To the Editor:
Just over a year ago, I published a letter to the editor in these pages (“Party Maneuverings in Lyme are Undemocratic, ‘Rob Voters of Choice’,” June 29, 2022) expressing my concern at an antidemocratic scheme unfolding in the town of Lyme. Today, I am writing to confirm its shameful continuation.
This backroom deal was concocted in 2015 by Democrat and DTC chair Steve Mattson and Republican Ralph Eno. At the time, Eno was First Selectman and Mattson was Third. Mattson directed the Lyme DTC to cross-endorse Eno, who accordingly ran unopposed. He was joined by Mattson and Republican Parker Lord as selectmen. Eno then retired in 2017, allowing Mattson to elevate himself to First Selectman just before the next election. He and Lord appointed Mark Wayland to Third Selectman, as had been agreed upon behind closed doors.
Mattson won the 2017 election over Wayland and was joined by Lord and the new DTC chair John Kiker as selectmen. In 2019, neither town committee ran competitive candidates, thereby guaranteeing two more years of Mattson, Kiker, and Lord. In 2021, the RTC returned the favor and cross-endorsed Mattson. RTC chair David Lahm replaced Lord to join Mattson and Kiker. And right on cue, Mattson stepped down in 2022—citing a desire to travel and to play golf—and thereby allowing Lahm to elevate himself to First Selectman. Lahm and Kiker then appointed Kristina White, executive director of the Lyme Land Trust, to Third Selectwoman, as had been agreed upon behind closed doors.
Last week, both town committees announced they would not run competitive candidates, yet again securing the election outcome for selectmen. The DTC also announced that Mattson would return for the Board of Finance, a committee he once told me was the single most important in the town as it controls the budget. (One assumes he played enough golf and enjoyed enough travel last year to be up to this task.)
To summarize, Lyme has seen only one contest for selectmen in five election cycles. Two men—Mattson and Lahm—became First Selectman by self-appointment rather than by viable voter engagement. Two others—Wayland and White—were appointed to town leadership without winning a single vote.
Conveniently ignoring the longevity of this con and his direct involvement with it, Kiker recently explained in The Day (August 3, 2023) that the DTC would not campaign against Lahm because they were happy with him. Lahm equally asserted that the RTC would not run candidates simply to run candidates. To translate those curiously defensive statements, both men are simply admitting that the town political committees are not interested in doing their duty. They are also clearly not interested in democracy, which requires people of good will but differing opinions to compete and offer choices to voters.
Indeed, their scheme is a blatant attempt to circumvent elections so that a limited number of people select the town leaders. They may have you believe that they have found a way to broker unity at a time of political division or that they lack volunteers to serve the town, but the truth is that all of them agree on the same goal, namely moving Lyme to becoming as close to a gated community as possible. Every decision they make is designed to reward the affluent and to keep out those who are less privileged than they.
Permit me to make three predictions for the record, which I hope will prove erroneous. First, neither town committee will nominate candidates to run a competitive race for selectmen for the foreseeable future. Second, in four to six years, Lahm will announce his retirement before the election; Kiker and White will appoint Kiker as First Selectmen, and the two will then appoint a preselected Republican to the board.
Third, in 2024 Lyme will conduct the municipal survey required for certain state funding, the results of which influence future town Plans of Conservation and Development. The selectmen will not spend a minute or a dime promoting that survey throughout Lyme but they will make certain it reaches those who support their plan. The survey will have less participation than the previous two: only 20% of the population in 2000 and a mere 12% in 2014. Nevertheless, the selectmen and the Board of Finance will cite that impoverished data to argue that the citizens of Lyme oppose affordable housing, raising the mill rate, and providing social services (especially for the young and less affluent) and favor open spaces and the continued purchase of land to limit housing opportunities. Just as with Lyme’s “elections,” this will be an egregious abuse of democracy with a predetermined outcome. It is also a perfect illustration of why organizations dedicated to redressing inequity are increasingly taking stands against such easily manipulated (and often racist and classist) data for PoCDs.
I would wish a plague o’ both their houses, but the Lyme DTC and RTC are one house—an incestuous, antidemocratic house of petty oligarchs determined to take choice away from citizens and to make the town a lovely place to be enjoyed by the few, the wealthy, and the white.
Stephen Olbrys Gencarella, Ph.D.