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Why New Candidates Are Running for Town Meeting

Of the 45 people running for open Town Manager seats in Burlington’s April 1 local election, 35 are incumbents and just 10 would be new faces should they win their races. BNEWS reached out to those new candidates running to join Town Meeting for the first time to ask what drew them to local governance. We heard back from four of them. 

From lifelong residents to newcomers with an interest in local governance, the candidates shared a broad swath of issues they cared about and reasons to get involved, from PFAS in the water to a diverse housing stock to keeping an eye on the finances. 

“I’ve been a lifelong resident of the town of Burlington,” said Burlington police traffic sergeant Peter Abaskharoun. “I feel I have more I can contribute to what I had in the past. Where I am in my life, I feel like I’m able to do that.” 

Abaskharoun, who is one of seven candidates running for six seats in Precinct 1, was hired in June of 2004 after a few years with the New Hampshire State Police. He is now in charge of the Burlington Police Department’s traffic division. 

Retired podiatrist David Alper, also running in Precinct 1, moved to Burlington about two years ago from Belmont, where he served on Town Meeting in that town for 32 years. “I very much believe that if you want a good town to live in, you gotta be part of the action and the solution to make that happen,” he said. 

Candidate Blaise Leeber, 33, is one of five candidates running for six open seats in Precinct 6. He has lived in Burlington for about five years and plans to raise his daughter, now about 18 months, in town. He said he was looking for a way to get involved and figured Town Meeting was a good place to start. “I just figured it would be interesting to do this to learn more about what goes on in the town and be a part of it, and help give input, and represent my neighborhood.” 

“I’ve been growing my interest in local politics for the last few years,” said Alex Rutfield, 29, one of eight candidates running for six open seats in Precinct 5. “It seems like a great opportunity to start talking to my neighbors more and getting to know them, as well as making sure that their needs are heard and accounted for.” 

Rutfield is a software engineer and grew up in Andover, and moved to Burlington in May 2022. “My wife and I always really enjoyed Burlington; it always seemed like the right balance of having a lot to do, being close to the city but still a suburb, and it has great schools.” 

A chemist, Leeber develops more sustainable materials for use in large facilities like football stadiums.

The candidates said their diverse personal and professional backgrounds would make them an asset to the governing body. 

“I’d like to be involved with updating the infrastructure we currently have as it relates to the Fox Hill school and other town buildings,” Abaskharoun said. Drawing on his experience with the traffic division, he said he’d like to work on roadway safety, including pieces of Cambridge Street. 

Podiatrist Alper is most excited to contribute to a town that’s using its tax dollars the way Burlington is. “They’re so fortunate to have the tax base, with the businesses in the area, but just because you have the tax base doesn’t mean you use it well. But the truth is, from everything I’ve seen so far, they really seem to. They not only have infrastructure, but they care for it.” 

Leeber said he’s particularly passionate about PFAS and water quality issues. “That hits close to home. My wife and my child couldn’t drink the tap water. We still buy bottled water to give to my child,” he said. “I think the town has done a good job being transparent and working hard to address it, but I’d really like to make sure that when things like this come up, I can be a voice for people that live in my neighborhood.” 

Software engineer Rutfield is interested in working on housing issues. “One of the big issues I care about is making sure we have housing diversity, making sure we have enough starter homes for people to downsize once their kids move out but also younger families like mine have a place to come in, start building equity and enjoy the perks of living in Burlington.”