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Published On: Thu, Mar 28th, 2013

(KJ.com FEATURE) TAKING DOWN JOE CASNA: EASIER SAID THAN DONE?

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IMG_1362This April will be a symbolic anniversary for Kingston’s political jack-of-all-trades.

Next month will mark 10 years since Joe Casna, now the chairman of three of the most powerful boards in town, first stormed onto Kingston’s political scene with a most unlikely upset.

Mere weeks after moving to Kingston, Casna marked his new arrival by unseating then-local media tycoon Dan Sapir from his coveted seat on the Board of Health, a seat he had held without opposition since the early 1990’s.

Ten years later, Casna is lined up to fall victim to the same type of sweeping referendum which first carried him into office in 2003.

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Elaine Fiore is hoping to deny Casna a second term on April 27th.

Elaine Fiore hopes to be Casna’s match and, with the recent withdrawals of Joseph Rebello and David Kennedy, it appears that Fiore has been given a clean shot at Casna.

There is little doubt that Fiore, who sits at the head of the table for the Finance Committee, will be a strong contender for the three-year seat next month and, as the stars align behind her, it seems that Kingston’s political insiders have collectively given her the nod.

But just how damaged is Joe Casna and does he still have the support needed to keep his controversial seat on the Board of Selectmen?

And what impact, if any, will dark-horse candidate Sam Cappola have on the race?

KingstonJournal.com now takes our loyal readers behind the math and breaks down the numbers in TAKING DOWN JOE CASNA: EASIER SAID THAN DONE?

IMG_1426Joe Casna has never lost a political campaign. This year, Elaine Fiore has called his bluff.

But does Casna’s undefeated election streak mean anything as the small-business owner turned local political arch has watched as his platform has turned him into a lightning rod for unsatisfied citizens?

Those looking to unseat Casna will underestimate him to their blunder. Here are some quick facts.

Casna has never received less than 750 votes- and in most years…that’s enough to win.

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Selectman Dick Arruda sailed into office in 2009.

To put it into prospective, last year’s election saw seven candidates vying for two positions on the Board of Selectmen (BOS). The top two vote getters, Susan Munford and incumbent-Dick Arruda, received 840 and 790 votes respectively.

Despite receiving nearly 200 votes more than the total that first got him elected to the BOS in 2008, former-Selectman Dennis Randall’s 577 votes simply didn’t cut it.

Not far behind Randall was a strong 522-vote showing from Board of Health (BOH)-member Jack Breen, which was good enough for fourth but not for a seat at the BOS.

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BOH-member Jack Breen received 522 votes in his BOS bid last year, finishing fourth out of seven.

Last year’s town-election, which recorded the highest turnout in twelve years, saw four BOS candidates receive over 500 votes. By comparison, the year prior, 2011, recorded the lowest town election turnout in the past twelve years and saw an equal number of BOS candidates.

Not one candidate for selectman in 2011 received over 500 votes.

A low voter turnout, like in 2011, will likely spell trouble for Casna.

In 2003, 2010 and 2013, the three years Casna has faced contested elections, all three years posted higher than average turnouts.

Fiore’s only previous run at the BOS, in 2009, recorded a lower than usual voter turnout. 2009’s low turnout likely helped Fiore, who’s name recognition has been more confined to political insiders. Four years ago, Fiore came within nearly a hundred votes of edging past the now former-Selectman Mark Beaton. Fiore’s healthy 623-vote total in 2009 was more than enough to shoot her past an ousted incumbent, Jean Landis-Naumann, but still came short of the prize.

Selectman Dick Arruda topped the ’09 ballot with 725 votes, within 25 votes of Casna’s magic number.

But even if Casna reaches his magic number of 750, will it be enough?

Probably.

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Casna’s undefeated streak in Kingston elections is the fact that he’s only lost a precinct once.

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Casna (left) and Sapir (right) now serve together on the BOH.

That’s right, out of Kingston’s four voting precincts, with three swings at bat- Casna has only lost a precinct once. That one precinct to vote against Casna? Precinct 2, which voted for Dan Sapir by a 14-vote margin in 2003.

Casna has undoubtedly been at the center of the storm over the past year but less we forget that political battles come and go…survivors remain. Casna has, so far, proven to be a survivor.

The strongest challenge Casna received since he first landed in political office a decade ago was last year when Toni Cushman matched up in a one-on-one with the BOH Chairman.

Casna held steady with Cushman in the first three precincts, maintaining a 20 to 50-vote spread.

Then, just when you think you can beat him, you’re crushed.

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Precinct 4, in Northwest Kingston, comprises Casna’s strongest historical voting base. This precinct will likely be Fiore’s greatest hurtle on April 27th.

Precinct 4, usually the last precinct to report back results on Election Day, is far and away Casna’s strongest asset and has, time and time again, proven to be the friendly-BOS Chairman’s proverbial political stomping grounds.

The home of Town & Country Estates, Precinct 4, has long come through big for Casna…as it did in his race against Cushman in 2012, providing a 143-vote boost.

When Casna first walked on the BOS he dominated in Kingston’s Northern Precinct. Casna received a 161-vote boost in 2010 from Precinct 4, the same precinct Casna calls home.

There’s no place like home.

Even in Casna’s 2003 defeat of Sapir, Precinct 4 was Casna’s strongest showing.

Today, Casna sits as the Chairman of the Rent Control Board, where he sits next to Kingston’s beloved Tom Calter at board meetings and politely hears the concerns of a vast pool of elderly citizens who call Kingston’s adult communities home.

Photo by Bradford Randall

Casna, (middle) chairing a BOS meeting last year. Seen on his right is Casna’s friend, ex-Selectman Ron Gleason.

Many of those elderly citizens happen to be some of the most active and informed citizens in town…and many of them happen to live in Precinct 4…Casna’s North Kingston gem.

Regardless of how effective Fiore campaigns, Casnaland will likely come up big for the BOS Chairman again this year.

The true x-factor in this race cannot be calculated with prior election results or historical trends, the true x-factor in this race is Casna.

A lot has changed over the past year but on April 27th we’ll find out just how much has truly changed…

Will the public outrage at BOH inefficiency regarding turbine complaints leak into Casna’s play for another term as selectmen?

Will a year of scandals and unruly BOS meetings bite into Casna’s goliath voting base?

At this time only one thing can be said with confidence, if Casna is going to lose…it’s going to be to Fiore. And if Fiore’s going to lose…it’s going to be because of Cappola.

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Casna’s role in the BOH handling of the wind turbine controversy has drawn critics but it is yet to be seen if this will cost Casna his BOS seat.

Despite the fact that Cappola is virtually unknown to Kingston voters, ghost candidates typically receive several hundred votes. Even in 2007, when Randall effectively withdrew at the BOS debates and endorsed his opponent, Randall still received nearly 300 votes.

Cappola’s base will likely draw from a small cluster of support, family, close friends, acquaintances, the uninformed and the apathetic.

Cappola will not win, and those wishing to vote against Casna who choose not to vote for Fiore might as well be flushing their votes down the toilet.

The race between Fiore and Casna will likely come down to the wire, with the result still hanging in the balance as Fiore awaits the numbers from Casnaland. If Cappola has a decent showing, somewhere between 300-400 votes, Fiore’s fate will likely be sealed in defeat.

Casna, GleasonIf Cappola, who isn’t even in the Journal’s file-photo database, completely embarrasses himself with a Glenn Priolo-like showing…Fiore is still in the game.

That said, even if Casna wins next month he will likely tack up a few precincts in the loss column, and precincts one and two will be early indicators as the two weakest parts of town historically for Casna. If he wins…it won’t be as easy as the past and it certainly won’t be as clean.

It remains to be seen whether or not this election will be about issues or personality; but the personality of Joe Casna, which has been on trial for a year, will no doubt be given a referendum either way.

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  1. chuck curtis says:

    You’re giving to much credit to Casna. Fiore will crush him. She’ll be running the show at town meeting and thank God she will, otherise we’d be in deep financial trouble.