They’ve chosen a chairman. But can members of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee now unite behind their leader? And, conversely, can this chosen chairman provide the leadership that’s needed to unify the 75-member body?
No matter how one looks at it, the task will be difficult. Whoever was destined to win the chairmanship at the DTC organizational meeting on March 19 was also destined to become the leader of a deeply divided town committee.
Last Wednesday’s vote reflects the depth of this division. Incumbent chairman Frank Farricker hung onto his third two-year term by a thread, surviving Beth Krumeich’s challenge by a single vote.
Farricker received 28 votes to Krumeich’s 27. In addition to these 55 votes cast, of which the winner needed a majority, there were two abstentions not counted in the majority calculation and one vote for Krumeich not counted because the voter was disqualified. She’d resigned from the DTC to make way for someone else who was without a vote since all members elected by their districts subsequent to the January caucuses were ineligible to vote until the April meeting.
With the vote so close – nearly tied – and elected by less than 40 percent of the full DTC, Farricker can hardly claim a mandate. But had Krumeich won, the situation would have been the same.
With such a deeply divided town committee, Farricker’s immediate challenge is to bring the membership together in a positive way. At the same time, if he accepts this challenge, it means he must accept some responsibility – if not major responsibility – for the current state of things. And that means accepting the need for change.
Krumeich’s candidacy was not the cause of the split in the party, but rather a symptom of the underlying problems. It was a reflection of the serious dissatisfaction with Farricker’s leadership on the part of a significant segment of the DTC. Many, hoping for new leadership, were in search of an alternative. It’s probably safe to say that even some who voted for Farricker were among those who hoped for new leadership, but did not see Krumeich as the alternative they were looking for.
During the heat of the chairmanship campaign, there were Farricker supporters who blamed the division on Krumeich’s candidacy. Other DTC members, however, perceived Farricker as a divisive leader of a dysfunctional party and blamed him for fostering the conditions that led to Krumeich’s candidacy.
Krumeich’s candidacy was unprecedented, the result of unusual conditions. In recent memory, there’s not been a serious challenge to any incumbent DTC chairman. Over the past quarter century, or so, no chairman has engendered this much dissatisfaction within the DTC membership.
Farricker, now newly re-elected, needs to face the fact that perhaps as many as half the DTC members wanted a new leader. And as DTC leader for another two years, he should also realize that much depends on his success in finding ways of reaching out to this alienated segment of the town committee.
Let’s hope Farricker and his supporters who occupy DTC leadership positions take this challenge to change seriously. Let’s hope also that victory, however slim, is not treated as license to disregard the concerns of a sizable segment of the DTC membership.
In phone conversations and email exchanges with many DTC members before last Wednesday’s election, I heard almost everyone say the same thing: the party must come together and operate from a unified position. We must stop this infighting. We must heal the rifts in the party.
This was true of Farricker and Krumeich supporters alike. A unified party was top priority, with many saying they wanted a leader who was a consensus builder.
Reaching out to the entire Greenwich community, especially unaffiliated voters, was a close second in order of priority. Over and over again, I was told that Democrats must do a better job at targeting unaffiliated voters, that the party will never have local success without reaching out beyond registered Democrats.
At the same time, there were many who felt the DTC has done a poor job cultivating its Democratic base on an ongoing basis. We must reach out and make our presence known to local Democrats throughout the year, every year, they said, and not let local Democrats disappear after their involvement during national elections.
There was a feeling that this outreach to Democrats should also recognize that there are differing views among Democrats, some of which are conflicting, and that the local party needs to be more inclusive and expand the tent.
This emphasis on outreach also included outreach to the entire Greenwich community. The local party needs to cultivate a positive image in the larger community. Party leaders need to understand the community and its needs and promote measures that speak to the community.
Several people criticized the candidate selection process as too weighted toward rewarding DTC insiders instead of looking for those with the best qualifications for the job, regardless of their involvement with the local party. Others were critical of communications both within the party and with the outside. Some saw a lack of transparency in the conduct of DTC affairs, including finances.
In my March 16 column, I included comments from District 4 leader Al Shehadi, who was among those who communicated with me for the record (most were willing to comment only off-the-record).
Shehadi was critical of Farricker’s leadership and the infighting that’s been allowed to take place. He referred to the DTC as a “closed echo-chamber, having ridiculous fights over who’s a ‘good’ Democrat and who’s not” and expressed concern that party infrastructure has been completely ignored. He also described a lack of transparency and integrity and called for a change of tone, with an end to press leaks, rumor campaigns and personal attacks.
Shehadi’s comments bear repeating because they are not isolated observations. There are other DTC members, probably a significant number, who share his concerns. Farricker would be unwise to dismiss such comments if he’s serious about bringing the party together.
The problem is that Farricker’s critics and Farricker’s supporters have opposing definitions of the situation and operate according to conflicting narratives.
The Farricker segment of the DTC thinks Farricker’s done a great job and that he’s been leading the DTC in the right direction. Farricker cites his success recruiting candidates, raising money, speaking out on issues and advocating for Democratic principles. Listening to the Farricker narrative, one is led to believe that things have never been better.
“We’ve become a party that’s to be reckoned with,” said Farricker supporter, Howard Richman.
Critics, on the other hand, say the DTC is hardly a party to be reckoned with. Some even say it’s become a laughing stock.
Farricker supporters say all publicity is good publicity and praise Farricker’s strong public voice and media presence. Critics say not all publicity is good for the party. They criticize Farricker’s public airing of internal matters, including his attacks on fellow Democrats.
Farricker supporters laud his candidate recruitment and election efforts. Critics say his approach to the first selectman candidacy in the 2013 election was deplorable as well as the handling of his own BET candidacy and that the 2013 election was a disaster for Democrats.
Farricker takes pride in local fund raising efforts. Critics say the DTC has no money. Critics also say that the basic elements of party infrastructure have been neglected.
According to the Farricker narrative, the party is in great shape. According to the narrative espoused by his critics, things are pretty bad.
“The party can’t go on like this,” is an off-the-record comment, often repeated, concerning Farricker’s overall leadership. “The party has gone off-track.”
How to find common ground, given these competing narratives?
The first step might be for Farricker to take a serious look at his short comings and recognize there need to be changes, while his critics need to make every effort to seek out and focus on Farricker’s strengths. If both sides let go of their conflicting narratives, it might become possible for a shared narrative to emerge in the service of party unity and the important work that needs to be done.
There’s always hope.