Cosplaying Democracy in Lyme

Credit: Robin Breeding


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To the Editor:

On October 4, 2023, I sent the following email to the Lyme Select Board (Republican David Lahm and Democrats John Kiker and Kristina White) and to town’s DTC and RTC:

“Attached please find my most recent letter to the editor in CT Examiner, which addresses your failures to respond to my previous one: ‘Cowardice of the Anti-Democratic Movement Embarrasses Lyme’

I look forward to your response in that newspaper. To state what must be obvious to you, ignoring this basic request for accountability will not make it go away. It would, however, provide yet more evidence that the Select Board and town political committees refuse to uphold their civic responsibility on account of support for anti-democratic practices.”

Their pattern of cowardice is now abundantly clear. This is the third time the Democratic Select Board members and DTC and the second time the Republican Selectman and RTC have opted to hide rather than respond. If what I claim is wrong, why not push back against it?

Let me briefly review why we are here. Since 2015, there has been only one election for the Lyme Select Board. On four other occasions, including the upcoming election, its members have chosen their successors instead of competed in honest elections, thereby robbing voters of choice. The DTC and RTC have assisted this anti-democratic practice by cross-endorsing or by not running candidates. Twice since 2017, the First Selectman has stepped down, allowing the remaining members to elevate one of themselves as town leader and to appoint a third, wholly unelected person to the Select Board, again circumventing the will of citizens. Worse still, in order to secure their predetermined outcome in the impending election, the DTC and RTC agreed to let Kristina White run as a petitioning candidate without a Republican challenger.

This egregious violation of democratic norms is rapidly spreading, including onto Finance and Planning and Zoning. This year, there will be no municipal elections in Lyme, merely preselected members for each board. The sole contested election is for a seat on the Region 18 Board of Education. Readers do not have to believe me; The Day confirms this information in an article dated August 3, 2023, as does the sample ballot posted at the Town of Lyme website. (Technically, Kiker and White appear to be in competition on the ballot, but both are guaranteed to be elected.)

I have written several letters in opposition to this willful deterioration of democracy and routinely asked the Select Board and political committees to respond in public. They have offered only spineless silence, electing instead to cower behind apologists who regard such anti-democratic activity as a desirable outcome for Lyme.

Nevertheless, and perhaps in a deliberate attempt to embarrass Lyme further, the town DTC is acting as if there were competitive elections next month. Instead of answering to a serious and legitimate criticism, they have sent out campaign materials asking citizens to vote for DTC members—including to five boards for which there are no actual contests in November. They regularly update their website with candidate bios as if they had competitors. The DTC even opened a headquarters. This bizarre behavior is not only an utter waste of donor money—as a progressive, I am appalled at such misuse of funds that could go to worthy causes—but it begs the question: Who is this ridiculous performance for?

If this charade is for voters in Lyme—even just low-information voters—then I guess we could applaud the DTC for a record-breaking level of malicious cynicism towards fellow citizens. Do they really think the people in Lyme are suckers enough to vote for something that is entirely fixed and effectively rigged? No matter how much they try to suggest otherwise for appearances, there are no competitive elections for the municipal boards in Lyme this year; the memberships are already decided. And that is precisely the problem in town, caused by the absolute failure of the DTC and RTC to do their duty and recruit candidates to compete in honest elections.

If this odd performance is for themselves, I suppose it is cheaper than therapy—but not as ethically sound as taking a long, serious look at what they are doing and how their actions weaken democracy and ultimately discourage honorable people from volunteering in town. Indeed, if the DTC put the same amount of time and energy into finding candidates that it does into feigning elections, we might have real contests in Lyme one of these days.

Instead, under the leadership of Steve Mattson and John Kiker—the DTC chairs who cooked up and continue the scheme to prearrange election outcomes, respectively—we have a group of cosplayers seeking the limelight. For the uninitiated, cosplaying is a rising social phenomenon in which people don costumes and roleplay characters in public. It is usually reserved for anime, the MCU, and other popular culture franchises, but it is precisely what is happening here among the Lyme DTC. They are donning the costumes of candidates in democratic elections and play acting, presumably for the attention and for some weird credit. They certainly do seem to enjoy posting images of themselves on Facebook pretending to be activists rather than answer calls for accountability.

Even more alarming, in order to promote themselves, the DTC continues to peddle falsehoods in their campaign literature by suggesting that Republicans in Lyme intend to ban books. (And yet without any shame or sense of irony, the DTC censors and erases from its Facebook page all comments from Republicans.) Anyone interested in truthfulness, regardless of political persuasion, should take note of this dishonest tactic. But Republicans should especially take note, as David Lahm—the First Selectman and RTC chair—is on the record praising the two Democrats on the Select Board (including DTC chair John Kiker) as his “team” and thinks he could not “do better.”

The feckless Mr. Lahm is clearly inept at political judgment, so someone may want to explain to him that John Kiker, Kristina White, and the DTC just stabbed him in the back the second it was to their advantage to do so. Maybe in the wake of this duplicity, Republicans in Lyme will recognize it is better to compete with ideas in genuine elections, offer clear choices to voters, serve as loyal opposition to hold other parties accountable, and reach actual bipartisan solutions for pressing issues (such as affordable housing) rather than participate in a scheme establishing a club of the privileged few, who can always kick someone out when it is convenient to do so.

In other words, while the Lyme DTC is off cosplaying characters, snapping selfies, and chasing adulation, perhaps serious people in town will recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy democracy, and demand the restoration of viable and honest elections.

Stephen Gencarella