With the General Election approaching, and given the involvement of an unscrupulous outside individual in my opponents’ campaign, I have chosen to make “Private” many of my political blog posts from before the Primary. If anyone has any questions about events in Hainesport from last year’s campaign or in the run up to the Primary, please contact me directly. Thank you!
I didn’t think anything could be more divisive for Hainesport than the General Election last year…until we went through the Republican Primary.
Sure, I had an anonymous smear campaign directed at me last fall, but the accusations were toothless. This June, an individual associated with the “Reform” Republican campaign (who doesn’t even live in Hainesport) created an anonymous smear Facebook page called Hainesport Happening, which spent 3 weeks decimating the reputations of their opponents.
I’m not going to get into the details of whether or not the accusations leveled against Tony Porto and Mick Dickinson by the page were true (some were, others were twisted) or fair (are anonymous slurs ever truly ‘fair’?). I’m more interested in two other questions: 1) should we hold candidates accountable for extremely negative campaigning? and 2) Is there any way to move Hainesport into a kinder, calmer mode of local election?
The Darnold & Evans campaign issued a statement condemning the smear page on May 18th. The Costa & Schneider campaign issued a statement at some point disclaiming the page (which is not the same thing) and that statement has since been deleted. There is also evidence linking the smear page to the person who has been proven to be an Administrator of their actual Campaign page. I hope that, when Hainesport chooses its representatives in November, its residents will take into account the complicity of the Republican candidates in the smear page, and judge any claims those candidates make on ethical leadership and dignity accordingly.
At the June Township meeting last night, I observed during public comment that Moorestown and Mt Holly DO have a kinder, calmer mode of local election. They elect committee members as a block of 2 or 3, to serve for 4 year terms, which means they only have local elections every 2 years. Hainesport could use that breathing space for recovery! Plus, it would probably save money as personnel would be constant for two years. No need to change name plaques, stationery, business cards etc. every year.
Solicitor Gillespie responded by explaining that Hainesport operates under a different form of government, the traditional ‘Township‘ mode, whereas the other two towns have adopted the modern ‘Council-Manager’ mode under the Faulkner Act, and that it would require complicated measures like a Referendum for a Charter Study Commission to change now.
So I did some research on this.
In addition to the benefits of an election-free year and cost-savings described above, I found that:
In each Faulkner Act municipality, individual citizens also have the right of initiative to propose and place ordinances on a ballot for citizens of that municipality to vote on, thus bypassing their elected representatives’ legislative authority. This right is intended to “arous[e] public interest and plac[e] in the hands of the voters … direct means of controlling proposed … municipal legislation.” [James M. McCreedy and Brian Rans, New Jersey Law Journal October 29, 2015]
In other words, residents in a township whose government operates under the Faulkner Act have MORE power (and officials have less) than those in a traditionally governed town. It seems to me that the idea of changing Hainesport’s form of government might deserve at least an exploratory committee, and definitely more than Solicitor Gillespie’s cursory dismissal.
Meanwhile, I hope that, with the incumbents dispatched in the Primary, we can anticipate a gentler, more policy-based campaign this fall. Hainesport does not need the divisiveness of fake smear pages run by outsiders.
Please enjoy this photo gallery of Poetry by the Sea 2017, featuring our all star faculty, including Poetry by the Sea lecturer Meena Alexander and Keynote Speaker Kevin Young.
Poetry by the Sea 2017 Tuesday
Poetry by the Sea 2017 Wednesday
Poetry by the Sea 2017 Thursday
Poetry by the Sea 2017 Friday
Visit our website.
A couple of recent articles by Dave Levinsky of the Burlington County Times have added to the mounting evidence that the Burlington County Republican Committee were behind the Super PAC, “Preserving Our Community for Tomorrow.” The group mailed “glossy campaign ads attacking Democratic candidates or supporting Republicans…to voters in Chesterfield, Eastampton, Hainesport, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Palmyra and Westampton” in the run up to last November’s election.
- The PAC’s Treasurer is Joseph Lisnak, of Riverton, who is employed as the Tax Administrator for Burlington County
- The PAC’s expenditure filing contains several connections with BurlCo GOP:
- Political Consultant Douglas Donoris of Mount Laurel, who received $37,100, is friends with Bill Layton, BurlCo GOP Chair.
- Harper Polling, who got $2,342, lists the Republican Committee of BurlCo as a client
- Jim Logue, paid $5,500 for Research, is “a legislative staffer for 8th District Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego and Assembly members Maria Rodriguez-Gregg and Joe Howarth, [who] has performed research for the Burlington County Republican Committee and Republican candidates.”
- Business Entity reports filed at ELEC showed that at least two companies with Burlington County contracts gave money:
- Acacia Financial Group of Evesham contributed $5,000
- This group also filed evidence of contracts with Burlington County and Moorestown (one of the townships targeted.)
- Carroll Engineering of Hillsborough gave $3,000
- This group also filed evidence of contracts with Burlington County and Mansfield (where Hainesport GOP Committeeman Mike Fitzpatrick is Administrator.)
- Acacia Financial Group of Evesham contributed $5,000
Why This Matters
By filing as a bi-partisan, state-wide super PAC, the group is allowed not to disclose its contributors. As the group spent $108,000 in total, that leaves $100,000 unaccounted for. There are strict rules limiting contributions that can be made by individuals in direct support of candidates, but the same rules do not apply to PACs. Put simply, the PAC allowed interested individuals to spend as much money as they liked to try to prevent the targeted Democrats from winning GOP seats, which is a perversion of election law.
Similarly, the BurlCo GOP were able to “pretend” that their township candidates were running clean campaigns, safe in the knowledge that an anonymous super PAC would do the dirty work.
It matters to me, even more simply, because of the lies that were told about me. (You can read a rebuttal of all those lies here.)
I’m delighted to announce that I’m running for Hainesport Township Committee again. This November, my running mate will be Edie Darnold, a 16-year Hainesport resident and youthful grandmother who has experience working in industry and municipal government. It’s going to be a great campaign, and you can read our bios here.
Thoughts on Running for Hainesport Again
When I reread my announcement from last April, I am actually thrilled at how much Natalie and I managed to accomplish, even though we didn’t win the seats. We kept the Health Benefits issue ($30,000 packages taken by our part time elected officials) in the spotlight to the extent that the Committee had to give up this taxpayer-funded perk to be competitive in this year’s election. We exposed their agenda, which was to force the resignation of Bill Boettcher, and to replace Township Administrator Leo Selb. Furthermore, Natalie came within 50 votes of beating Frank Masciocchi.
I also hope that I have demonstrated my commitment to the people of Hainesport. I never gave up. Not when I was the victim of a smear campaign conducted through a Burlington County Super PAC. Nor when Mayor Tony Porto filed baseless criminal charges against me in an attempt to stop me from running for Hainesport Committee again. I kept going to the meetings and reporting on them for YOU, so you could understand what was going on in our town.
Unlike the Republican candidates, Edie and I aren’t beholden to some highly political Burlington County machine. Our campaign won’t be paid for by corporate donors who think they can control committee votes. In contrast, we are only about Hainesport, and are accountable solely to the people of Hainesport.
I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting even more people than I did last year during the campaign season. Please let me try to earn your vote.
Over the course of my campaign and its aftermath, particularly in the light of what my Republican opponents did (and continue to do) to me, many people have asked me why I decided to run for office. I typically answer that I am a crusader for truth, transparency, and justice, which begs the question of what turned me into that crusader. The answer to this question is, I became a crusader because of what West Chester did to Kim Bridgford.
After Kim became director of the West Chester Poetry Center and Conference in 2010, she asked me to take over the daily running of the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. This put us into frequent correspondence, and we became friends. Hence I was among the first to learn when, on September 15th 2014, she was removed from her position, asked to collect her things and leave the Poetry Center (which she was thereafter barred from entering) and reassigned to full time teaching.
I became one of Kim’s most vocal defenders as the West Chester administration and its advocates conspired to give the impression that her reassignment was her fault for being a poor fundraiser (she wasn’t), or perhaps for moving the Poetry Conference too far from its original mission (She was employed to increase diversity and broaden the conference’s appeal.)
During my defense of Kim, my arguments were dismissed as lies, and I was not only regularly told to be quiet, but also frequently belittled and insulted online, mostly by men. It was great practice for facing down the three male incumbent Republican members of Hainesport Township Committee!
The real reason for Kim’s reassignment was that she had discovered financial irregularities under her predecessor as Director, Mike Peich, and when she brought those to the attention of the administrators, they chose to remove her and stage a cover up instead of investigating. Every time I suggested this, however, I was castigated for sullying the reputation of Mike Peich without being able to verify my claims. Unfortunately, Kim was at that time unable to speak publicly about the issues.
Kim and I went on (along with original Executive Board Members Natalie Gerber, Cherise Pollard, and Kat Gilbert) to create and run Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference, now in its third successful year. The West Chester Poetry Conference came back under the Directorship of Sam Gwynn after taking a year’s hiatus in 2015, and an uneasy truce has prevailed at West Chester.
But recently West Chester added insult to injury by engaging Baker Tilly, a firm of accountants, to conduct a financial assessment of the Poetry Center (which Kim’s supporters had demanded), but only covering the years of Kim’s tenure as Director. This financial review, while finding no fault, contains damaging and untrue allegations which Kim has now been forced to refute legally and publicly. The letter from Kim’s lawyer states this:
For 16 years, Prof. Peich directed the center with no accountability, no reporting, and no institutional oversight whatsoever. During that time he drained the six-figure Ahmanson Fund, without notifying any authority, and without being called upon to report his activities.
Prof. Peich’s 16-year wasting spree had been enabled by a passive university and foundation. Dr. Bridgford stepped into a situation not of her own making and did her best to rectify it….The report is unfair to her and protective of those who should be held accountable.
This letter has today been circulated among the faculty of the English department at West Chester University, and finally I am in a position to support what I have been saying all along about the events of September 2014. Truth, transparency and justice are served.
Meanwhile my fight against West Chester exposed many truths I had been ignoring for too long: that many men still attempt to dominate and belittle women, that power corrupts, that those in power will do anything to conceal inconvenient truths, and that it is always the little guy who is exploited. With my social conscience newly awoken, I looked around and I saw examples of this happening very close to home.
And that is why I ran for Hainesport Township Committee.
One glorious afternoon last week in Madison, CT, I was gathered with the amazing women of the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Seminar (Shout out to Maryann Corbett, Jean Kreiling, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, Wendy Sloan, Kathryn Voorhees, and Kyle Potvin, who came down for a day) when Kathryn voiced a thought that many of us were thinking.
“This conference is too good,” she said. “I can’t get any down time, because I don’t want to miss anything. Everything is brilliant.”
If you have to hear a criticism of a conference that you, personally, have poured your heart and soul (not to mention time and money) into, then that would be the one you want. But let’s unpack that a little, shall we?
During the day at Poetry by the Sea, apart from the 1-3 pm Workshop/Seminar slot, there were pretty much always two things happening simultaneously, giving participants a choice of what to attend. Kim’s astute scheduling meant that for many there was often an obvious choice, but sometimes people were clearly torn. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss Todd Boss’s excellent presentation of the Motionpoems project, for example, but I had to miss the first participant reading at which several of my friends were represented.
I was on two panels myself (Negative Reviews with Quincy R. Lehr & David Katz, which, somewhat ironically, got highly positive reviews, and Editing Poetry Journals with Allison Joseph & Anna Lena Phillips Bell, marvelously chaired by Allison), but that meant I had to miss Artistic Collaboration with Elizabyth Hiscox, Michael Bergmann, Morgan Post & Jo Yarrington, and later June Jordan at 80, with Brian Gilmore and Wendy Scott Paff. I had elected to take Richard Blanco’s one-day workshop, which was inspirational, but therefore had to forsake Young Adult Poetry with Marilyn Nelson & Helen Frost, and Translation, with Laura Marris, Todd Portnowitz and Carina del Valle Schorske. And the list goes on.
Furthermore, when we got to the portions of the day where only one thing was scheduled, it was typically unmissable. Consider Ange Mlinko’s incisive Poetry by the Sea Lecture in Poetry, or Spotlight Readings with X.J. Kennedy & Patrick Phillips, then the completely unforgetable Mahogany Browne (and her daughter, Amare) & Gregory Pardlo, or our Kimiko Hahn Keynote, or our Faculty readings (Dick Davis, Allison Joseph, Terri Witek & Cyriaco Lopes, Rafael Campo, Richard Blanco, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, A.E. Stallings (Her new heartbreaking refugee poems!), Marilyn Taylor, Annie Finch, and Joshua Mehigan), or Russell Goings’ and Quentin Talley’s The Children of Children Keep Coming. Dempsey Hall was always full, and I counted two standing ovations.
Therefore, yes, people were on the go from morning to night. But I don’t think they were really complaining! That’s what poetry conferences are meant to be like, after all–intense, joyous, inspirational celebrations of diversity and excellence, all taking place in a gorgeous setting with a shell-strewn beach and a jewel-bright sea.
So, thanks again to our Founder & Director, Kim Bridgford, for a marvelous conference, to Board members Natalie Gerber, Kat Gilbert & Cherise Pollard, Ned Balbo, Tom Cable & Russell Goings for their hard work, enthusiasm, and support. And to anyone reading this, I ask you consider three things:
- Come join us next year, Tuesday May 23–Saturday May 27
- Like us on Facebook. We have 981 likes! 1000 would be an awesome milestone!
- Sponsor us. We are non profit, so it’s tax-deductible, and you can give online. We just want to make it possible for anyone who wants to join us in 2017 to do so regardless of circumstances.
Poetry by the Sea 2016 was brilliant, and with your help, Poetry by the Sea 2017 can be even more inclusive, even more diverse. I’d say it could be even more brilliant, but then when would we sleep?
While Kim and I were corresponding over our latest addition to the Poetry by the Sea schedule, poet and spoken word artist Mahogany Browne as a spotlight reader, I found myself pondering the broader issue of diversity in general, and how it relates to the two conferences with which I have been intimately involved.
Diversity at Poetry by the Sea
18 months ago, when we were first planning the conference, something we were 100% committed to was this idea of diversity at Poetry by the Sea. When Kim took over as the Director of the West Chester Poetry Conference, one of her tasks was to increase the diversity of that conference, not only with respect to the faculty and panelists, but also with respect to the attendees. And Kim did that. She brought people like Natasha Trethewey and Julia Alvarez in as Keynotes and speakers, she made arrangements with Cave Canem to give younger African American poets scholarships, and she put more women on panels. Ironically, when Kim was removed from her position as Director (which we know now was because she revealed financial irregularities that WCU wanted to cover up) some long time attendees (read older white men) theorized that it was because she had allowed the conference to be taken over by “fringe elements.” Diversity, it would seem, is not for everyone.
So, one of the wonderful things about starting a new conference from scratch is that we were able to be as diverse as we wanted, without having to fight a rearguard action from people who preferred the status quo. Diversity at Poetry by the Sea starts at the top, with key board members Russell Goings and Cherise Pollard. Our faculty (Dick Davis, Anna M. Evans, Joshua Mehigan, Steven P. Schneider, A.E. Stallings. Annie Finch, Natalie Gerber, Rafael Campo, Richard Blanco, Allison Joseph, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Marilyn Taylor, Terri Witek with Cyriaco Lopes) represents a broad variety of people too—men and women, gay and straight, various ethnicities. Our spotlight readers (in addition to Mahogany) range from X.J. Kennedy through Patrick Phillips and Gregory Pardlo. We have a specific panel on June Jordan at 80, but more importantly, you will never walk into any Poetry by the Sea panel and see yet another bunch of white men, with maybe a token white woman thrown in. Naturally the Cave Canem scholarships migrated with Kim, and this year we are pleased to announce that they have been awarded to Keith Wilson and David Mills. (You can see the full schedule here.)
Basically, having this level of diversity at Poetry by the Sea makes it feel like the world looks, which is not like almost any other poetry conference. And we are proud of that.
We have some amazing Poetry by the Sea people! Last year they said a world-class conference couldn’t be put together in just six months, and we proved them wrong, because finding amazing people has proven to be one of Founder & Director Kim Bridgford’s greatest talents. With the advantage of a full twelve months to plan, this year’s expectations were even higher. But guess what? Poetry by the Sea people are being recognized on a weekly basis for their outstanding contributions to the world of poetry.
Robin Coste Lewis Wins National Book Award
The NBA shortlist was decided only a few weeks after Kim secured the spotlight readers for the conference, and we were blown away when we realized two of our readers (Patrick Phillips was also nominated for Elegy for a Broken Machine) were finalists. I immediately put Voyage of the Sable Venus on my Xmas list! Then, of course, we were beyond thrilled when Robin won! Here’s an interview with Robin about the book, but personally I can’t wait to hear her read from it on Friday May 27 (and sign my copy!).
Richie Hofmann Makes Top Ten Debut Poets List
Richie Hofmann (Second Empire) is on the first of our two New Books panels, which kicks off the conference on the afternoon of Tuesday May 24th, so I suggest you plan to arrive early. It should be a stellar panel, hosted by John Foy and also including Ned Balbo (Upcycling Paumanok), Tara Betts (7×7: Kwansabas), and Quincy R. Lehr (The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar). By the way, Jenna Le (A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora) is on the second New Books panel on the morning of Friday May 27th, and is also making headlines.
Micheal O’Siadhail’s Latest Collection Receives Rave Reviews
Micheal O’Siadhail, a workshop leader at the inaugural conference, is making a guest appearance this May on the Saturday morning to read from his newest collection, One Crimson Thread, a book that Thomas McCarthy of the Irish Times calls “one of the most elegant pictures of faithfulness that I have ever encountered.” Greg Pardlo, last April’s surprise winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (Digest) will also be chairing a panel on Saturday morning, in addition to reading with Robin on Friday. So that’s it then! I’ve just given you reasons both to arrive for the beginning of the conference and to stay until the end!
But here’s the thing: although we can single out the people above because they have made recent headlines, the truth is that all Poetry by the Sea people are pretty special. Obviously we have venerable workshop/seminar leaders like Dick Davis, Joshua Mehigan, Steven Schneider, and A.E. Stallings (a top candidate for the Oxford Professorship in Poetry earlier this year), and panels chaired by luminaries like Rachel Hadas, Marilyn Nelson, and Willard Spiegelman. (I can’t name everyone! But the aim is to have the full schedule online early in the New Year.) Still, what really makes the conference work is the community of Poetry by the Sea people who come to participate, who listen, ask questions, and then read their own poems in the participant readings, who breathe in the fresh air and restoring atmosphere of Mercy by the Sea with us.
I just can’t wait to join the amazing Poetry by the Sea people next May!
Note: All Amazon links are Associate links.
Last week, West Chester Poetry Conference Founder Dana Gioia was named Poet Laureate of California. I am not here to pass judgment on the man or the poetry (Noting in passing that I love the triolet sequence “A Country Wife,” if nothing else) but I do want to call attention to the remarkable omission of Gioia’s achievement in co-founding the West Chester Poetry Conference from the bio in the article covering his selection.
As others have said to me, maybe this isn’t such a big deal? After all, who in California would have heard of West Chester? Maybe it just wasn’t relevant to the people involved?
But I investigated further. Although the Poetry Foundation website and the Academy of American Poets website (venues over which Dana has no control) still talk about his co-founding of West Chester, his wikipedia entry no longer does. Someone has edited it out. Even more interestingly, the bio on his personal website no longer mentions it either.
Why has West Chester Poetry Conference Founder Dana Gioia scrubbed this fact out of his bio?
Let’s be fair here: all writers continually tinker with our bios. Sheesh, as an editor, I can’t tell you how often a Barefoot Muse Press book or a new issue of the Raintown Review is about to go to press and I get a request to change a bio.
But to remove the fact that you co-founded (with Mike Peich) an important Poetry Conference which ran successfully for 20 years suggests to me that you might have insider knowledge about a soon to be breaking scandal.