One of the signs that Mitt Romney lives in the handsome tan condo on Belmont Hill is the shiny black Ford SUV parked and running in the driveway. In it is a Secret Service agent watching the private road.
To the neighbors, the candidate’s presence on their street is at once unusual and unremarkable: Romney checks the mail. Romney waves hello. Romney comes by in a motorcade. And always, the Secret Service agent.
“The whole experience is very revealing, how low-key it is, yet it’s there,” said Joe Newberg, 65, who lives just over a rise in the road from Romney. “When he’s there, or when Ann is there, they both are protected.’’
The Republican presidential candidate has been coming home to Belmont since 1971, when he and Ann moved into a home on Winn Street. Their five sons attended the private Belmont Hill School; the Romney name hangs on the wall as “Diamond Benefactor” of the senior center where the GOP candidate might cast his vote for president; and if Romney is elected, among his many decisions will be whether to keep serving on Belmont’s Republican Town Committee, where he, Ann, son Taggart, and daughter-in-law Jennifer won seats this past March.
The quiet community of 25,000 has gotten used to the commotion of Romney’s celebrity, and many people in town have a Romney story. Most are about sightings from afar, glimpses caught at Town Meeting, on voting day, at his sons’ baseball games picking up stray balls. Romney orders the Bolognese at Il Casale in Belmont center; Ann shops for gifts for her grandchildren at Belmont Toys.
Maryann Scali, a lifelong Belmont resident who just celebrated her 60th high school reunion at Belmont High, remembers Ann Romney’s run for Town Meeting member in the 1970s.
“She was in politics before he was!” said Scali, a Town Meeting member. Scali remembers Ann going door to door campaigning, hair tied back with a bandana. She doesn’t remember Romney’s platform; she does remember her tennis skills.
“We played on the public courts in those days,” she said. “She was a great player.”
When his boys were teenagers in the 1990s, Romney used to bring them into Rancatore’s Ice Cream for frappes. Father and sons were always impeccably dressed and stood out from the shorts-and-T-shirts-clad clientele.
Romney might take his tie off, said owner Joe Rancatore, but he always kept his jacket on.
“I can’t tell you how striking the boys and dad were,” said Rancatore. “They were enormous. Easily the biggest family that came in all night. They looked like they could form a football team. Jesus, no wonder we won the West!”
Joe O’Donnell has known the Romneys since the 1970s. They were neighbors on Belmont Hill, their kids played on the baseball team O’Donnell coached, and they used to play tennis together at the Belmont Hill Club.
After O’Donnell’s young son Joey died of cystic fibrosis, the Romneys showed up at the boy’s elementary school to help build Joey’s Park, a memorial playground constructed in a community barn-raising over the course of a week by hundreds of Belmont residents in 1989.
“I remember Mitt coming in as the best dressed – he had his jeans on, and they were starched. He looked like Mitt, he looked perfect,” said O’Donnell, noting that Romney has continued to support the park and a fund in Joey’s name. “I do remember him coming in with his hammer on his belt buckle. Mitt is prepared. The rest of us looked like we were going to a construction site.”
Others, though, are less enthusiastic about claiming Romney as one of their own.
“I haven’t seen him since he became governor,” said Dickran Ghazarian, 63, standing with his arms crossed behind glass cases of jewelry in his Cushing Square business D G Goldsmith.
“He has a lot of houses everywhere; I think he’s from every state,” he said.
Away from spotlight
Some of Romney’s deepest roots in Belmont are at the Mormon meeting house and temple where he attends services when he is in town. Just off the Concord Turnpike, the temple sits at what is considered by many to be the highest point in Belmont, its steeple topped by the angel Moroni. The meeting house, where the congregation worships, sits below the temple, ringed by maple trees.
“He’s clearly deeply at home in the meeting house,” said Grant Bennett, a close friend who shared senior leadership responsibilities in the church with Romney for 12 years. “He’s very happy to have the spotlight off. And to be with friends, where their relationship is just totally independent of and transcends any kind of political environment.”Continued...