Political Veteran Elected in Chilmark


J.B. Riggs Parker is back in the front lines of Chilmark politics.

Chilmark voters returned him to the thick of town affairs Wednesday, electing this longtime official to the post of selectman over political newcomer Mary Murphy Boyd. Mr. Parker secured 306 votes to Mrs. Boyd's 142.

"I'm grateful for the support of the citizens of Chilmark. I look forward to giving what I can to get things done reasonably and creatively," Mr. Parker said yesterday after his victory.

Mr. Parker, 70, was a founding member of the Chilmark planning board 30 years ago. A retired securities attorney from Philadelphia, Mr. Parker lent his legal expertise to the town on a number of fronts through the years. Mr. Parker helped craft the town's youth lot program, an early affordable housing initiative that's provided low-cost land for dozens of young Chilmark residents through the years.

Mr. Parker's most recent brush with Island politics came in 2000 when the county commissioners appointed Mr. Parker to the Steamship Authority board of governors. He served in that capacity until the end of 2001.

Two months ago, Mr. Parker had no plans of stepping back into town government. His decision to run came in the span of a week, on the heels of an announcement by incumbent Alex Preston that he would not seek re-election.

Nonetheless, he's ready to roll up his sleeves and help manage a town he's called home for three decades.

"What strikes me at this point, over the 30 years I've lived here, I've watched Chilmark be portrayed as a very wealthy town. That portrayal is not very accurate. We have a number of very wealthy people who pay a large portion of our taxes, but very few, if any, of our voters live in castles," Mr. Parker said.

"Most of them live very simple lives, and they depend on our low tax rate to continue their lives here. It's very important to keep that diversity and not force them out," he added.

Keeping taxes at a minimum will be a challenge, he admits. But this retired securities attorney will be keeping a close eye on town spending.

"We need a long-term capital plan. We've been taking on a lot of building lately. Things are coming up on the horizon that need to be addressed. We need to be mindful of the fact that the tax dollar is not endless," Mr. Parker said.

Protecting the livelihood of fishermen operating out of Menemsha harbor is also a top priority for Mr. Parker.

"Chilmark is principally a farming and fishing community. Fishing has been increasingly in jeopardy with more and more state regulations. We need to make sure that Menemsha doesn't turn into a marina instead of a commercial fishing port," he said.

Mr. Parker and Mrs. Boyd offered Chilmark voters an interesting race this spring. Mrs. Boyd, 25, grew up in town and now teaches second grade at the West Tisbury school. The opponents, though separated by two generations, differed little in their ideas about Chilmark's future.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat. It was wonderful for the town to have a choice. It highlighted some important issues to have a contested race," said Mrs. Boyd.

Mr. Parker said he hopes this race is the first of many for Mrs. Boyd.

"I certainly hope [Mrs. Boyd] stays involved. She has the perspective from her generation which is important to respect and encourage," he said.

Mrs. Boyd assured the Gazette it was not her last campaign: "I'm a newcomer to official politics, but this won't by my last foray into the fray."

Fifty-six per cent of Chilmark's 805 registered voters turned out to the polls Wednesday.

The following were elected without contest: Clarissa Allen for assessor, Katherine Lees Carroll for board of health, Richard Osnoss for planning board, Douglas Sederholm for financial advisory committee, Melanie Diane Becker for treasurer, Everett Poole for moderator, Norman Freed for library trustee, Jane Slater for cemetery commission, Keith Emin for tree warden, Daniel Bryant for constable and Clarissa Allen for a site review committee. David Flanders won a write-in campaign for fence viewer, securing 10 votes; Keith Emin and Joshua Scott tied with eight votes in a write-in contest for surveyor of wood, lumber and bark.