When Independent candidate Jim Gammill needed a few friends to vouch for him at his official kick-off Saturday, Sept. 8, of his campaign for state representative, well, as Stephen Sondheim wrote in the musical “Company”: “When you have friends like these …”
There was the high-profile Democrat who just got back helping prep speakers at the party’s national convention in Charlotte, enough members of the town’s Warrant Committee for a quorum and more Belmont big wigs then you could shake a stick at.
Oh, and did I mention the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts taking home a Gammill lawn sign?
Talk about friends in high places.
Amidst balloons, home-made banners, an array of cupcakes provided by his friend and neighbor, owner Kay Wiggin – who is a month away from opening her shop in Belmont Center – and the four children running around welcoming folk in the Leonard Street headquarters, Gammill opened his campaign with an appeal to voters to express their avowed independence to party labels.
Gammill, a member of the Carter White House before becoming going into finance, software development and non-profit management, said he reluctantly left the Democrat party a few years back to seek another avenue to affect change.
"This district can be the first place where an independent has the authority of the voters to work on problem solving back at the State House," said Gammill before more than 40 supporters.
"Believe me, if I win, your voice will be heard throughout the Commonwealth," he said.
Gammill will be on the Nov. 6 ballot with Cambridge attorney Dave Rogers – – and Belmont Republican Tomi Olson in the general election for the 24th Middlesex District seat held last by Will Brownsberger who won election to the State Senate in January.
With 52 percent of Massachusetts voters registered as unenrolled, Gammill said he hopes they look at the three candidates running and make their decision on what they hear rather than cast a party-line vote.
“I hope that this fall with a lot of partisanship in the US senate and presidential races, voters will be turned off by what they see, so there is a great chance to put an independent voice in the State House,” he told Belmont Patch.
“I’m not looking to be the 120th member of a party that has a veto-proof majority in the House,” said Gammill pointing to what he sees as Rogers fundamental weakness in this race.
“I will be that independent who will raise the important questions and bring forward ideas that all sides can agree with," said the MIT graduate.
He believes that the November general election will see nearly 80 percent participation from registered voters in the District as opposed to the 20 percent that came out for the Democrat primary.
Gammill said he will use his connection with Belmont to his advantage against the Democrat Rogers who lagged behind Belmont’s Margaret Hegarty in the district's largest voting block.
"I’ve got strong local roots in Belmont so many people know me and what I bring. I also can say that I can see Arlington from my house and I was with my one-year-old daughter when I broke my leg on the slide at Robbins Farm Park,” said Gammill.
"I think that gives me some credibility with Arlington residents," the recently-elected Town Meeting member said.
Yet the race will be difficult, admitted Gammill. He will be required to take on Rogers, the Democrat nominee, who will have the backing of unions and a strong party establishment which has a tried-and-true get out the vote mechanism ready to implement in the district which itself has a long voting record supporting progressive candidates. In addition, Olson will take more potential votes from Gammill than Rogers.
Gammill said he will battle for every vote with an aggressive meet the voter tactic.
"This election will be won with basic retail politics. Greeting voters, going door-to-door and reaching out to all parts of the district," said Gammill.
School Committee’s Laurie Slap got to know Gammill from working together in projects at All Saints Church on Common Street.
“The idea of an independent who can speak his voice freely and can move us away from the partisan insanity we have right now is very appealing," said Slap, who has signed up to be Gammill's treasurer.
Noted Kennedy School Professor Jim King – who had just arrived from Charlotte, N.C., where he was the podium manager at the Democrat National convention – "I was the last person the speakers talked to before going to the stage" – noted that he hired Gammill – who he taught as an undergraduate – to his staff in the Carter White House and then recommended him to take over the Office of Personnel.
"It is a rare thing to get elected officials that are basically teachers who understand public finances as well as private finances ... and understands that process is important but outcomes are what effect us," said King.
"Just don't tell Mr. Obama that I was here," he added.
Rt. Rev. Thomas Shaw, the spiritual leader of Massachusetts Episcopals, said Gammill – who was chief of staff and then volunteer treasurer of the Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese – was someone who brought transparency into an organization that has an insular reputation.
"The other thing I know about Jim is that is not going to be a push over from somebody like me," said Shaw. "I know you will get the answer that best serves the people of the district."
But it was the candidate's wife, Susan Alexander, who gave a heart-felt appeal to supporters to press residents to vote for her husband in less than 60 days.
"Jim, I want to thank you because you could do anything you want to but you go to take this time to serve our state," said Alexander.
"So I think Jim Gammill should be our next state rep," said his wife.