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.