BROOKLINE, MA — With less than two weeks before Annual Town Election, Brookline voters are beginning to cast ballots by mail for Select Board members and Town Meeting members, so who is running?
There are three people running for two openings on the Select Board, including current board member Heather Hamilton who is running to keep her seat. Eric Hyett and Town Meeting member John VanScoyoc are vying for the seat that long-time Select Board Member Ben Franco is preparing to leave.
In March, the Select Board voted to postpone the municipal election from May 5 to June 9. Town Meeting is also being rescheduled from May 19 – 21 to June 23 – 25.
Hyett, 49, grew up in Brookline and graduated from Brookline High School. He went on to get his bachelors in linguistics from Harvard College and then spent two years studying history and the social study of science and technology at MIT. He has a background in global business development and more recently has been a consultant, writing teacher and Japanese translator.
He lives with his boyfriend, and although he has a close relationship with his parents and brother who all live in the area, he’s the last to still live in Brookline.
Patch sent the same questions to all three candidates, here’s what Hyett had to say:
Why are you seeking elective office?
The issue that drove me to become a candidate was the Select Board’s 4-1 vote to appeal the Town of Brookline’s case against firefighter Gerald Alston. I am the only true progressive in the race. I have spent many years listening to the most vulnerable, helping their voices be heard, and they will truly have a voice in Town politics with me on the Select Board. I would also become Brookline’s first openly-gay Select Board member. I am not a product of Brookline’s Town Meeting, but I am definitely a product of the Brookline Public Schools, including School-Within-a-School at Brookline High School, and that (as well as my family) is where my values, and my candidacy, come from.
The single most pressing issue facing our (board, district, etc.) is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.
Safely navigating the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Brookline’s most vulnerable: senior citizens, low-income residents (homeowners and renters), as well as Asian- Latinx- and African-Americans. We are all in this together, yet the burden is coming down especially hard on those communities. As a Select Board member, I would treat Covid-19 as the disaster it is, aggressively applying for every available source of state and federal funding, and making sure those most vulnerable are protected. I do not support the word “reopening.” I prefer “safely navigate” as the impact of the pandemic will be with us for a very long time to come.
What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?
I’m a Brookline native, a renter, and a true progressive with a lifetime commitment to addressing systematic inequality. I’m running on a pro-inclusion platform that was taught to me at the Driscoll School: Not Me But We. I’ve spent the past 12 years in public service: teaching ESL to immigrants at the Brookline Library, serving as Fundraising Chair on the Board of Directors of Brookline Interactive Group (our local media education nonprofit), and teaching Telling Your Story, a memoir class for mothers living in Brookline Housing Authority housing (the class is funded by Brookline’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations). I seek to build a racially- and economically-inclusive Brookline by welcoming smart new development in our commercial areas, as well as redistributing road space to give priority to bikes and other eco-friendly forms of transit. In short, I support a transformative approach to town politics, the exact opposite of “business as usual.”
If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency)
The Select Board’s decision to appeal the case against Gerald Alston is symptomatic of the body’s shortcomings and blind spots. The Select Board (with the crucial exception of Dr. Raul Fernandez) does not seem to have racial justice and economic inclusion as a high-enough priority for Brookline. This is a shame. When I was growing up in Brookline, the police, teachers and firefighters could afford to live in the town; by and large, that is no longer the case. Economic exclusion has had disastrous consequences on our community: as Brookline becomes less and less affordable, it’s also loses its “Brookline Values.” I seek to reverse this trend completely, by welcoming thousands of new units of housing (luxury, workforce and especially true affordable housing) into the town.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform
Affordable housing. Supporting our small businesses that have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Stabilizing the tax base through efficient long-term planning. Promoting fair and inclusive schools. I support community policing as an effective strategy, and that only works if the police can AFFORD to live in Brookline.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
I speak six languages, including fluent Japanese. I led the campaign for Microsoft’s Windows 95 to successfully become the official operating system of China. During the 9/11 attacks, I was working at the World Trade Center, managing a private equity portfolio for Deutsche Bank. Later, I was Experian’s first Country Manager for Japan, opening up the company’s Tokyo office. I have negotiated contracts three times the size of the Town of Brookline’s entire operating budget. I’m also a lifetime progressive with an intense commitment to reducing inequality and addressing systemic racism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry. I’ve spent the past 12 years in public service, listening to Brookline’s most vulnerable, and teaching them to tell their stories. I would bring both compassion and corporate experience to the Select Board, based on my own life experiences and those of my students.
The best advice ever shared with me was:
When I was single, my friend George Hastie told me: “seek somebody with shared values, who also wants to build his life in Brookline.” That advice led me to create an online dating profile, which was how I met my boyfriend and life partner, Teddy Weinberg. Teddy happened to live in a condo right across the street from me, and we’ve been together ever since!
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
I am a reformer seeking to make structural changes, not fix things around the margins. My positions are informed by having grown up in a far more economically-inclusive Town of Brookline. This election is about Brookline Values, which I believe means putting the highest priority on economic and racial diversity. Brookline is less and less affordable because it has, unfortunately, prevented growth. Becoming an exclusive community was not an accident or a mistake Brookline made: it was, and has been, an intentional act of exclusion. My mother was pushed out after 43 years as a homeowner in Brookline, due to the rising cost of living here, and I was pushed out as well, so I know what exclusion feels like. I would vote to end the appeal of the Gerald Alston case, learn the lessons, and build a racially- and economically-inclusive community.
Previously in the news:
More than a decade ago, Hyett pleaded guilty —saying he misread the law —on custodial interference charges in New York, in return for a 45-day prison term on Rikers Island, after a domestic dispute involving the son he and his previous partner adopted. It was a domestic dispute that may have not made as many headlines from Boston to New York had he and his ex-husband not been among the very first gay couples to wed in Brookline after Massachusetts. Since then, he has been public about it, writing a poem published online. For this article Patch reached out to him for a comment. Here’s what he said in its entirety:
Some of you have asked questions about my background and an incident that happened 12 years ago during a devastating custody battle. That experience continues to be agonizing. I was desperately attempting to keep my son safe. Most parents share the feeling even if they don’t choose the path I did. And my error in judgment resulted in a punishment that transformed me. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my choice and the consequences (aware that had I been a person of color, my sentence would have been much harsher).
Reconstructing my life without my son, I suffered, began to write, and asked: what now? What was my path? Returning to my former life was neither possible nor desirable. I was a very different person with no income, but with plenty of resources and skills I could better use serving others and working for social justice. I started to earn my living again as a Japanese translator. Through Haley House, I began teaching memoir writing to the formerly incarcerated, and, more recently, for the past three years, to Brookline mothers of color who live in affordable housing. Teaching memoir, I shared mine.
While I am devastated, regretful, and deeply sad about this part of my past, I know it is an important reason I want to run for the Select Board. Brookline is where I was born and raised. Brookline welcomed me back and healed me. I will always have great respect for Brookline Mental Health, and I will always support it.
I have openly shared my story in Brookline many times. For seven years I shared my story with Brookline High School students in School-Within-a-SchooI. I also read my memoir writing about this topic at a large public event at Brookline High School several years ago. I have not been hiding my story.
But the articles in the newspaper are neither complete nor accurate. Anyone who has concerns, please contact me directly. Just know, my son’s absence remains a great source of pain I feel every day and will for the rest of my life.
And know this. I am incredibly grateful to the many Brookline parents who know my story and support me. They lift me up. And here is what I think matters most: I will serve on the Select Board with compassion, dedication, and determination, helping to create a better, more inclusive, and progressive town, whether we are talking about providing for public safety, COVID-19 protection, education, mental health, affordable housing, or recreation. My challenges have taught me resilience.
Want more of the candidates?
Watch the Brookline CAN candidate forum:
And State Rep. Tommy Vitolo interviewed all three candidates, here’s his interview with Hyett:
And the League of Women Voters’ candidate forum: