West Tisbury voters go to the polls next week to choose between two environmentally conscious, civic-minded, former college professors for selectman.

Three-term incumbent selectman Richard Knabel is being challenged for his seat by Kent Healy. The election is Thursday, April 13. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the town public safety building.

Mr. Knabel has served as a town selectmen since 2008 when he unseated incumbent Glenn Hearn.

Sitting in his home near the Agricultural Hall, a Norwegian station playing over wifi radio, Mr. Knabel, who is 76, said this will be his last run for selectman.

“There’s things I want to finish that take a long time,” he said. He said he has been working on a comprehensive maintenance plan for town buildings for over a decade that has finally come together. The selectmen have had nine town buildings formally surveyed and are working to create a priority list for maintenance projects.

A former college professor in the physical sciences department at a community college in Westchester County in New York state, Mr. Knabel has a background in journalism and environmental advocacy. He was a seasonal visitor to the Vineyard beginning in the 1970s and moved to the Island full time in the late 1990s. A lifelong Democrat, he admires Bernie Sanders and describes himself as civic-minded.

Richard Knabel has served as selectman since 2008. — Mark Lovewell

During his tenure as selectman, Mr. Knabel said he is proud of his work to keep the town budget manageable without slowing progress.

“In the time I have been a selectman, the budget of West Tisbury has grown the least of all six towns,” Mr. Knabel said. “We stabilized the budget during a time that we built or rebuilt four buildings in town, the town hall, the library, the police station and we built a new highway garage just now. And we maintained, during that time, a stable debt burden. I’m not saying that’s all because of me. It was a collegial effort on the part of a lot of people, but I was certainly there supporting a lot of that and doing what I could to make that happen.”

He cites affordable housing as an accomplishment. “We built or are in the process of building 27 units of affordable housing,” Mr. Knabel said. “We had some 40 units before that.”

He said working to preserve the Field Gallery gave him particular joy.

“I was good friends with the elder Maleys for many, many years, they were really wonderful people,” he said, adding: “Our big priority really has been to keep West Tisbury a welcoming place for the young and the old, make it possible to live here and there are a lot of challenges that go with that.”

A former longtime member of Riverkeeper, an organization dedicated to the Hudson river’s health, Mr. Knabel has opposed obstructing the flow of rivers, but when it comes to the much-debated Mill Pond, he’s in favor of the dam.

“My position has been from day one, we need to preserve the Mill Pond, whatever that means,” he said. “I am in no way in favor of taking the dam out and losing the 350-year-old pond . . . .There’s been a dam there for 350 years and the fish have dealt with it in one way or another, and were smart enough to help them at this point, and I think we can do that.”

He said he played a role in quieting controversy last year when the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival wanted to buy property on Old County Road for a new film center. “I was particularly caught off guard . . . . and we had to do something about it,” he recalled. “I took the lead in dealing with that, I think it worked out pretty much to everybody’s satisfaction. I’ve never seen West Tisbury come together as a town and speak with one voice the way it did. And as a selectman, you can’t ignore that.”

He concluded:

“I’m not a single issue kind of person, I have a broad set of experiences in my background that are applicable to trying to solve town issues when they come up.”


Sitting in his green pickup truck in the parking lot at Alley’s General Store, Kent Healy talked about his own history in West Tisbury which dates to 1948. He worked pulling oyster drags for the Quansoo Shellfish Company in the summer of 1952. He served in the Coast Guard and met his wife, the former Maureen Flanders, in Menemsha in 1956. He taught civil engineering at the University of Connecticut for 18 years as an associate professor and moved to West Tisbury permanently in 1983. Four of his five children live on the Island.

As civil engineer he said he has worked on all the town buildings at one time or another. He has been a caretaker of the Mill Pond dam and a Tisbury Great Pond commissioner. He admires President Jimmy Carter and is unaffiliated with a political party.

Challenger Kent Healy is the new kid on the block. — Mark Lovewell

Why run for selectmen at age 84? “I’ve been here long enough to take a turn,” is a reply he has repeated so often that it’s now his campaign slogan. Turning serious, he said people had been asking him to run for quite some time. As he chatted with a reporter, people stopped by the truck to greet him. Some asked questions, including about the Mill Pond.

Mr. Healy’s stance on the Mill Pond is only slightly different from his opponent. He doesn’t want to remove the dam — doesn’t want to do anything at all to the pond.

“Nothing needs to be done, it should be taken care of, you should pay attention, but it doesn’t need to be dredged, it doesn’t need to be rebuilt,” he said.

He said much of his campaign has been shaped by environmental concerns.

“I worry the town is going to be questioned by a number of state agencies about how they take care of the land, particularly Tisbury Great Pond and Mill Brook,” he said, adding: “The state’s going to come say, you have to do this and you have to do that. I think it’s going to be important to have somebody in town making sense of what their requests are, whether they are good or bad. And I know a lot about the waters of West Tisbury.”

The rising cost of education is an an ongoing topic for debate in town, but Mr. Healy said education is a high priority for him.

“Society has no greater obligation than the education of young,” he said. “Now, you try to do it efficiently. But it’s more important than town buildings, it’s more important than roads, it’s more important than Mill Pond, it’s more important than anything.”

As for town spending in general, Mr. Healy cited a need to take the long view.

“Some of the newer buildings, particularly the town hall and the library . . . they are rather sophisticated buildings, they are going to require a significant amount of maintenance and I’m not sure the townspeople are aware of this,” he said. “It’s going to cost money to take care of these things.”

The campaign has been cordial, both candidates agreed. When Mr. Healy decided to run, he visited Mr. Knabel at his home to let him know.

“I’m not running against him, I’m running for the town,” Mr. Healy said.