This past week The Bristol Observer dropped my column. I had been given an ultimatum about a month ago by the publisher, not directly but through an employee, that if I wanted to continue the column, I would have to refrain from commenting on the mayor. At the same time, I was informed that the decision was made after a phone call from the mayor. I was aware that he had called at least one time earlier demanding that the column be dropped and threatening an advertising boycott. I do not know what transpired between the mayor and the publisher of the Observer during the last phone call, only that the publisher invoked the ultimatum.
As a result, I have chosen to publish the column here, as a way of inaugurating The Bristol Edition, a community news site focusing solely on Bristol, emphasizing “news of some consequence.” The entire site will unfold over time, as I had not intended to begin this enterprise in this manner.
Here is the column, with some edits marked in parentheses, as it would have appeared in this week’s Observer.
This very well may be my last column for the Observer. I have been informed that I can no longer address issues that involve the mayor.
I can’t see writing a column called “On My Mind,” when I can’t write what is on my mind.
Since the city and city hall are constantly on my mind, not being able to address them makes the column fluff rather than commentary.
How can a column named “On My Mind” not include what I am thinking?
From what I understand, this decision by the publisher came after several conversations with the mayor, who took it upon himself to complain because much of what I had to say raised questions about how he fulfills his duties as mayor.
Again, I question the reasons behind the mayor’s phone call, and yes, while I have great sympathy for the publisher, I cannot condone his caving into pressure by the mayor when the issue is the First Amendment (and our citizens’ right to know what is happening.)
However, when a person threatens your livelihood, or in this instance, your advertising revenue, then you have to make a decision.
This is a sad day for the local press, but then we have had many sad days regarding our local news venues recently.
I have tried to navigate the waters betwixt and between writing a column about the mayor, who is a member of one party, and the fact that my wife, a councilwoman, is a member of the other party.
I understand that some people might interpret my ramblings as propaganda. I have always disclosed my relationship to my wife, the Democratic Councilwoman from the third district. I have been open about my connection to the Democratic Party–I belong (to the Democratic Party).
As an experiment, I even joined the Democratic Town Committee to see how the committee operates. It gave me tremendous insight into the workings of our democratic system. (I am no longer a member of the DTC.)
But politics is my wife’s territory.
Overall, my intention has never been to choose one party over the other–I have been much more interested in power–a favorite journalistic mantra that I often invoke is the that the role of the press being one that “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”
And the one with the most power (and comfort) in our city government is the mayor: like it or not, we have a strong mayor system, so much of my attention has been on the mayor and how he uses his power.
This would be true for any mayor, of either party, at any time.
Leaders and leadership is key to the success of any community. (Keeping leaders accountable either makes them better, or forces them to fold under the pressure.)
How leaders use their power is instrumental in setting a tone. Again, leaders must be accountable. They cannot hide from this reality. And, apparently, while they can use their influence to derail criticism, they have to understand that, in the end, the criticism, once it finds its traction, will win out.
For instance, city hall is in disrepair–to the tune of $5 million. The building is a sick one, and it is making people who work there sick. A question has arisen about whether to move city hall employees out of the building while it is repaired or to leave them in that rotten environment while the repair is going on–to save the city money.
Money is not a leader.
The issue must be dealt with, but in this instance, with people’s health involved, letting money be the deciding factor is the opposite of making a decision. Hint: the right decision is to move people out. But say that and you are called negative.
There are plenty of other issues that involve city hall that do not make it to the pages of our local publications. This column was one where they did. I wonder what will happen now that it’s gone? (At least from the pages of the Observer.)
It has been a good run, over 10 years (and hundreds of columns without a week off). You have watched the family grow and prosper, you have had a front row seat during that time when they left the house and Mary and I have had to adjust, you have listened to my ramble about trees on Federal Hill and what makes good students even better.
Thank you for inviting me into your homes.
Thank you for your comments and kind words over the years.
Copyright (c)2016 David M. Fortier. All rights reserved.