Somerset Signs Signal Campaign Controversy Ahead of Special Election
SOMERSET — It may be a sign that Somerset’s upcoming special election is going pack as much drama as possible between now and July 12.
The former selectman who just resigned her seat, which forced the special election, has created campaign signs for one of her most vocal opponents during her time in office, who is now running for that vacated seat. The signs appear to be mocking that candidate, but the former selectman says she wholeheartedly wants the candidate to win. The candidate herself called it “bizarre behavior.”
Welcome to the world of Somerset politics.
Holly McNamara, who abruptly resigned from the Somerset Board of Selectmen on April 14, has created campaign signs for Kathy Souza, the woman running to fill the vacated seat in the upcoming special election. The campaign signs feature a photo of Souza with the words: “Kathy Souza, Our Savior Selectman.”
On the morning of May 6, Souza’s campaign manager, Michael Langfield – who happens to live across the street from McNamara – saw the signs being placed in McNamara’s yard.
“He said he saw someone who lives in her home walk outside with the sign and place it in the yard,” Souza said. “If I had known she was going to use that photo, if anything, I would have put makeup on first. I don’t take this stuff seriously. That to me is somebody just crying for attention.”
But McNamara said she actually wants Souza to win.
“I think that she thinks she’s going to save the world, so let’s let her try,” she said. She also posted to her Instagram account that is giving out the signs to anyone who wants them.
McNamara was first elected to the town’s Board of Selectmen in 2016. The following year, the Brayton Point power station – the last remaining coal-fired power station in Massachusetts – went offline. Demolition began in 2019 and the future of the site became a matter of much debate in Somerset. Offshore wind development and other possible uses were the long-term goal, but in the meantime, the site was leased to scrap metal and road salt storage businesses, much to the chagrin of residents.
A group calling itself Save Our Bay Brayton Point formed, becoming a registered Massachusetts 501c3 non-profit, which according to the mission statement on its Facebook page sought to protect clean air and clean water, advocate for the neighbors in the Brayton Point area, and ensure any new businesses operating at the site follow all laws and regulations.
It wasn’t long before McNamara began to butt heads with the group, of which Souza was one of the founders.
“When the scrap metal operation opened up, we saw it as more of a regional issue,” Souza said. “(McNamara) took exception to the fact that we were calling out that business in town, she took it personally for some reason.”
McNamara said the group began putting out signs claiming she was against clean air and water, which she said is not the case at all.
“I am always and will always be in support of clean air and water, and always have been,” she said. “Everyone in the community wants clean air and water. To say someone does not support that is crazy.”
“The main issue is the tactics being used to accomplish what they think is their goal,” McNamara said. “(The group) advocates only to get their friends elected to office, only on their myopic, centralized issues, and they’re obsessed with feeling emboldened. They were never involved until now, never had an issue with the coal plant. This was never about the environment; this is about power, the abuse of power, and control.”
McNamara claimed the group was responsible for “bullying” tactics, including a glitter bomb-style prank being sent to a town employee with a note stating it was "from Brayton Point friends.” Souza said that while she was aware of the package that was sent, she does not see proof of any of McNamara’s claims of bullying.
“Where are the police reports to go along with all these claims?” Souza asked.
McNamara had already said she wouldn’t seek re-election in 2022, and Souza had already said she would run for the seat then. But McNamara stepped down a year early on April 14, just two days after Allen Smith of the Save Our Bay group trounced David Berube for a seat on the select board, getting 69 percent of the vote. The other selectman on the three-person board, Lorne Lawless, was elected last year with the support of the Save Our Bay group.
In her resignation letter, McNamara wrote that she was giving Souza “this opportunity to put her money where her mouth is and I am looking forward to seeing her fill my shoes if she is elected.” McNamara also wrote, “Consider my seat a parting gift. For you, for Kathy, for everyone. I’m giving you what I hear SOBBP wants – but I will warn you, be careful what you wish for.”
This is the first time Souza, who works as director of environmental health and safety at a university, has run for town-wide elected office. Souza said she actually thought the “Our Savior Selectman” sign was “funny,” and that it actually led to an increase in people asking for her own legitimate campaign signs.
What bothered her more, she said, was another sign McNamara had made up that utilized a Save Our Bay Brayton Point group photo with the group’s official name and logo and the phrase “Ruining Our Community.”
“She’s mocking a group of people who are seriously concerned about their health, and putting ‘town ruiners’ at the bottom. That’s hurtful,” Souza said. “There’s very little that bothers me personally, because if you go after me, that means you’re leaving someone else alone. But to go after the group, that’s more disturbing to me.”
“She claims she’s been bullied, but that’s pretty bad as far as bullying,” Souza said.
But McNamara stood by what she called the group.
“Time and time again, they vote down really great economic development articles out of spite,” she said.
McNamara said she resigned because she can “have a bigger voice as a resident than as a selectman,” because “as a selectmen, I was very restricted in what I can and can’t say.”
She also said the lawn signs are just the first step of her using that bigger voice.
“I know what goes on in executive session, I know what goes on in the bars and in the personal lives. I know the specifics,” she said. “This is just the beginning. There is more coming. I just hope the community wakes up and realizes who they voted for. It’s only going to get worse, I guarantee it. I have had enough.”