The Thuggish Style in Belmont Politics

A candidate for elected office in our Town of Homes has been the target of physical and verbal intimidation and threats. It’s a crass and thuggish attempt to drive him out of the Board of Selectmen’s race. The police need to find who’s responsible. In the meantime, Tim is hosting a candidates event on Sunday. Attend and send him a message of support.

Let me start by stating the obvious: to hell with “adult bullying” – the misleading and euphemistic term the Citizen Herald used to describe what has been happening to Belmont Selectmen candidate Tim Flood over the last few weeks.

Despite the Citizen Herald’s anodyne reporting and Town Clerk Ellen Cushman’s carefully worded reproach at the League of Women Voters night, what Mr. Flood has endured is a campaign of physical and verbal harassment and intimidation that has extended to his business and family.

A crime that must be solved

First and most important: the Belmont Police Department needs to investigate these attacks on Mr. Flood and his family thoroughly and bring those responsible to justice – and sooner rather than later. Tim has filed a police report. The Belmont PD should follow up on that with all the resources at its disposal. While these crimes are low-level, to ignore them would be to give a green light to more thuggish behavior in future elections and promise an erosion of civility in town politics, discouraging future residents from running. That can’t happen – although maybe it already has.

Flood, seated at right, is a veteran and one of three candidates for Board of Selectman.
Flood, seated at right, is a veteran and one of three candidates for Board of Selectman.

For those who haven’t been following this, Tim is one of three candidates for the open Select Board seat being vacated by Mark Paolillo.

A local business owner and veteran, Tim has run a low-key, but principled campaign focused on making Belmont’s government more responsive to residents and small business owners. By my estimation, Tim has come up to speed very quickly on Town affairs and been an independent voice in the three way race for Selectman alongside Jessie Bennett and Roy Epstein.

A campaign of intimidation

From where Tim sits, however, the last couple months have been no walk in the park. As Tim has detailed on his campaign website: shortly after declaring his candidacy, he was the recipient of a number of anonymous letters making not-subtle threats to him and his business. Among other things, the letters falsely charged him with campaign finance violations and threatened to turn him in to police or report his business to town officials. One was signed “a gun owner” which, depending on how you read it, could be construed as a threat of violence against Flood.

There was more: a van Tim uses for his business had its window smashed while parked overnight. A hockey puck was thrown at his business by a passing vehicle during business hours. Members of the Chenery PTO and Principal Michale McAllister received anonymous emails raising concerns about Tim’s role in the Chenery PTO as well.*

Finally, a complaint was lodged with elections officials against Tim for accepting and spending donations without disclosing them. (This, despite the fact that the reporting period had yet to expire). That move echoed a threat leveled in one of the anonymous emails Tim received, suggesting his tormenters were making good on their threats.

Behind the scenes: emails and whisper campaigns spreading rumors and distortions related to Tim’s personal life and marriage were making the rounds. I, personally, did not receive any of these. I have, however, been shown copies of both the threatening letters and the rumor emails and they’re as bad as you would expect.

Candidate Tim Flood has endured a campaign of intimidation and harassment after deciding to run for Selectman. The perpetrators need to be caught. The community needs to apologize.

“I have seen a side of Belmont I never knew existed,” Tim wrote to me in an email. “It’s disgusting.” I agree.

Conspiracy theories and rumors

What’s motivating this? It is unclear, though the harassment and intimation tactics seem directly related to Tim’s campaign and not the product of some personal matter or vendetta.

Why? That is also unclear. Among the rumors circulating is that Tim’s campaign was designed to siphon votes from Roy Epstein – a preposterous claim given that Tim has been clear and consistent all along about his motivations for running. I cannot speak to the origin of the rumor emails, the threatening letters and physical intimidation and its not responsible to speculate on their origin. What is clear is that these actions are unworthy of Belmont and must stop.

What is clear to me is that there’s some “dark energy” afloat in Belmont right now. You could sense it at the League of Women Voters night and around town. It brings me back to the bad old days of 2016, when I’d wake up each morning to see my Hillary Clinton lawn sign had been stolen, or just bent and beaten by unknown assailants. As we know from our national politics: there are some who would be happy to put democratic processes like free, fair and respectful elections aside and to win “by other means” – by threats, intimidation, shouting and taunts and thuggery.

No more

What can we do in the meantime? Redouble our efforts to have respectful and substantive discussions about the important issues facing our town. Hold on to your passion, and keep things civil and respectful. Moreover: call out bad behavior when you see it. Thugs and bullies don’t go away when they get a pass: they’re encouraged to take things farther the next time. If you see campaigners violating norms or acting in an intimidating or menacing fashion, call them out and – if needed – call the Police. There’s no place for that in Belmont.

Finally, support Tim – even if you don’t plan on voting for him. He’s hosting a candidates event on Sunday, March 31 at his house. Show up and hear Tim’s idea. Give him the respect he deserves and has deserved since he filed papers at Town Hall. It can’t undo the damage done, but better late than never.

(*) Correction: an earlier version of this post claimed that it was a Chenery parent who contacted the PTO and Chenery Principal regarding Tim’s work with the PTO. In fact, the emails were sent anonymously. The story has been corrected. – Paul March 29 1019.