founder of Dedham Shines and is involved in the , said she always wanted to run for School Committee, but thought it would be a few years down the road.

"Some people thought [the write-in campaign] was the best thing, and some thought it was very unfair. But, it is our democracy," Barsamian said. "That write-in option is key."

Barsamian said she is looking forward to serving and knows that she will face a learning curve.

"I felt a responsibility to the parents of Dedham to give them a choice. That's what I set out to do. I wanted the incuments to work a little bit this week," she said.

Dan O'Neil April 15, 2012 at 10:45 AM
I have two ways of looking at this. Although I have no issue with a write in candidate getting support and getting the votes, why should redistricting be the reason? If you want to run for office run for all aspects of the position and to make the school board better. I feel she should have taken out papers like everyone else did if she legitimately wanted to run. I personally don't know her and if 784 people believe she can benefit the board than I wish her the best and I hope she ran for the right reasons and not to bring a negative voice about a beautiful brand new school. Whether your from Oakdale or East Dedham or anywhere else in town this is a good town and I hope people start to realize that instead of being negative.
Dan O'Neil April 15, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Just to clarify me last entry, I meant to say that if she had issues with the boards running before the redistricting issue she should have taken out papers like everyone else.
Fred Civian April 15, 2012 at 12:22 PM
Sometimes things happen in a different manner than we would wish or that we are accustomed to. What I saw was an organic expression of community concerns that swept Barsamian along with it.
Elaine Sobell April 15, 2012 at 01:43 PM
The reason Jen got swept so quickly into office is because those of us who know her were thrilled when we realized she was actually willing to do this! In the 18 years I've lived here, I have never known a more qualified candidate to run for school committee. Not only is she an experienced educator, she also brings an intelligence, energy and enthusiasm to her commitment to this town's educational system that is an absolute gift to the people who live here. There is absolutely nothing negative about her "voice", unless of course you are petty and power obsessed, in which case you might be in trouble. She will be a breath of fresh air on the school committee. I just hope she still has time for DAG and Dedham Open Studios. She is a town treasure; let's pray there is enough of her to go around!
Dan O'Neil April 15, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Intelligence I'm all for. We spend a lot of money on a town administrator which I don't feel is very intelligent. I also find it hard to believe we don't have one resident that could do that job just as effectively. Not to go off topic here, I'm not against a write in candidate. Like I said 784 people thought she could make a difference. My only concern is it was prompted strictly by the redistricting issue. If it wasn't than by all means I wish her well, but not to be a jerk I made the comment you probably have hundreds of other people already thinking.
Edna April 15, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Not just redistricting - the MOU is also a recent unpopular decision by the school committee. Who knows, perhaps things would have been handled more ably if the committee members were in a political race at the time. I think it's fantastic that a town committee that has two major gaffes in a months span isn't 'safe'. (I am referring to the communication around the redistricting as a gaffe, not having to redistrict at all). It takes nothing more than a week for one qualified & willing person -- with access to Facebook and email -- to make a difference.
Fred Civian April 16, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Dan - I realize your perception is that the campaign was "prompted strictly by the redistricting issue." There have been a number of news articles recently that contain statements from various people involved in the campaign - Jen included - where a number of other reasons were given. Anyone reading those articles would quickly understand that the campaign was inspired - if that is the right word- by a number of issues.


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