Three candidates battle for a Saugus Housing Authority seat in a very competitive local political race
Sometimes it’s been difficult to draw a field of candidates to run for a seat on the Saugus Housing Authority. “I remember a year when nobody ran,” former authority member John Cannon recalled this week of the important local government body that is of little interest to most town residents – except those who reside in public housing administered by the authority.
But Tuesday’s (Nov. 2) Town Election features one of the most crowded Housing Authority political campaigns in years with three candidates on the ballot for a single seat. They are:
- Cannon, who was previously appointed to serve three years of an unexpired four-year term (2016-19) and was elected chair just three months after becoming a member. He lost in an election two years ago, but wants to get back on.
- Current Saugus Housing Authority Chair William Stewart, a longtime fixture in Saugus local government, who seeks a third four-year term on the authority. Stewart, who has served close to half a century on Saugus Town Meeting, decided not to run for another two-year term on that local government body. But he remains focused on serving on the authority for at least four more years.
- Retired educator Kristi Talagan, a 1977 Saugus High School graduate, said she was inspired to run for local public office for the first time after hearing complaints from people she knows who live in the authority properties. Her experience includes working for 28 years as an educator and later as a student affairs administrator for Chelsea Public Schools.
Running against his mentor
Cannon credits Stewart with past effectiveness as a housing authority member. It was Stewart who had initially recommended Cannon as an outstanding candidate to fill one of two housing authority vacancies back in late 2016. Stewart also vouched for Cannon’s commitment.
“He does appear at all our meetings and does take part in the meetings,” Stewart said during a joint meeting of the selectmen and the housing authority.
“He’d make a very good member,” he said.
Cannon had initial misgivings about running this year in an effort to reclaim his seat on the authority. “I was considering not running against my mentor – Bill Stewart,” Cannon said in an interview this week.
“But he encouraged me to run,” he said.
Cannon, an East Boston native, enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 18 after graduating from East Boston High School (1970). He was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and served for four years, discharging in 1974 as CS3 (Culinary Specialist). He has been a Saugus resident since moving to town in 1977. Cannon is the former owner of a trucking company and courier business that was based at Logan International Airport in Boston. He retired in 2012 and went to work as a substitute teacher at Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School (2012-16). Cannon has been very active in local veteran affairs since coming to town, including as a volunteer with the Veterans Food Bank, the American Legion Breakfast and the Saugus Veterans Council – among others.
“A lot of people have no idea what the Housing Authority is all about,” Cannon said this week.
“One of my goals is to introduce an educational program for the residents of Saugus to better understand the Saugus Housing Authority’s role in the community,” he said.
Decades of service to his hometown
Stewart’s involvement in Saugus town government dates back to 1968 when he first ran and got elected to Saugus Town Meeting. Since that time he has served Precinct 3 for over 50 years during parts of seven decades with a couple of breaks – when he ran for the School Committee and got elected and also ran for the Board of Selectmen, but lost.
Stewart and his family are well-known throughout Saugus. He was born in town and has lived here most of his life and is a 1952 graduate of Saugus High School.
He is a U.S. Army veteran who served three years during the Korean War. He was stationed for part of that time in Japan. He also served three years with the Massachusetts National Guard. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from Boston University in 1964 and a Master of Business Administration from Boston University in 1968. He also graduated from the General Electric Apprentice Program and the Lowell Institute School at MIT. Stewart is a retired computer consultant who once owned his own company. He has taught computer science courses at Bunker Hill Community College and North Shore Community College.
Stewart is a huge sports fan who shares his perspective in his column, “The Old Sachem,” which is a frequent feature of The Saugus Advocate.
Stewart cites understanding the housing authority budget and monitoring how the money is spent as chief challenges for anyone serving on the authority. But he says staying on top of repairs of the housing authority buildings is probably the biggest challenge for the authority.
Stewart noted that he has assisted in updating the roadways and parking areas in addition to the purchase of washing machines and dryers for use by tenants. “This is one of the things we’ve done that has really made an impact on peoples’ lives,” he said.
“People love the new machines. They used to have to send their clothing out to local laundromats,” he said.
She says authority residents need an advocate
Talagan cites her background in advocating for the disabled and the elderly as experience that qualifies her to be on the housing authority. She said she has several friends who are residents in properties managed by the housing authority who have complained about some of the problems. “They have inspired me to run,” Talagan said in an interview this week.
“I think they need somebody to represent them and advocate on their behalf. From what I have learned, I think there needs to be better oversight in following policies and procedures,” she said.
“I also feel like all of the staff need special training in working with the elderly and disabled. My whole life has been about getting involved with the disabled and elderly. I want to continue doing that,” she said.
After graduating from Saugus High School, Talagan received an undergraduate degree in Management Information Systems from UMass Boston. She later received a Master’s in Education from Lesley University and state certifications in Special Education, Business and Administration.
“As a critical board member and advocate, I will oversee the adherence to State and Federal policies and procedures for the Saugus Housing Authority in the service of supporting those with low-income, elderly, and disabled to secure and retain affordable housing,” Talagan said.
“I believe the authority can do a better job in helping the tenants out and addressing their concerns. I think they [the residents] need to be empowered,” she said.