TOMORROW, THE INSIDE DIRTY DEALING ON CONTRACTGATE, BUT FOR TODAY, THE PLANET DISSECTS A BIZARRE, MEMORABLE, AND ANTICLIMACTIC SET OF ACTIONS AND NON-ACTION ON THE COUNCIL’S DELIBERATION OF NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN CITY SOLICITOR DEGNAN … NOBODY WON AND NOT ONLY THAT, EVERYBODY LOST
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, OCT. 11, 2012) — No. No, no, no, no, no.
Did you get that? No.
THE PLANET has NOTHING — n-o-t-h-i-n-g — to do with “helping Paul Ryan‘s prep team” for tonight’s debate against the vice president. We’ve been patient with a lot of ridiculous rumors of this sort, but having had to deal with the above several times today, wethinks the trolls are out there working overtime, for some reason. We say good, for as they expend — nay, waste — time and energy on us, they can’t be doing further harm to We The People.
It’s amazing how blindly political, in the worst sense, the fundamentalist supporters on both sides of the presidential race can be. This being Massachusetts, of course, it means being surrounded by Obama-ites and, trickling down from there, lockstep loyalty to the Party above all, even when it violates common sense. In THEIR minds, of course, saying that someone is working for Romney or Ryan is considered the ultimate put-down. Anywhere else, than can be seen as a compliment.
In the end, no one will ever know who we worked for, if anybody or nobody, in this campaign, and who we didn’t work for, because we never discuss our client list. THE PLANET still toils in the Dreaded Private Sector, which means we rely on our own initiative for put food on the table and fuel in the furnace. That affords us luxurious layers of secrecy not available for those who choose to be fed from the public trough.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.
NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN CITY SOLICITOR SOLICITED NOTHING, IN THE END, BUT SHAKING AN ALREDY SHKY CONFIDENCE IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Speaking of our two favorite people, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, they got a good hosing down last night during No-confidence-gate and Contractgate.
Simply out, nobody “won.” Everybody lost.
Kathy Degnan lost by having her professional competence challenged, with the issue not resolved. Mayor Dan Bianchi lost by blowing his cool at the end. Chris Yon lost by caving in at the end and pulling back the petition when it was far too late for that to do anything but antagonize everyone in the room, on both sides. Kevin Sherman lost by going out on a limb, supporting Yon, only to have her saw the limb off at the nub, resulting in a painful (though not fatal) crash. Proponents (Kroll, Clairmont, Lothrop et. al) and opponents (Mazzeo, Morandi, Connell et. al.) lost by not getting a chance to vote, up or down, on the measure. Those who said nothing at the meeting (Cotton, Capitanio, Simonelli) lost by having turned in a blank sheet on a night when leadership was required. It’s hard to imagine any move being as badly played, on both sides. You would have to make this stuff up anywhere else, but, remember, “This is Pittsfield.”
No-confidence-gate: Where Do We Begin?
Since we commented yesterday at more length on Contractgate, let’s talk about the bizarre unfolding of events Tuesday night during the council’s deliberations on the motion by Kevin Sherman and Chris Yon of the city council seeking a no-confidence vote against city solicitor Kathy Degnan. THE PLANET shall reserve out choicest remarks for that outrageous travesty of justice — Contractgate — tomorrow.
Now, on to No-Confidence-Gate (every scandal is a “gate,” right? Thank you, Richard Nixon).
Where do we begin?
The night got off to a bad start. Sherman told the crowd, which as wound tighter than Ringo Starr’s snare drum head on the night of Feb. 9, 1964, that this was a city council meeting. It wasn’t a court room, a radio talk show, or a blog (we appreciated the nod; THE PLANET came up in several references throughout the evening). Despite the fact that it wasn’t a court room, several personages were put on trial. You shall see how (but not why — that is a questions for the hearts and souls of others).
It’s clear that Mayor Bianchi’s team worked the phones and beer halls, the Friends list and socials, and called on those who owed them one to not just attend the meeting but also to make remarks at the open mic portion of the meeting. In stacking the room with supporters, Bianchi tilted the playing field just enough to make level-headed discourse — always difficult even under optimum conditions — all the more of a challenge.
More than 20 people spoke at the open mic, only one (from memory, Debbie Dwyer) remotely in favor of Yon’s action. A handful spoke on unrelated matters (Dave Hover and Lee Everett). The remainder spoke against the Sherman-Yon Act, some in visceral and even threatening terms. After each person dissed Sherman-Yon, you could count on a burst of raucous applause when the speaker finished. It’s almost as if one of the mayor’s flunkies had the applause sign lit up on cue.
Sherman made attempts to silence the outbursts, but to no avail. This was due to (a) the recalcitrance of the crowd, which at times resembled a nascent mob and (b) Sherman’s lack of forcefulness. He should have more heavily gaveled such outbursts, and when they didn’t stop, offered to provide free police escorts out of chambers to anyone who couldn’t behave in an adult manner.
The worst of the open mic speakers was Don Davis, who issued a veiled physical threat to opposing councilors. Sadly, his ignorant remarks were greeted with the loudest cheers. Davis’ remarks inflamed the crowd, got the meeting off to a bad start, and had no proper place among people of good will trying to work through a problem. Bianchi can’t control what a hot-headed citizen might say at open mic, but Davis did the mayor no good in issuing his threat.
THE PLANET says this as an advocate of the most rough-and-tumble politics, but they must be done with a certain amount of aplomb. The best example we can provide is the British Parliament. That chamber is not for the feint of heart, but they bludgeon with wit, razor sharp rhetoric, satire, and humor.
A ‘Never Mind’ for the Ages
The meeting got under way. Before we get inside the guts of the debate, we must fast forward to the denouement, which occurred when, out of the blue, after a couple hours of emotional deliberation, Yon — incredibly — pulled her petition off the table. The denouement is that point in a story where the plot has its ultimate revelation.
It was the most egregious “never mind” we can recall in 37 years of covering politics in three states. Yon’s action provided a moment consisting of equal parts dumbfoundedness, implausibility, dissatisfaction, and unrelieved alleviation (if we can be oxymoronic about it). Her action caught everyone, on both sides, off guard.
The Eagle launches off the perch of the cliff, goes into the dive for the kill, and at the last second changes his mind. The detective comes into the room with the murder suspects, reveals that one of them is the killer, and right before he names the guilty party, he says, “You know, I’m not going to tell you.” The condemned is led to the chair, strapped in, but there’s a power outage and the juice won’t flow.
Anticlimax: a deterioration of a situation that presents an unsatisfactory conclusion to a previously built up ascent or rise. A letdown. A bummer.
Think about it.
A Series of Steps that Led to the Worst Action
1.) Yon originally, in frustration and rightly or wrongly having felt she was being scapegoated for Spectrum by Mayor Bianchi and attorney Degnan, drafted the no-confidence petition.
2.) She went to council president Kevin Sherman, a get-along to go-along type, a born peace-maker who as his default position follows the road of accommodation and statesmanship, for backing. She did not want to introduce this glowing, sulphur-hot petition alone. Sherman, being a stand-up guy and, frankly, sharing many of the concerns mentioned by Yon, took a big risk in backing her, lending his name to the call for no-confidence. Sherman went out on a precarious limb, no doubt.
3.) Sherman immediately places the resolution on the council agenda.
4.) The matter receives more than two hours of emotional, loud, indignant debate, conducted in a spirit of vexation.
5.) The council chambers and everyone in it — our Right Honorable Good Friends on the dais, the mayor and his backers, spectators, the press, all watching in via PCTV — have been whisked up into a state of lathered expectancy, waiting at last for the resolution: a vote that will, one way of the other and for good or not put the matter behind everyone.
6.) And then …
6.) And then …
6.) And then …
7.) Nothing. Yon says “never mind,” which was the worst thing she could have done.
You Can’t Pull Back from a Point of No Return
She deprived her backers and opponents to express themselves in the only way that actually tallies, that is, in a vote. Her backers were upset and her opponents equally angry, viewing the move as a pre-planned stunt — Yon having her cake and eating it too.
THE PLANET must be clear: We don’t subscribe to that version. Based on our post-meeting interviews, we can say with confidence that Yon pulled the motion from the table in and at the moment. She intended it to be seen as a peace offering and as the easiest way to disperse the big, black clouds that had gathered over city hall. Instead, it produced the opposite. The Black clouds are still there, only they weren’t allowed to spill their rain on Tuesday night. The rain will continue to build up, and mark THE PLANET’s words, will spill out in a deluge sometime between now and the November 2013 municipal elections. It’s going to be an interesting year.
For his efforts, Sherman was left holding the bag when Yon pulled her petition off the table, literally at the last hour. If he had known the petition would be pulled, would he have lent his name to it? Would he have even allowed it to go on the agenda.
Pulling the Rug Out from Under Everyone
As part of our interview with councilor Yon about a week before Tuesday’s meeting, when she informed us of her move, we though it our duty to question her resolve. Without getting into details, we asked her, basically, “Do you realize how serious this step is? Sure, it doesn’t have legal consequences, but this takes whatever animus there is now and raises it to an entirely new level. Once you introduce this, it can’t be taken back. It’s a point-of-no-return position. You sure that’s what this has come to?” She said yes, understood the ramifications, and subsequently, in his expression of frustration that he couldn’t resolve the matter in meetings with the mayor, so did Sherman.
Moving the petition off the table when she did had the effect of pulling the rug out from under everyone standing on it, which was the entire room.
THE PLANET spoke to Yon twice, first last night at the break after two and a half hours of Spectrum and today. We can relay this much:
a. Her motion was done at the last minute, impromptu, and totally in the moment — not the best time or circumstance for an action in a deliberative body.
b. No one had advanced notice of this, including Sherman.
c. She now regrets her action, partially, and partially doesn’t, which is to say, she still finds herself conflicted over the move. Yon was conflicted in submitting the petition in the first place and was as equally divided pulling it back. When one introduces a petition with the political consequences of a no-confidence vote in the administration (and make no mistake, the ultimate target was the Bianchi Administration, not just the admin’s city solicitor), one has to be in a mindset of “Damn the torpedoes.” It’s “over the top” time. Total commitment.
d. When she made a motion to speak again, denied by president Sherman, it was NOT to put the petition back on the table.
Another Lost Opportunity
There’s only one scenario that could have saved Yon’s anti-climactic action: if Bianchi had responded with acceptance. The move to rescind could have been a good thing, had Mayor Bianchi acted upon two of his three options. After Yon made the grand gesture to fall on her sword, thereby extending a big olive branch to the administration, Bianchi had three options:
a.) Do nothing
b.) Speak and use this as a healing moment.
c.) Speak and stir up the coals.
Either a.) or b.) would have worked out. In a.) the Yon’s gesture of reconciliation, if that’s what it was, would have been taken as a kind of ink-blot test by all those involved in the contentious debate. Both sides could have said, “we won,” fooled themselves into thinking it was true, and probably slept pretty good at night. In b.) he could have made a speech along these lines:
BIANCHI: I appreciate the councilwoman’s gesture. No one wanted to be here tonight having this debate, and it was painful for both sides. Mistakes were made on both sides. I acknowledge that and certainly can say I made a few, but I believe that because of this, we can all grow and learn. I have no doubt we all acted in what we thought was good faith, but in light of Councilor Yon’s withdrawing of this petition, let me put forth to this council that we, together, use this moment as the tipping point, one that gets us on the right track again, to collaboration and action for the good of the citizens of Pittsfield.
… or some such.
But no. In a rarity, Bianchi let his emotions get the run of him. He chose c.), went to the microphone, and tore Yon and her allies a new one, basically over what he called the mischaracterization of Yon and Sherman when they said they tried on multiple occasions to settle the matter in discussion and diplomacy. Sad to say, but Bianchi lost his cool. In one three- or four-minute diatribe, he threw Yon’s olive branch back in her face, assuring that the divisiveness felt so acutely in the chambers up to that point would linger, go on living, and probably breed like rabbits.
The moment Bianchi threw back Yon’s gesture, he gave birth to a Monster that will eventually come back into the village to wreak havoc. On whom? That remains to be seen. It was, without question, the lowest moment of Bianchi’s tenure. In sinking to that level, he threw away a golden opportunity for healing.
We understand where Bianchi was coming from, having had to sit through a long, unpleasant meeting in which he was, essentially, on trial. Things got hot. He’s human. He felt the need to protect one of his own, the same way Sherman felt he had to fly cover for Yon. We understand that, but in such moments, the great ones rise above their emotions and do the right thing.
No Winners, Only Losers
Bianchi’s attack on Yon served only to whip up his troops to a frenzy. Not long after the mayor spoke his words to Yon and Sherman, Bianchi loyalists noisily got up during Barry Clairmont‘s second turn on the floor, disrupting Clairmont and leaving Sherman exasperated and having to gavel with a beat that failed to be heard, as loud as it was. Clairmon’t 15-minute recitation of Massachusetts law involving attorney-client privileges, and how in his view, Degnan violated them, occurred for one reason only: He and the others didn’t get a chance to vote. Was it unnecessary? Sure. Again, though, all is context, and, placed within the events of a most unthinkable meeting, understandable.
All in all, the scene played out as a bottom, of sorts, on a night where it looked like things couldn’t sink any lower. Instead of rising above their emotions, Bianchi’s troops lowered themselves to the least common denominators on the other side of this ugly “debate.” No one “won.” Everyone lost.
How utterly “Pittsfield.”
AND ON SUCH STRANGE EVENTS WE, LIKE MIDAS, SIT AS LORD CHANCELLOR OF PLAYS. ON POLICIANS’ TOMBS WE SEE LARGE LETTERS WRIT: “LO! THEIR ACTIONS ARE BAD. WE MUCH PREFERRED WIT.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.