College Freshman Vies for Seat on Board of Selectmen
Andrew Pernokas, 18, is ready to make a bid for a seat on the town’s most authoritative board.
Andrew Pernokas stood in front of Roche Bros. Market yesterday. But the 18-year-old wasn’t ringing a bell or touting a charitable cause; he was soliciting registered voters’ signatures for his bid to sit on the Wellesley Board of Selectmen.
Pernokas, a freshman at Boston University, pulled papers last week to run for one of the two Board of Selectmen seats up for grabs in the March 1 election. He is the youngest to ever make a serious attempt to get on the ballot for a seat on the Board, according to Kathy Nagle, Wellesley’s town clerk since 2003.
In a Friday morning interview with Wellesley Patch at Dorset Tea & Coffee, Pernokas said he has obtained the necessary 50 signatures and assured his zealous bid is very serious.
“Think of it from my standpoint,” he said. “I’m looking for one vote out of five to be represented, because my generation is not represented on the Board of Selectmen, in Congress and what have you.”
Each of the five members of the Board of Selectmen are at least 30 years older than Pernokas. They have lengthy political and professional resumes and deep ties to the community. Pernokas did not attend Wellesley High School - He graduated Boston College High School, earning high honors in his final term.
Despite this, he views himself as a fresh, motivated voice for a board in need of new blood.
“Getting involved is something I’ve always thought of,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ever too late to start.”
He did grow up in Wellesley, however, and cares deeply about the town’s issues. Barely old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes, he is already concerned with the town-wide financial plan, calling it “without foresight.”
Pernokas is fiscally conservative. He remarked about the Advisory Committee’s proclamation that Wellesley is looking at forthcoming one percent growth and a two-and-a-half percent increase in spending. He said the school system, which has already begun to make small cuts, is $2.7 million over budget. He found fault in the decision to spend over $600,000 to conduct a feasibility study and site assessment of the former American Legion site on Washington Street for the purposes of a new senior center last year.
“Now it’s a parking lot,” Pernokas said of the space at 494 Washington St. “Had this been planned better and looked at…I think we would have done a better job managing it.
“I’m not going to knee jerk on an issue,” he continued. “I think everything needs to be planned out, taken its time and looked at.”
Pernokas carries himself with a soft-spoken earnestness not often found at his age. There is no bravado in Pernokas - just drive. He is dedicated to his goal and aspires to do nothing less than serve the town. He said his social life would take a backseat if elected.
Even still, the time constraints on a member of the Board are rigorous. Countless meetings, both public and private, are spent scrutinizing every town issue. Dog hearings, various licensure approvals and unending budget discussions that can run three to four hours into an evening are par for the course for this board. Pernokas, who intends on taking a full slate of courses at BU while keeping his job as operations manager at Boston Sports Club in Wellesley, scoffed at the idea of these demands leaving little time for anything other than work.
“From my standpoint, I think [my age is] a benefit,” he said. “I don’t have a full time job as a lawyer … I don’t have a family to worry about. I have the clarity, the concentration - I have the time.”
Pernokas has grand aspirations beyond his political move. He majors in international relations with a concentration in law and hopes to attend law school after BU. He has some political experience from serving as an intern for the Republican Party around the time of Scott Brown’s successful bid for U.S. Senate. Pernokas has leadership qualities, too: He was inspired to create “Code Green,” an environmental stability team at BC High his senior year, after a semester of cultural immersion in Beijing, China.
But even if elected, how does he think his fellow Selectmen, or even fellow citizens, would view an 18-year-old kid sitting on the town’s most authoritative board?
“It’s going to be tough right off the bat,” he said. “Change on a board that’s been pretty consistent is not something that would be welcomed too easily.”
But the odds have been defied before Pernokas’ endeavor. At age 17, Michael D’Ortenzio Jr. became a Town Meeting Member, filling one of 240 seats. Compare that to just five Selectmen, who sit on a board that has the final says on almost everything.
Pernokas knows this, and has a strong political base readying itself for the uphill climb. He’s recruited the help of family friend David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center, and has the full support of his parents and younger brother, Alex, who attends Wellesley High School.
Selectmen Barbara Searle and Chair Katherine “Gig” Babson are up for reelection. So far, Wellesley resident Jason Rich, 38, has pulled papers in an effort to follow up on last year’s unsuccessful bid to the Board. The nomination paper-filing deadline is Tuesday, Jan. 11.
With stiff competition on the ballot and a crucial year of budgeting and planning ahead due to projects nearing completion, Pernokas believes the best candidate will win, age notwithstanding.
“We have to think outside the box,” he said. “It is what it is, we’ll let the town speak.”