Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First City Council Candidates Forum Tuesday at WGBH

The first candidates forum will be held Tuesday night at 5:30 pm at the WGBH headquarters at 1 Guest Street, Brighton. It is sponsored by the Brighton Board of Trade, the Allston Board of Trade, Brighton Main Streets, and Allston Village Main Streets. A second candidates forum is scheduled for Thursday night at the Brighton Elks Lodge in Brighton Center, sponsored by the Brighton Allston Improvement Association.

Hosting the Tuesday forum is state Senator Steven Tolman. While Senator Tolman has moderated such non-partisan events often in the past, he is an odd choice to do so tonight because of his direct ties to incumbent City Councilor Mark Ciommo.

Not only has Senator Tolman donated to Ciommo's election campaign fund in both 2007 and 2008 ($100 each year), but he also endorsed Ciommo in the 2007 municipal election for city councilor. Earlier this year, Senator Tolman headlined the invitations for both the April 4th "Campaign Kick-Off Brunch" [right] and the June 18th "Summer Kick-Off" fundraisers for the Ciommo campaign.

"It's bogus to have an obviously biased pol moderating," emailed David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix about the situation. Bernstein, himself an occasional debate moderator who filled that role in a mayoral debate Monday night, added that a far more usual practice is to have the moderator duties performed by a journalist -- they're a dime a dozen, you know.

Senator Tolman responded that the format of this candidate forum was set by the sponsors (ABOT, BBOT, AVMS, BMS), which includes a series of 16 questions -- written and selected by the sponsors alone -- that Tolman will just read at the forum; as of Monday, he had not yet seen the questions. He said that he is acting only as a "conduit of communication" in the event, and that he has done this kind of moderating many times before -- both for partisan debates (such as those run by party ward committees as part of their endorsement process) and non-partisan debates like Tuesday night's candidates forum.

The president of the Allston Board of Trade, Bob Webber, said in an email message that the sponsors were unaware of Senator Tolman's endorsement of Ciommo when they asked him to moderate. The sponsors, Webber continued, were nonetheless "totally confident" in Tolman's objectivity in running the event.

Challenger Benjamin Narodick said that the "situation is less than optimal," but added that he had been full aware of Senator Tolman's connections to Ciommo prior to agreeing to attend the forum.

Challenger Abigail Furey, on the other hand, said that she was unaware of who the moderator would be prior to agreeing to the event. While noting her "respect" for Senator Tolman, she also expressed "disappointment" that incumbent Mark Ciommo did not recognize the presence of a conflict-of-interest and request that the sponsors select a different moderator.

"This is another example of our elected officials failing to understand the concept of a conflict-of-interest, a consistent pattern that compelled me to run for District 9 City Councilor and stand up for the residents and small businesses of Allston-Brighton."

Mark Ciommo and Alex Selvig did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

No comments: