Whether you and I agree on everything, or even anything, one thing I’m sure we both believe in is that uncontested elections do our communities a disservice. Good governance and democracy, both need oversight, alternative points of view, diversity of experience, and occasionally a bright spotlight, to avoid both tunnel vision and corruption. Accordingly, I have supported Dan Carr’s candidacy as the lone challenger for the three School Board positions in the troubled Cedarburg School District that would otherwise be uncontested. I support Dan Carr, in spite of the fact that he and I apparently have different points of view on many issues.
I went to the well-attended Candidate’s Forum presented by volunteers from the Ozaukee League of Women Voters. Thank you, League volunteers and officers. Thank you for your years of service to the cause of good government.
I wholeheartedly agree that Dan Carr did very well, in the well executed LWV format, designed to be “fair and balanced” in normal circumstances, but which was, under the stacked circumstances of a slate of the Three Musketeer incumbents attacking the single “Lone Ranger” challenger, inherently difficult for the challenger, laboring under a three-to-one time disadvantage, and suffering his statements to be both preceded and followed by attackers. This was no fault of the League or its format. It was just a very uneven contest.
The choice the incumbents made to present a unified front does a disservice to, and disrespects, the community only slightly less than would an uncontested election. (If there were not a single challenger, there would have been NO public discussion and debate whatsoever of the problems of the past, and the problems facing us in the future.) Instead of examining and critiquing, before the electorate, the policies of the past, present, and future, the incumbents decided to take a purely defensive posture, and to attack their critics, as well as the lone candidate with the guts to challenge them.
If it wasn’t for Dan Carr’s courageous candidacy, the community wouldn’t have seen the performances last night. And the incumbents all would have been quietly ushered back in, without a breath of fresh air or a moment of community reflection.
Buehler’s dismissive “Well, I know all seven wives” remark (in response to a question that asked how a school board comprised exclusively of male businessmen will ensure that the community as a whole will be represented) was classic sexist. He even used the Candidates Forum itself to spread rumor and innuendo at several junctures. Buehler self-righteously proclaimed “I’m as open as anyone can be”, immediately after declaring that he REFUSED TO READ an article criticizing the Cedarburg school district simply because he disdained the title placed on the article by the editor of the publication. What an example to set for students. He didn’t have to read it. He assumed it was critical of the School District, and therefore not worthy of his attention.
Cedarburg School Board incumbent number 1.
McComis took full (unconscious?) advantage of his position in the order of speaking (which immediately followed the lone challenger) to act like a disgusting playground bully who reached far to take gratuitous low-blow swipes at the one challenger standing up against his gang. Cedarburg School Board incumbent number 2.
Pendergast has, in the last few days, shown a side I had not seen before. And his conduct and dirty politics has been the most reprehensible of the Three Musketeers. One thing the audience DIDN”T see, was that beforehand, he sought to intimidate, isolate, and dissuade an octogenarian widow and member of the local League of Women Voters from her long standing volunteer participation in the community service work of organizing these candidate and issues forums. He did this because, somehow, he acquired information that she had months earlier allegedly contributed a small amount of money to the challenger’s campaign. (How did the School Board President come by this “intelligence”?) His allegation of her “public support” was wrong. His interpretation of League of Women Voters self-imposed rules was wrong. His public upbraiding of her was wrong. He is not even a member of the League. And he certainly did not object when the previous candidates forum, held in the high school, was presented and organized by a group, many members of which are clearly and publicly partisan supporters of his gang of three. Cedarburg School Board incumbent number 3. (The Ozaukee League was admirably restrained in its response, and never wavered in standing quietly by its member of long standing.)
Buehler repeatedly grimaced and shook his head “No”, for effect while the lone challenger was speaking.
Meanwhile, McComis leaned back, folded his arms sternly over his belly, and glared at the back of the challenger’s head.
Pendergast, nearing the end of the Q and A session, and during his concluding remarks, lost his cool, and was actually physically shaking nervously, visible to the audience. I’ll bet he had to take a shower when he got home. If he didn’t, I’d hate to be in the seat next to him during his (allegedly postponed) international flight the next morning.
The lone challenger, under obvious, unrelenting, gratuitous attack from all three incumbents, looked, by contrast, fit and completely professional. From start to finish, and throughout, he appeared to be, at once, completely relaxed and fully involved and intent. He was neither flustered nor distracted by continued attacks (often absurdly unfair) from all sides. He addressed all comments and attention to the community members listening in the audience. The one moment when he interjected a very brief factual correction to an appallingly inappropriate and personal false charge made by McComis, Carr’s point was well-delivered, and actually appreciated by the audience. Carr was entirely professional in demeanor, and quickly and effectively disposed of that hastily tossed, despicable, false, and rudely invasive rumor.
To the question, “How can we get over the differences between the teachers and the Board?”, Buehler opened cryptically and unhelpfully with, “I’ve got a simple answer … but I won’t say it.” He then brought out the old chestnut, “Labor unions have outlived their usefulness.” And finally, “I don’t distrust or disrespect anyone.”
McComis concluded his response to that question with the scurrilous, inappropriate, personally intrusive, and apparently even false “charge” that challenger Carr had supposedly been visited in his own home by a person from the Wisconsin Education Association. I found that to be a remarkable charge. Not whether such a personal visit had occurred. But remarkable that such a charge would even be made, and that an alleged visit would be twisted into an accusation of some kind of inappropriate behavior. Just who decides, in a “Town Without a Pity”, who is and is not an acceptable visitor in your own home? Who decides who you are and are not supposed to be seen talking with? Where and how did McComis acquire his “intelligence”? Has the School Board been keeping some kind of watch on challenger Carr’s home, or compiling rumors from informants? That was a remarkable charge. (By the way, Carr immediately and in unmistakable terms, denied the “accusation”, and left it at that.)
Some of the most telling replies came in response to the question, “What will you do to lead so that trust and respect can be renewed?”
McComis said he will continue doing what he’s been doing. “I’ll say the truth, even if you don’t like what I’m saying.”
Pendergast said he’d continue to wear a suit to Board meetings, and declared that “we’re open to everybody”.
Buehler asked for the question to be repeated, sighed heavily, and declared that he does School Board “as a hobby”.
Cedarburg School Board incumbents, numbers 1, 2, and 3.
Carr said he’ll work to reduce confrontation, and introduce conflict resolution methods.
The lone challenger.
The one disappointing moment came in the responses to the question about how the Board, comprised as it is, entirely of male business professionals, can represent the entire community and its diverse educational needs. Buehler opened with his infamous sexist chuckle (“Well, I know all seven wives”) and followed with his assurance that there were two women who applied for a vacancy on the Board, and allowed as how he’d like to see them apply again. (Now do you feel welcome, ladies?)
I hoped that the challenger would point out that the Board had not sought and selected a person to fill the remaining open term with a person who somewhat represented the outlook and philosophy of the Board member who had to resign for personal reasons. A choice like that would have respected the many members of the community who had elected that resigned board member.
I hoped that the challenger would stress that the incumbent Board had decided NOT to select either of the two well-qualified women who had applied for the vacancy. I wanted the challenger to say that he had publicly encouraged the community and the Board to appoint one of those women (which he had done). I wanted to hear someone say that, instead of the two well-qualified women, the incumbent Board had decided to appoint another male dittohead businessman with neither professional education credentials nor experience to the vacancy.
It was remarkable to hear the incumbents themselves actually brag that no one on the current School Board has any professional experience in the field of education. Would these businessmen staff the responsible policy making positions in a business they actually wanted to succeed with nothing but people with no experience in that field?
An excellent question was asked inquiring why litigation costs were so high in this particular district, and what makes those costs in the Cedarburg School District so much higher than all neighboring school districts and the statewide average.
Candidates were then asked to address their concluding remarks to the reasons they were running for office and what they hoped to accomplish.
Lone challenger Carr started by appealing that we heal our wounds. He proposed taking the Board and the District in “a new direction”, stop the confrontations, and “educate not litigate”.
McComis concluded by saying we’re better off today than we were before, but the job is not done. He stressed again that all three incumbents must be returned to the Board, and that Carr (a teacher and counselor) is affiliated with and represents the teachers union, and the Board needs to implement good business practices versus lack of union cooperation.
Board President Pendergast devoted his conclusion entirely to an ad hominem attack on Dan Carr, mocking him with the repeated sarcastic use of the phrase, “as he so proudly proclaims …” He wrapped up the LWV Forum by falsely and repeatedly implying an association between Carr and the dismissed science teacher who was allegedly caught looking at smutty pictures. (It is so hard to imagine any of the three incumbents ever leering at smutty pictures, after seeing their performance at the League of Women Voters Forum Wednesday. Don’t you find it so? We’ll have to ask each of them the next time we see them.)
Buehler wrapped it all up for the incumbents. He cited long contact with the school district. He complimented the parents for having such gracious, polite children, who have always been nice and respected him. And he made it unanimous in the incumbents concluding remarks by aiming a gratuitous slap at challenger Carr, who he associated with all the problems of the district.
I’m glad I was there. I learned by listening. May the best man win.
By the way, the math is clear. Under the circumstances of a slate of incumbents all supporting each other, and opposing a lone challenger, you can be sure that any voter choosing to support the slate will vote for all three, and not for Dan. Unfortunately, all persons who want Dan Carr on the Board, and vote for him, but cast a vote or two for ANY of the incumbents, will, despite their intentions, make it more difficult for Dan to secure any one of the contested seats.
Every single vote counts Tuesday.
I recommend you make your vote a single vote for challenger Dan Carr, the Lone Ranger.
Alternatively, you can cast three votes for the incumbent Three Musketeers.