BARRE — Two sitting school board members are vying for the right to fill the Ward 1 City Council seat now held by John Steinman.
With Steinman deciding to step down after a single two-year term, the race to replace him pits Tim Boltin against Emel Cambel.
Though Boltin and Cambel settled in Barre the same year — 2005 — and serve together on the same school board and are eyeing the same seat on the City Council, the similarities end there.
Boltin is blunt, unapologetically opinionated, frequently critical and, at times, the loudest voice in the room.
Cambel isn’t. She is soft-spoken and inquisitive — a thoughtful woman, who while firm in her convictions, doesn’t hurl them like hand grenades.
Stylistically, Boltin and Cambel could not be more different, but both say they are eager to serve the community they adopted 16 years ago and believe they would bring a new voice and a fresh perspective to a seven-member council that will welcome at least two — possibly three — new members after next Tuesday’s elections.
Tim BoltinTim Boltin isn’t one to pull his punches. When he thinks something, he speaks. When he has questions he asks.
Niceties, Boltin will tell you, shouldn’t get in the way of necessities and if that means he’s viewed as “a thorn in people’s side” so be it.
“I want to know why we’re doing something,” he said.
That was true when Boltin, 58, bought his French Street home in 2005 and joined his new neighbors in pushing back against a City Council proposal to remove one of the two sidewalks on their street. The cost-saving measure was promptly abandoned.
It has repeatedly been true during Boltin’s four years of school board service — first as an elected member of the now defunct Spaulding High School Board and now as a member of the board of the merged Barre Unified Union School District.
Whether it is blasting the bottom line of a board-adopted budget or questioning a school reopening plan he views as insufficient, Boltin isn’t shy about playing contrarian.
Though he voted in favor of a recent policy designed to accommodate transgender and gender non-conforming students, Boltin did so after raising questions about safeguards for special needs students, like his daughter, in restrooms, while noting the district’s past failure protecting students in more public spaces.
The line of questioning fell flat and Boltin said the reaction during and after the board meeting missed the point he was trying to make.
“I want us to stop the name-calling and bitching, he complained. “Honest to God, you know we have reached a point ... where we just can’t have a conversation anymore.”
Though Boltin hasn’t decided whether he will resign from the School Board if he is elected to the council, he said his decision to enter the Ward 1 race was prompted by the “slow boil” he has witnessed over the past year.
“I look at City Council as leadership — as a way of inspiring the community, as a way of bringing together the community and that’s not what they’ve been doing in the last year,” he said. “They’re arguing about cats and flags and chickens and I’m like: ‘Oh my God!’”
Boltin said councilors have pursued “personnel agendas” while being tone deaf to a pandemic that has left some residents out of work, some businesses struggling to survive and others quietly closing.
Boltin, who moved the bakery — Delicate Decadence — he bought six years ago from one end of North Main Street to the other in the midst of the pandemic, said he expects more from the council than it has delivered lately.
“I think the big vision belongs to those people who say ‘No, we want Barre to be better,” he said.
Boltin puts himself in that category.
“I love being connected with a community,” he said. “It’s something I feel really strongly about.”
Born in South Carolina, Boltin and his wife settled in Barre after he retired from the U.S. Air Force. He attended New England Culinary institute and acquired Delicate Decadence from its founder and former owner after working there off and on for a decade.
Emel CambelThose who live in Emel Cambel’s neighborhood can tell you she’s a “runner,” but the woman who has served on two different school boards and is now hoping to land a seat on the City Council says that isn’t reflected in her political past.
“I’ve never run for anything in my life,” said Cambel, who is now running and hoping to win the Ward 1 race next week.
Cambel, 71, was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Barre Unified School Board, about a year ago and served on the Twinfield School Board when she was living in Marshfield nearly 30 years ago. Both those seats were filled by people who were nominated and elected from the floor of an annual meeting.
Now the runner is actually running, which is less of a surprise than what she’s running for.
Cambel had settled into her School Board seat and likely would have run for a full three-year term had she not been encouraged to consider running for City Council.
“It was a hard choice,” said Cambel, who has enjoyed serving on the School Board, but quickly ruled out running for both City Council and School Board.
“I think to do credit to it, I’d have to concentrate on one thing,” she said.
A retired teacher who now works for an educational research company, Cambel picked the one that arguably isn’t in her wheelhouse.
“I’m kind of terrified, but I’m in it now,” she said.
A Camp Street resident who is way more listener than talker, Cambel said she is eager to contribute to a conversation about the city’s future and believes the council seat would afford her that opportunity.
“I’d like to be at the table to see Barre move more into itself,” she said, citing an evolving economy, both locally and nationally.
If there is an overarching theme to Cambel’s candidacy, she said it is to “make barre more vibrant and welcoming.”
That, Cambel said, involves promoting housing and business opportunities that will attract new residents.
It also means finding a way to grow a Grand List taking the pressure off a municipal tax rate that is among the highest in the state.
Cambel said that will be important because finding a “sustainable and affordable” way for the city to continue investing in its infrastructure is also a priority.
Then there is mopping up after the pandemic.
Cambel said it isn’t too soon to start thinking about “COVID-19 recovery,” which touches on issues ranging from public health and the local economy to addressing the pandemic’s effects on people at all socioeconomic levels.
“It’s exposed a lot of fault lines,” she said of the public health crisis.
Cambel has lived in Vermont for 40 years and spent more than half that time in Marshfield. She moved to Barre following a protracted house hunt in 2005.