Reproduced here, exactly as originally submitted, is my column that appears in today’s (March 31, 2013) Greenwich Time. When the column was published online Friday and in print today, a spacing change created a slight confusion as to who said what in an email exchange between Democratic Town Committee Chairman Frank Farricker, who is a declared candidate for Democratic endorsement as a BET candidate, and BET member Marc Johnson, a Republican.
I’ve been told that this spacing change was not an editorial one, but rather occurred in the layout process that fits the copy into a given location. By the time this came to my attention, it was too late to undo the change.
This column reproduces an email Farricker sent to Johnson at 10:42 p.m. on March 21, following comments by Johnson at the BET budget meeting that night, as well as Johnson’s email response to Farricker at 3:59 p.m. the following afternoon.
The spacing change ran these two emails together, so that it was not altogether clear where Farricker’s comments ended and Johnson’s began.
Although I had nothing to do with this, I apologize for the confusion.
Here is my original copy with the correct spacing.
John Blankley calls it a “cozy consensus.” And Frank Farricker refers to it as a pattern of “Greenwichness” that suppresses the healthy exchange of ideas with the public.
Farricker, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and Blankley, unsuccessful Democratic candidate for first selectman and the state legislature, have come out as a fighting team, challenging incumbents in an aggressive start to the 2013 intraparty competition for the six Democratic seats on the town’s twelve member BET.
“It’s ludicrous to the absurd,” said Farricker in a phone interview, “To pretend it’s not partisan, not political.”
Farricker was referring to a statement by Republican BET member Marc Johnson at the March 21 budget meeting, when the BET approved a $427.9 million budget for 2013-14.
“I don’t think the public understands the number of hours each and every BET member puts into the development and management of the Town’s budget,” said Johnson. “We work together to address the operating and capital needs of the Town and provide low and predictable tax rates. We do differ on a number of areas but we usually reach consensus.”
It’s this notion of consensus that Farricker and Blankley rail against. “Democrats should be Democrats,” said Farricker. “They shouldn’t leave their ideals at the door.”
Both Farricker and Blankley have criticized BET Democrats for not standing up to Republicans. “When Democrats acquiesce to Republicans, they’re doing a disservice,” said Farricker, who objects to the many 12-0-0 BET consensus votes.
However, this characterization ignores the unprecedented number of 6-6 party-line votes this budget cycle that required the Republican chairman’s seventh tie-breaking vote, most notably over budget guidelines, long-term financing, and reducing the tax collector’s salary.
In spite of these Democratic votes, Farricker repeatedly used the word “acquiesce” in our interview, saying collegiality allows the perpetuation of something that doesn’t work.
By contrast, Johnson expressed concern about politicizing the process. “What I don’t understand is why there are those in town who would like to insert more politics into the BET and its decision making process,” he said, referring to Farricker’s statements in a newspaper article.
“We don’t need politics interfering with the important work of this board,” Johnson concluded.
Farricker shot back in a late night email:
“Come on, you take a shot at me for ‘politicizing’ the BET while you take party line votes on bonding the fire station? I can only assume you are taking a lame shot at me to shore up your internal votes to hopefully stay on the BET.
“Stop pretending you don’t have a point of view, and give up the stupid idea that by being a BET member you are magically nonpartisan. It’s unbecoming and lame. Instead, be true and honest with yourself and the voters that you are a conservative republican, and very political to boot. Nothing wrong with it, if you wear it.
“I look forward to aggressively challenging your views next year”
Johnson responded: “Thanks for confirming my comments.”
Farricker told me his response to Johnson is likewise: “Thank you for confirming my remarks.”
Farricker says he stands by every word, adding that he could have been a lot more aggressive.
Johnson may object to politicizing the work of the BET. But Jim Campbell, chairman of the Republican Town Committee and a former BET member, in a February 28 op-ed article in Greenwich Time, defends a politicized board in which the Republican BET chairman casts a tie-breaking vote.
He rightly points out that it takes “two sides to disagree and produce a party line vote,” but reverts to stereotypes in his discussion of last fall’s partisan split over BET budget guidelines. Democrats are tax and spend and Republicans guard the taxpayer’s purse.
Campbell’s op-ed responded to criticism of last fall’s party-line approach to the budget guidelines, including my November column in which I referred to the “new Realpolitik.”
Based on my experience as a BET member for twelve years, it is a new Realpolitik. Republicans always had a tie-breaking vote, but it was rarely used. Divided votes did not typically break along party lines.
Political? Absolutely. Democratic acquiescence? Hardly. Collegial relationships? Yes.
In July, the political parties select the next BET. Let’s hope party members ask the right questions and choose wisely.