DAN SILVERMAN / TOWN MODERATOR & WOODWORKER / WELLFLEET
Just out of college, Dan Silverman drove to Wellfleet in 1972 for a job interview with a local builder. He’s never left. Silverman is a skilled woodworker and furniture maker. He is the village’s retired fire chief and the town moderator. Here he is in his own words.
I always spent time with tools when I was growing up. Being a woodworker was something I knew from an early age was what I wanted to do. I came here not knowing anything about the place. I was a long-haired, left-wing Jewish hippie from New York, you know, all of the things that people around here, certainly the old-timers, weren’t used to.
But Wellfleet was a pretty accepting town. The first time somebody called me a “washashore,” I just laughed. I didn’t take it personally, and I made sure I integrated myself into the community.
So, I went to work as a carpenter and, little by little, I worked my way into a shop. Along with two other friends, we rented a space. We started buying machinery and tools, taking small woodworking jobs, and started to make my living, such as it was, and, happily, there’s been enough work to keep me going.
When I first moved to town, and I realized that small towns in New England were governed by open town meetings, I found that fascinating. I started going to town meeting right away. I don’t think I’ve missed more than one or two town meetings in almost 50 years.
I’m always impressed with how patient Wellfleetians are, in terms of listening to one another. People are really respectful. Even in some pretty hot issues, they do a good job of not personalizing things, not engaging in ad hominem attacks. I don’t tolerate it as moderator. One of the roles is to keep people talking to the issues and not about one another.
I certainly have an opinion on the issues that are before the town, but, as a moderator, you have to step back from that. And you need to make sure that the process of how town meeting comes to that outcome is a good process. That suits my nature. And I like to think I’m good at it.
I think town meeting does a pretty good job of reflecting the wishes of the town writ large. Does the arc of town meeting bend toward wisdom? I would say probably more yes than no.
As a moderator, you’re standing up there in front of all your fellow townspeople, and to some extent it’s a little theatrical. There are moderators who are probably a little better at banter than I am. That’s not my strong suit. Every now and then I can come up with something that’s a little bit humorous, but it’s probably in spite of my nature rather than because of it.
As you’re standing there waiting for town meeting to begin, there’s the feeling that you’re about to embark on this process that New England towns have been doing for 300 years maybe. There’s a mantle of seriousness that you put on. You’ve been given the responsibility for carrying on this very longstanding, venerated tradition of self-government.
This year, Covid delayed town meeting, usually held in April. Silverman headed a task force charged with making a different plan for meeting outdoors on the elementary school ball field in September.
One thing we did actually have a little concern about was what happens if somebody shows up without a mask and absolutely refuses to wear one. So, we had a separate seating area of about 20 chairs with a microphone for anyone who showed up. Nobody showed up without a mask. It never became an issue.
We had a quorum all the way through. The fact that it was a beautiful day didn’t hurt. I think people really did want to be out and be among their friends and their neighbors and feel like they were doing something real. This is the first time in my memory that we’ve done a daytime town meeting and a lot of people said afterwards that they liked it.
I ended up being on the pitcher’s mound. So, I had whatever it is, eight inches or a foot of elevation, but it just did feel like a pitcher, sort of in control of the game, which is kind of ironic, because I hated baseball. I was terrible at it. When I was a kid, anytime I ended up in a baseball game, I’d throw to the wrong base, or I’d make the wrong play. I just hated it! It’s funny it turned out this way.