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Low turnout, upset in moderator’s race mark Ayer’s annual election

Candidate for Town Moderator James O’Conor stands outside Town Hall, the polling place for this year’s election. JACOB VITALI/LOWELL SUN
Candidate for Town Moderator James O’Conor stands outside Town Hall, the polling place for this year’s election. JACOB VITALI/LOWELL SUN

AYER — A total of 397 residents in three precincts cast ballots in the annual election Tuesday, representing just 6.25% of the town’s 6,357 registered voters.

There were three contested races on the ballot, with opponents challenging incumbents for the Select Board, Board of Health and town moderator.

But that changed a few weeks ago, when Select Board member Shaun Copeland’s would-be opponent Michael Clayton reportedly announced at a candidate’s forum hosted via Zoom by a group of citizens that he had changed his mind and would not run against Copeland, after all.

However, by then, election ballots had already been printed, leaving his name still on the ballot.

Copeland, who was seated in a special election held in December 2019, filling a vacancy left by a resignation, easily retained his three-year seat with 302 votes. Clayton received 66 votes.

The outcome was clearly exciting for Copeland.

“It has been a great honor to serve on the board for the past two and a half years. I am proud of the work that the board has done, along with the  town administrator, and, most of all, the citizens of Ayer. I appreciate the voters electing me to another term … and look forward to serving the town for the next three years,” Copeland said.

For Board of Health, also a three-year position, incumbent Patricia Peters won with 276 votes versus 82 votes for her opponent, Stephen Wentzell.

The surprise upset, though was for town moderator, with the incumbent unseated by just 14 votes.

James O’Connor was first chosen by voters over Samuel Goodwin in the 2021 town election to complete the vacant three-year term. O’Connor had hoped to secure a full three-year term this year.

O’Conor, who stood staunchly outside town hall most of the day on Tuesday brandishing his campaign sign in a stiff breeze, faced a different opponent in this year’s election, Geoffrey Tillotson. This time, he lost. But not by much.

O’Conor received 183 votes. Tillotson won, with 197 votes.

“I won two out of three precincts,” O’Conor told a reporter Wednesday. “It was not a mandate by any means.”

Asked if he’d run for moderator again, O’Conor said yes. As for whether he’d seek out another elected position to run for, however, he was less certain. It would depend on what it was, he said. But he wouldn’t want to throw his hat in for a position if it might skew the gender balance on a town board.

As a believer in diversity, O’Conor said he’d like to see more women involved in local government.

Ayer’s new moderator, Tillotson, had this to say after his win:

“I’d like to send out a big Thank You to everyone who voted and supported all the candidates on the ballot this year. Also, a heartfelt thanks to the Town employees and others involved in running the election. I’m excited to continue to serve and support the wonderful community that we all call ‘home,’” Tillotson said.

Results of Tuesday’s ballot questions:

1. Shall the Town vote to have the Select Board appoint a three-member Cemetery Commission?

Establishing the commission is a provision that comes with the town’s acquisition and ongoing care and maintenance of the Woodlawn Cemetery on Harvard Road, which voters agreed to take over ownership of at the April, 2022 Town Meeting.

Of the 397 ballots cast on this question, 310 voters said yes, 66 said no, with 21 blanks.

2. Shall the Town of Ayer be allowed to exempt from the provisions of Proposition Two and One-half, so-called, the amount required to pay for the bond in order to purchase and equip a fire engine/pumper?

Of the 291 ballots cast on the debt exclusion question, 291 voters said yes; 88 said no, with 18 blanks.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Ayer Shirley Regional School District School Committee race was contested. Additionally, a prior version of this story incorrectly stated O’Connor had won a three-year term in the 2021 town election and said O’Connor was chosen as a temporary moderator at the 2021 annual spring town meeting. 

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