Washington, CT

September 2011 - Voices Debate Article

Scheduled for October 11:
Washington Republicans Back Out of Planned Debate For Board of Selectmen Candidates

by Ann Compton
Published:Thursday, September 29, 2011 12:30 PM EDT Voices Online

WASHINGTON — The Republicans have backed out of a planned debate for Board of Selectmen candidates scheduled for October 11.

Citing differences over choosing a moderator, formatting, participants and scheduling — even though a date, time and format had already been agreed to by both sides — the Republican Town Committee floated a proposal for the candidates instead to issue “written position statements” to be published in local newspapers.

After failing to respond to Voices’ requests for information for more than a week, Joan Lodsin, Republican Town Committee chair, issued a press release indicating that First Selectman Mark Lyon and the RTC “unanimously endorsed” written statements rather than a live, verbal debate.

The Democratic Town Committee was blind-sided by the press release, said C-Chair Andrew Shapiro, because debate plans were already in place with the only remaining detail the choice of a moderator.

A meeting was to be held this week between DTC and RTC members to settle that final point.

Instead, the media received the RTC press release on September 25, effectively ending debate discussions with the DTC.

In the press release, First Selectman Mark Lyon, who is running against independent candidate Wayne Hileman, said, “Voters in November need a clear picture of the role of the selectmen, including interaction with the Region 12 Board of Education, Board of Finance, volunteer commissions and the state.”

But instead of discussing those issues in an open forum, he endorsed the publication of “position statements,” an expensive endeavor for six position statements by multiple candidates in local newspapers, observed Mr. Shapiro.

Ms. Lodsin stated, “A written forum is preferable to verbal debates which historically have been superficial, limited in substance and attended by only a fraction of the voters.”

Mr. Shapiro said the Democratic Town Committee strongly opposes the Republican decision to cancel the debate for several reasons.

“A debate captures the independent conviction of individuals speaking out for themselves. It empowers voters and lets them ask the questions they want answered — not the safer issues that candidates might prefer to address in some controlled setting like a newspaper forum.

“Published position statements are too packaged. No one wants to wade through some printed statement that is the product of group-think, polished by a committee of wordsmiths. It’s just not authentic,” Mr. Shapiro said.

Mr. Shapiro reported that Ms. Lodsin contacted DTC Co-Chair Kerry O’Toole in early September to suggest the debate format and subsequent e-mails were exchanged setting the time, place and format, all of which were proposed by Ms. Lodsin and agreed to by the DTC.

The two committees could not reach agreement on the debate moderator, however. The Republicans pitched an out-of-town moderator, but the Democrats wanted someone familiar with local issues.

Following a September 20 meeting of the RTC, Ms. Lodsin notified Ms. O’Toole by e-mail that the RTC had decided on a “written forum.”

Mr. Shapiro described this proposal as “totally unexpected — a new idea that had never been broached,” adding that the e-mail said nothing about the debate.

When questioned, Ms. Lodsin responded that “written statements would be in lieu of a debate,” and issued the September 25 press release without further discussion.

Mr. Shapiro explained the Democratic Town Committee’s response to the new RTC proposal.

“At the end of the day, despite what the WRTC has announced in its press release, it is inconceivable to Washington Democrats that, in 21st-century America, an elected government official will actually refuse to stand up in public before his constituents and debate the issues with the official nominee of the opposing party.

“That is why we have rented the Washington Town Hall for Tuesday night, October 11, as planned. Our candidates will be there, ready to go, even if they have to debate two empty chairs labeled Mark Lyon and Dick Carey.”

Mr. Hileman, who has been endorsed by the Democrats and will appear on their ticket on the November ballot, said, “I think that people like to see their candidates in person and unscripted, so they can judge who’s best suited to lead our town through challenging times.

“I’ve already written and published ‘clear and concise position statements’ at www.wayneforwashington.com, with 24/7 access for all voters, free of charge. I want a debate, and I believe folks in Washington do too. I hope that Mark [Lyon] will reconsider.”