Before being named 3rd Selectwoman, Democrat Candice Savin served as Board of Education chair. She writes:
In the wake of the Republican party’s nomination of Camilo Riano as a candidate for our Board of Education I am left shocked, disappointed and, as the former chair of the Board of Education, highly concerned about what this means for the future of our top ranked school district.
The Republican Town Committee’s nomination of Mr. Riano marks a departure from a longstanding tradition of responsibility and civility in Westport in more ways than one.
Already, one of the 3 sitting elected Republican BOE members, Robert Harrington, has objected to Mr. Riano’s long and highly public record of incivility and extremism.
Particularly objectionable and out of bounds is Mr. Riano’s irresponsible use of the terms “groomer” and “child sex grooming” in reference to Superintendent Scarice and other members of our world-class educational staff.
Will the Westport schools continue to attract top talent in an environment where members of the BOE falsely disparage professional educators? Will our well-liked and highly respected superintendent of schools stay in Westport under such conditions?
Here’s another question: Where are the voices of other Republican leaders in town?
Of course, the typical response to candidates one might find objectionable is to simply not vote for them. But elections in Westport are different.
Due to our town charter, both the Republican and Democratic Town Committees have outsized power in determining who will serve on our governing boards. The dharter requires a certain balance of party representation, regardless of how people vote. A Republican candidate, even one as objectionable as Mr. Riano, can lose the popular vote by a wide margin and still be seated on the BOE.
This is how things work in Westport. It is virtually impossible for the voters to truly reject candidates they find unacceptable.
This arrangement places a significant responsibility on the political parties when they nominate candidates. Historically, both parties have put forward candidates for the BOE who were committed to working constructively with the superintendent and fellow Board members.
I served on the Board of Education for 5 years. And although I sometimes disagreed with both my Republican and Democratic colleagues, my experience was that we treated each other and our educators with respect, and worked collaboratively to create the top school system in Connecticut.
As we all have learned by now, Mr. Riano is not cut from that mold. As Election Day approaches, we can only hope that the community speaks loudly and clearly with their votes to place more constructive candidates on our BOE.
Thus far, aside from Robert Harrington, the members of the RTC and local Republican leaders – the people who nominated Mr. Riano — have been silent as to why they think he is an appropriate candidate, and whether or not they support his many outlandish and divisive positions. We need to hear from more Republican leaders of good will.
No doubt there will be commenters to this article who will try to normalize Mr. Riano and engage in a whole lot of “what-about-ism.” Having witnessed many of Mr. Riano’s broadsides as I chaired the BOE, I know firsthand how outside of the norm his comments have been.
It is not character assassination to call out someone’s incendiary public remarks and accusations. Quite the contrary, it is exactly what decency requires.
The nomination of Mr. Riano marks a turning point for our community, a turn away from civility and towards extremism, enabled and encouraged by the Republican political machine in Westport.
Let’s work together, Democrats and Republicans and Independents of good will and good sense, to stop it.