At the close of every meeting of my son’s Boy Scout troop, they recite the Scout Law: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” These adjectives not only represent positive traits that should serve as a model for youths who would be good citizens in the community, but they also should describe adults who would seek civic leadership roles, such as the public servants we entrust to look out for our well-being.
At a candidate forum held Oct. 1 at New England Tech, a few words spoken by State Representative Anthony Giarrusso stood out. Decrying the “negativity in our town,” Mr. Giarrusso went on to say that, after “see[ing] negative things” written on social media by “someone that’s in attendance here,” he “took time out of [his] day…to address their Cub Scouts.” Here Mr. Giarrusso implied that a Cub Scout leader claimed he “hat[ed] women,” because he chose not to attend a sexual harassment training seminar held at the State House earlier this year.
These words stood out, as they reminded me of when Mr. Giarrusso spoke this spring at a ceremony honoring newly minted Eagle Scouts. As someone who congratulated the Eagle Scouts on their accomplishment, Mr. Giarrusso should embody the very traits that the Scouts hold dear, as exemplified by the Scout Law. But, by mischaracterizing the words of a Cub Scout leader this fall, Mr. Giarrusso showed this not to be so.
Recently, an anonymous letter consisting of hateful rhetoric against men was sent to residents. Claiming to support Mr. Giarrusso’s opponent, Justine Caldwell, this letter contained adult content not suitable for children. The Caldwell campaign immediately issued a statement underscoring that she neither composed the letter, nor stood by its content. But instead of confirming that the Caldwell campaign had no involvement with the letter, Mr. Giarrusso instead turned to local talk radio to attack his opponent, dishonestly claiming that Justine could have written it, because the rhetoric in the letter was similar to language she had used elsewhere. This was shameful, and brought seriously into question Mr. Giarrusso’s trustworthiness.
I was further dismayed when I recently received a official letter from the Giarrusso campaign, which featured a number of falsehoods, chief among them being his assertion that the Caldwell campaign had called him a “homophobe” and “a sexual predator” in their campaign materials. Such name calling, if true, would be outrageous and offensive. But no such name calling has ever appeared in official Caldwell campaign literature. The liberty that Mr. Giarrusso takes with the truth here, combined with his willingness to portray his opponent as hateful and insulting, challenges any notion that he is credible and trustworthy, as well as challenging our beliefs that he is kind.
Mr. Giarrusso’s kindness was further called into question by his repeated reference to the sexual harassment seminar he chose to skip as a “dog and pony show.” The sexual harassment training had been organized in response to claims by Rep. Teresa Tanzi that someone in the State House had approached her regarding exchanging sexual favors for political influence. Recent headlines have sadly made it all too apparent that more should be done in the workplace—and in our culture—to address these problems. By calling the training a “dog and pony show,” Mr. Giarrusso not only belittled its importance, but also showed disrespect to women everywhere who have been bold enough to share stories of the sexual harassment and assault that is still so pervasive.
But men can also be victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. We have seen this on the local level, as our Town Council President Sue Cienki was accused of threatening a local firefighter with castration, in an incident which became the subject of legal action. This example vividly illustrates why all of us, men and women, could use more training in this area, and why it is no laughing matter. All adult leaders in Boy Scouts are required to pass sexual harassment training. At the Connecticut college where I teach, we are required by Title IX to have all faculty, staff, and students pass similar training. If we expect teachers and volunteer Boy Scout leaders to pass sexual harassment training, we should expect no less of our state legislators, or others we elect to serve.
We have heard a great deal about “civility” from Town Council candidates this year. Candidate Sean O’Leary has led the charge, writing a lengthy letter on this subject. But how trustworthy is he? As O’Leary has campaigned alongside Republican candidates, and has consistently supported TC President Cienki, we must ask: how “civil” have they been? How “civil” is our new Republican candidate, Chad Callanan? Unfortunately, the answer has been “not very.”
In addition to Sue Cienki’s aforementioned threat, she has also consistently allowed other councilors to interrupt, contradict, and even shout down residents who express views contrary to the Republican majority. She has also allowed her colleagues to express animus and vitriol toward the one Democratic councilor, Mark Schwager. This was evident, for example, in the Oct. 22 meeting, in which Council Vice President Todd called Mr. Schwager “idiotic” for suggesting that the council discuss temporarily relieving Gayle Corrigan of her duties, following findings of probable cause that she had committed serious ethics violations. Cienki has also promoted a false narrative that places blame for fiscal challenges on prior town councils and our previous Town Manager, Tom Coyle. All this seems far from “civil,” and can indeed be called discourteous.
Likewise, candidates Deutsch and Callanan have consistently engaged in discourteous behavior, especially in condescending and combative exchanges with residents on social media. In these exchanges, they have exhibited behavior unbecoming of those aspiring to public office. For example, when an EGHS student politely asked Mr. Deutsch to remove from his campaign page a video clip from the nonpartisan candidate forum she helped organize, because it was being used to attack a fellow candidate, Mr. Deutsch refused to do so. Mr. Callanan has gone even further in his negativity towards those who disagree with him, by promoting on his Twitter account the idea that “liberalism is a mental disease,” just to name one vivid example. Clearly, these candidates do not sound well-suited to build bridges and work collaboratively with others to make our community better. They do not sound “civil.” And by supporting and campaigning alongside these candidates, while calling himself “independent,” Mr. O’Leary has shown himself to be untrustworthy.
When we mull over our vote on Nov 6, we should consider whether or not the candidates on the ballot amply represent the character traits recited in the Scout Law. We should vote for candidates who will serve as positive role models for our youth.
James Patrick Gorham