AP NEWS

Bob Horton: GOP failure to investigate photos shouldn’t surprise

March 30, 2019

GREENWICH — Every two weeks or so, and on some special occasions, Sandy Litvack trudges to Town Hall to take his seat as the minority party member on the three-man Board of Selectmen. He is that person no one wants to be: the third wheel on a date.

Litvack, a Democrat, often disagrees with his Republican colleagues, First Selectman Peter Tesei and Selectman John Toner, and harbors no illusion that he has any significant impact on town affairs.

“It is a completely unnecessary job,” Litvack says of his role on the BOS. Litvack gave serious consideration to not accepting the seat in 2017, but decided it was his duty to represent his party and those who had voted for him.

Litvack, Tesei and Toner have peacefully co-existed since January 2018. But all that changed at last Thursday’s BOS meeting when Tesei and Toner scuttled Litvack’s request for an investigation into surreptitious videotaping and stalking in Town Hall during the 2017 municipal election campaign. The two Republicans remained silent as Litvack essentially pushed his colleagues to authorize further inquiry.

“I was shocked. And, I was angry, In fact, I’m still angry,” Litvack said during a phone conversation Friday morning. “Whether there was a civil violation or a crime committed, it was wrong. I still don’t understand why Peter and John did not want to get to the bottom of it. But they don’t.”

Litvack may have been shocked by the Republicans’ silence, and puzzled by their lack of curiosity, but I don’t think many others are surprised that both Tesei and Toner just want this surveillance issue to fade from the public conversation. There are many more details about this incident available on the Greenwich Time website, but it dates to the 2017 election season. The Democratic Town Committee had reserved space in Town Hall to run a phone bank in support of local Democratic candidates. One of the people taped and photographed without her knowledge that night was Joanna Swomley, Litvack’s wife, and a co-founder of Indivisible Greenwich.

However, the public did not learn of the videotape until January 2019, 15 months after the taping. That is when Edward Dadakis decided to share it with his followers on Twitter. Dadakis, a former Greenwich GOP town chairman and current member of the party’s state central committee, posted four photos with the headline “Here is Indivisible Greenwich using Town Hall.” Two of those photos were of the phone banks operated by the DTC, not Indivisible.

At first glance, January 2019 was a curious time to release photos from the 2017 election and to make a false claim about who was pictured. The 2017 election was a distant memory in this era of 24/7 political circuses.

But January 2019 was also the month Peter Tesei bent the rules of usage of Town Hall by outside groups, when he let local conservative firebrand Carl Higbie turn Town Hall into a sound stage for a taping of a show for America’s Voice Network, a commercial network that “enables Content Providers, Agencies and Advertisers” (capitalization is theirs) to reach a largely conservative audience.

Just as debate over the Higbie taping was reaching a peak, and other politicians were dropping their support of the event given Higbie’s record for racist, bigoted and homophobic comments, Dadakis dropped his Tweet with the implied claim that if Indivisible was allowed to use Town Hall, so should Carl Higbie. Twitter content is very much of the moment. That moment, I believe, was Dadakis’s effort to help out Tesei, his longtime political ally, and promote Higbie.

But the plan backfired. Criticism of Tesei’s support of Higbie’s appearance at Town Hall grew, and Dadakis had inadvertently revealed a secret videotaping or photographing of private activity at Town Hall, which some believe is a criminal offense.

Now, we have the town’s chief executive refusing to support an investigation into a dirty tricks scheme to spy on his political opponents.

One of the images posted appears to be of activity in the Mazza Room at Town Hall. Another appears to be of the Cone Room. The second floor Cone Room is one of the spaces in Town Hall equipped with video cameras to record and broadcast meetings for town boards and commissions. Those cameras are secured and can only be turned on and accessed by a few volunteers working with Greenwich Community Television, Channel 79.

The video equipment is controlled in a small room that shares a common door with the Cone Room. Access to that room is restricted by key card, and only a few people have those cards. This would not be a difficult case to solve.

Tesei did ask Town Attorney John Wayne Fox at the Thursday BOS meeting to take a “further look” into privacy issues and the use of recording equipment. While Fox takes, oh, let’s say, three years to complete his “further work,” Swomley, for one, has grown tired of waiting. She filed a complaint Friday about the surveillance with the Greenwich Police Department. The question now becomes, will Police Commissioner Tesei get behind an investigation that as First Selectman he dismissed?

Bob Horton can be reached at bobhorton@yahoo.com.