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Murphy's ouster a sign of the times Sunday, April 9, 2006
Lisa Kocian 508-820-4231 The Boston Globe
The political landscape in Framingham shifted significantly to the right last week, with the resounding defeat of incumbent Selectwoman Katie Murphy.

Murphy -- known for her friendly attitude toward social service programs, immigrants, and affordable housing -- got 2,357 votes, while her opponent, Jason Smith, received 3,321, according to unofficial results from Tuesday's election.

Although Murphy had moved toward the center in recent months, suggesting that she wanted social service programs to be gradually replaced by businesses in an economically resurgent downtown, it was too little, too late, according to her opponents.

"Social services has become a forefront issue," said Janet Leombruno, Smith's campaign manager.  "People were not feeling that they were listened to."

Social service agencies have established a growing number of programs in town, offering hot meals for the elderly and a homeless shelter downtown that accepts people currently using alcohol and drugs.  Supporters argue that the agencies are providing much-needed services; critics say some of the facilities are bad for the town.

Many of the same people who are worried about social service programs also have criticized the arrival of illegal immigrants from Brazil, as well as efforts to build more affordable housing.

The victory by Smith, who benefited from the support of those who oppose social service expansion, could mean a new majority on the five-member Board of Selectmen.

Murphy often formed a majority with Selectmen Charles Sisitsky and John Stasik.  Selectwoman Ginger Esty, who supported Smith, has raised concerns about expanding social services and illegal immigration.  Selectman Dennis Giombetti has often been a wild card.  Now, with Smith on board, Esty, the most conservative member, will have a chance to ally with both Giombetti and Smith, finding herself in the unusual position of power broker.

There have been several controversial proposals for new social service facilities in recent months, but a proposed facility for recovering substance abusers and their families on Winter Street spurred a new group that opposed the facility, many of whose members supported Smith.

Murphy argued that social services are really a state issue and that illegal immigration is a federal concern.  Her opponents didn't buy it.

Leombruno said there are things local government should try on both fronts.  For example, enforcing codes to crack down on overcrowded apartments could help discourage illegal immigration, she said.  On social services, the town should consider requiring licenses from some of the facilities, she said.  Smith also has said he wants to look into hiring an advocate whose sole task would be representing the town on social service issues.

Smith's tone is much more reserved than his supporters.  When asked what he would do to stem the growth of social service programs, he sidestepped, saying, "I'm going to sit down with everybody I can, get the best understanding I possibly can get, and make decisions based on what's best for Framingham."

Smith, 31, is vice president at KNF&T Staffing Resources, a job placement firm in Boston, and he is married with two children, ages 5 years and 21 months.  He is also president of Framingham Baseball.

Murphy's ouster, coupled with last month's rejection of a new health center to serve the poor and immigrant populations, reveals a different Framingham, said Christopher Ross, a former selectman who supported Murphy.

"I think this is a more conservative community than it was just four or five years ago, and that in some ways reflects the national drift to the center or the right," he said.  "People are very concerned about issues of crime and property values, which are traditional conservative issues."

Liberals will have to find a way to address those issues and figure out how to get their base out to the polls, said Ross, who is executive director of Housing for All, a nonprofit housing advocacy and rehabilitation agency.

"There are a substantial number of people who vote who think we should emulate some of our neighboring communities, meaning Sudbury and Wayland and to some extent Natick, meaning we need to be more upper middle class," he said.  "On the other side, I hear many people who made a choice to live here because of diversity, so I think we're always struggling with that dynamic of Framingham being welcoming and inclusive and Framingham feeling like it's being put upon."

Murphy, who works part-time as a nurse in the intensive care unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said she has no immediate plans to get involved again in local politics.  She served three years as a selectwoman and three years before that on the Finance Committee.

"I am very concerned for Framingham," she said after her loss.  "I think it has turned away from being progressive.  When something like social services becomes a central issue in a campaign when it really didn't deserve to be, then other issues don't get discussed."

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