Commentary by Ed McKeon
I'm a lifelong registered Democrat, and I'm running for Board of Education on the official Democratic slate in November. I'm also one of the founders of the Middletown Eye.
This afternoon, the Middletown Eye published, verbatim, a press release from the Democratic Town Committee which identifieded individuals who have a known alliance with Republican mayor Sebastian Giuliano, but who signed a petition in support of Democrat primary challenger Christine Bourne. The press release also included complete facsimiles of the petition documents.
The gist of the press release is that these signatures are sure proof that Bourne is running a mayoral campaign only to divert Democratic votes from Dan Drew.
While Bourne continues to deny that claim, there is no doubt that a three candidate race could hurt Drew, though it could also divert votes from Giuliano as well.
The Democrats have every legal right to examine petitions to verify that all signatures are authentic. The documents are indeed public. Still, the public identification of a few of those names, and their inclusion in a press release creates a chilling effect on the right to petition, the right to sign a petition and the democratic process.
In a system where patronage and retribution are the stuff of local lore, this close examination of petitions is likely to dampen the enthusiasm of anyone seeking signatures, or anyone willing to sign.
Recently I have been collecting signatures on a separate referendum issue. Several people have refused to sign because they expressed fear of retribution. I tried to convince them that worrying about retribution was uneccessary. Apparently I was naive.
While Democrats have the legal right to examine these documents, to "take names" for political reasons, or reasons of potential retribution is simply, and inarguably, wrong. I also think it's a huge political mistake with potential to backfire.
I expessed this view to the Democratic Town before we published the press release.
For the democratic process to work at its best, every citizen should be able to vote, campaign and sign petitions without fear that their actions will be held against them. I call upon all my Democratic colleagues and Republican opponents to pledge not to use the names of petition signers for political retribution in any way.