Part of the reason the Romneys moved to Belmont was that the town was becoming known as a place where area Mormons were settling.
In 1982, Bennett said, Romney became the bishop — equivalent to the pastor — of the local congregation, which included Belmont, Watertown, and Waltham. Later, he was elevated to stake leader, in charge of a collection of congregations.
One of his responsibilities, said Bennett, was to meet once or twice a year with the congregation’s teenagers and talk one-on-one about their hopes, schooling, and relationships with their parents.
“You can imagine, sitting down with a 12- or 13-year-old, many of the conversations were entirely perfunctory and not remarkable,” said Bennett. But Romney held many of those conversations with kids over the time he was bishop.
“I can recall one case where I know Mitt was out on the West Coast for work and he took a redeye home, flew all night, simply to make sure he was there to have these run-of-the-mill conversations with teenagers.”
Romney was involved in the construction of the temple’s golden steeple, which was vociferously opposed by residents concerned that its height was out of character with the rest of the area.
He rarely speaks publicly about his faith, but in 1996 the ensuing legal battle brought him before a Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, at which he described the church steeples he saw in neighboring towns and how they inspired him.
“In my view, [steeples] remind us that we were brought here and preserved in this land by [providence],” he said, according to town records. “They typify our diversity representing a host of faiths and a host of people. To some they’re like guideposts standing for constant answers in a changing and troubling world. As graffiti begins to corrupt our edifices, even in Belmont, I’ve noticed, I celebrate this physical witness of God’s hand open to all his children.”
Same town, new house
The Romneys’ third home in Belmont, which they sold for $3.5 million in 2009, was a mansion on Marsh Street on Belmont Hill, a winding, leafy road, lined with spectacular estates set back from the street by long driveways and rustic stone walls.
The candidate now he lives in the townhouse in The Woodlands at Belmont Hill. Residents of The Woodlands are alternately annoyed and amused at questions about Romney.
“I’d much rather be living next door to Obama,” said a neighbor whose car sports an Obama sticker. “The bumper sticker’s not coming off!”
Differences aside, they do admit to poking their heads out when Romney’s motorcade rolls into the neighborhood.
The Romneys have a standing invitation to the neighborhood’s block parties, book club, and discussion group, said Newberg, though no one is upset over their absence so far. “He’s really been pretty occupied,” said Newberg.
The lunch crowd at the Belmont senior center was rooting for Romney on a recent Friday, enjoying lasagna and peaches in the same room where Romney may cast his vote for president.
But as for the rest of Belmont, many aren’t so sure.
“He’s not that hometown-boy hero,” Joseph Andrea, 92, a World War II veteran and staunch Romney supporter, said when asked whether Romney will win Belmont.
“Too many dedicated Democrats in this town,” said Larry Furnari, 87, a fellow veteran and Romney backer.
Though Belmont backed Romney in 2002 when he ran for governor, the town didn’t back him when he lost the 1994 US Senate race to Edward M. Kennedy. The last time the town voted for a Republican in the presidential race was in 1980.
Many of the regulars at the senior center plan to swing by the center on Nov. 6 in hopes of catching a glimpse of Romney, who may or may not keep a home in town after the election.
Though his son, Tagg, still lives here, the elder Romney is expanding a La Jolla, Calif., property, and has an $8 million home in New Hampshire as well.
“This is just one of the places where he sleeps,” said Furnari.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org