Newton elections bring a diverse array of candidates
by Scott A. Giordano
Consider this: a publisher of an adult alternative magazine running for the School Committee in your city and allegedly receiving the support of a conservative group that is against “alternative lifestyles.”
Or this: A man who failed to win a state representative seat last fall now running for the School Committee, a man who sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and played an imaginary violin during public hearings to discount the remarks of a prominent lesbian activist while she was speaking in favor of your city’s proposed domestic-partnership (DP) ordinance.
As you walk down your street or visit a local business, you find fliers scattered on the ground or see them posted on telephone poles, in which a religious-Right group is seeking candidates for that same School Committee.
All this after you have tuned into your local cable television show and heard the leader of that group calling for candidates to run for the School Committee, or perhaps after you finished reading literature mailed to you from an outside resident that claims Gay/Straight Student Alliances (GSAs) are breeding grounds for pedophiles.
Now consider this: the cable TV talk-show host who interviewed the leader of the group behind the search for School Committee candidates is running for the same city’s 24-member Board of Aldermen, the same board which heard the discussions on the proposed DP measure. And that right-wing group is the same one that aggressively opposed the DP measure when it was discussed by the Board of Aldermen.
For gay people living in Newton, those aren’t just considerations. They are facts in one of the city’s most unusual election cycles in recent years, and gay activists fear it’s not coincidental that so many of the candidates are aligned with the anti-gay group at the center of it all: Stand Up Newton (SUN,) led by religious-Right activist and Newton resident Brian Camenker.
Some activists think the Right may be actively seeking to win races at the School Committee and Aldermanic levels in order to politically organize for the 2000 presidential election and to gear up for higher offices in the future.
But now consider this: at least two of the candidates receiving SUN’s support have come out in favor of GSAs meeting on campus and receiving state funds, and also are in favor of AIDS/HIV issues being taught and condoms being distributed in public schools.
In short, it’s an election season in which anything seems to go, and the first one in eight years with each of the city’s School Committee seats being contested. Newton resident and longtime lesbian activist Holly Gunner said, at least, one thing is clear: social conservatives should question SUN’s leadership in regards to the campaigns.
“I would think that social conservatives would really question Brian Camenker’s leadership ability. He got a bunch of people to work hard putting fliers all over town to get candidates for the School Committee and produced one who publishes a pornography magazine,” said Gunner, who previously told Bay Windows she believes the Right were organizing locally in order to prepare for more ambitious plans in the future.
Camenker didn’t respond to repeated phone calls from Bay Windows, but he told the Newton Tab he would rather support anyone than the incumbents now on the School Committee. He previously told Bay Windows it was someone else in his group who had posted SUN’s fliers, and that he wasn’t involved in any local campaigns. However, all the candidates who spoke with Bay Windows say they have had personal conversations with Camenker about their candidacies and that it was SUN, under Camenker’s leadership, that collected enough signatures to place them on the ballot.
All of this has left many Newton residents with more questions than answers, in which nothing appears to be black and white.
Connecting the dots?
Activists first became suspicious of religious-Right activity last fall, when Camenker appeared on the Newton cable TV show “Newton Talk” and asked for people to run for the School Committee. Months later, Newton residents and public schools received a four-page essay by mail that links homosexuality with pedophilia and claims GSAs are breeding grounds for pedophiles, written by anti-gay Sherborn resident J. Edward Pawlick.
Because direct-mail is known to be one of the best organizing vehicles for both left-wing and right-wing groups, gay activists feared Pawlick may have sent the literature in order to generate discussion and sense who shares similar views and may run for public office. The activists’ fears were compounded when Camenker attended a public meeting sponsored by the Newton Human Rights Commission that condemned Pawlick’s literature as being anti-gay and divisive, and Camenker was one of those who spoke against GSAs, expressing similar views to those in Pawlick’s literature.
Not long after that public meeting, SUN’s flier titled, “A Call for Candidates to serve on the Newton School Committee,” began appearing throughout the city. In a matter of months, gay activists learned at least two non-incumbents believed to be anti-gay are running for public office: Richard Freedman, the man who failed to win a state representative seat and was the ardent opponent of DP legislation, is seeking a Ward 4 seat on the School Committee; and Jackie Morrisey, the host of “Newton Talk” who had interviewed Camenker and several other religious-Right activists on his program, was seeking a Ward 2 at-large seat on the Board of Aldermen.
Newcomer makes waves
But, perhaps, most surprising to all involved with Newton politics was the announcement that 48-year-old Brenda Loew is running for the School Committee. An Upper Falls resident, mother of two adult children and a former teacher of special-needs students, Loew also is a newcomer to politics who decided to run for the School Committee’s Ward 5 seat after responding to SUN’s flier.
In an unusual move, Loew allegedly is receiving the support of SUN although her gay-supportive views clash with those by many SUN members — including Camenker. The most notable paradox is that SUN is against GSAs and sex education, while Loew is a proponent of both — and she is the publisher of a quarterly adult magazine called “EIDOS — Everyone Is Doing Outrageous Sex.”
Loew describes her publication for one for “consenting adults of all eroto-sexual orientations, preferences and lifestyles.” The magazine’s cover refers to it as one about “sexual freedom & erotic entertainment for consenting adults.”
“I happened to see a [SUN] flier posted on a telephone pole by the post office and I felt it was something I wanted to do,” Loew told Bay Windows, regarding her decision to run for the School Committee.
Ironically, Loew responded to SUN’s flier not knowing the group was led by Brian Camenker. Upon being referred to Camenker, Loew has had several ongoing in-depth conversations with him — during which she said the subject of GSAs and gay and lesbian curricula have not been mentioned.
“Gay issues never came up. [Camenker] presented himself in a very even manner. There was no edge in his voice and no [set] agenda,” said Loew, who calls it “humorous” that she is now receiving the support from SUN, a conservative group that stands against most of what she believes in. Saying she would not turn away anyone’s support, Loew added she won’t reverse her positions in light of that support.
“I would not compromise my values no matter who claims they want to help me,” she said. “[Having someone’s support] doesn’t mean I will cave in and give up my positions. ... Holy Moly, no way, will I ever give up my principles. But you have to strike a balance in the real world to work cooperatively with people rather than being confrontational and combative. It paralyzes the work you are doing when you get confrontational.”
Loew said Camenker was surprised to hear of her publication when she mentioned it to him, but — despite their differences — SUN is supporting her candidacy. That could not be confirmed by Camenker at Bay Windows press time.
About her publication, Loew said, “We advocate freedom of speech and press freedoms, tolerance of diversity and privacy rights.” For those reasons, Loew is a proponent of sex education in the schools and she is “supportive of any gay lifestyle or GSAs in public schools.”
Loew is running against three-time School Committee member Susan Heyman. If Heyman wins this year, she will serve her last two-year before being required to step down from that post. Loew said she would probably run again if she loses her race this year, and is also open to running for another public office in the future.
Although she isn’t aware of any gay and lesbian people working on her campaign, Loew said all those involved with her election effort are pro-gay and lesbian and “very interested in seeing there is not bigotry and discrimination against gay and lesbian people.”
Yet, Gunner said she is supporting Heyman, who has been a “very strong” supporter of the gay community.
“Susan Heyman is a three-term board member and is a long-time supporter of inclusiveness and support for ... all kinds of people in school programs, and [she] is very skillful and knowledgeable and qualified,” Gunner said.
Freedman raises eyebrows
Meanwhile, some activists may be surprised by Freedman’s recent comments to Bay Windows that he is in favor of GSAs and also supports AIDS/HIV curricula and condom distribution.
Freedman, 54, is running for a Ward 4 seat on the School Committee. Gunner’s concerns about Freedman stem from his statements during the Board of Aldermen’s May of 1997 public hearings on a proposed DP measure. “If it feels good, then do it has replaced what is moral,” the Newton Tab reported Freedman as saying in its May 13, 1997 issue.
The Tab also reported that when Gunner began to testify in favor of the DP measure, Freedman began playing an “imaginary violin” to dry discounting her remarks. Camenker attended the same hearings and also spoke against the proposed DP measure. Accompanying the Tab’s coverage was a photo of Freedman singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” with the caption reading “Richard Freedman joined with other members of Stand up Newton ... to protest passage of a domestic-partnership ordinance in the city.”
“I think it’s dangerous to have an opponent of domestic partnership on our School Committee,” Gunner said. “More than half of the city’s employees are employed by the school department. The School Committee negotiates the contract with those employees. Why would we want an opponent of domestic partnership on the School Committee?”
Although Freedman ran as a Republican and lost his primary last fall for the Newton-area seat in the Massachusetts state Legislature, he has since switched political parties and is now a Libertarian because he doesn’t agree with Republicans on many social issues. He adds that he isn’t part of a religious-Right conspiracy.
“I have been involved with the Right to the extent of fiscal conservatism, but I disagree with them on social issues because I’m uncomfortable with any groups telling people how they should live and speaking with authoritarianism,” he said.
In fact, Freedman came out strongly in favor of many gay/lesbian issues during his interview with Bay Windows.
He said he supports GSAs meeting on campus and receiving state funding “as long as other groups have equivalent access,” and
said that Pawlick’s views of GSAs in his literature were “exaggerated.”
“It’s possible there may be some people who would take advantage of the situation, but I don’t think it’s a major concern,” said Freedman, in response to Pawlick’s accusation that GSAs are breeding grounds for pedophiles. “I understand ... that most child molesters are not going to be homosexuals, so there is no particular reason to believe [a gay-oriented group] will be more likely to take advantage of children than any other group with adult supervision.”
Freedman also supports teaching AIDS/HIV issues in the public schools since those are public health matters, and he “thinks” he would support condom distribution for that same reason.
Although he doesn’t believe human sexuality can “safely” be taught “because it infringes on peoples’ value system,” Freedman does think people should be taught that “discrimination is wrong and nobody should have the right to discriminate against each other.”
Similar to Loew, Freedman decided to run for the School Committee after responding to SUN’s flier, and he said Camenker collected the signatures to have him placed on the ballot. Also similar to Loew, Camenker said “it’s entirely possible” he would run for another public office in the future, and he would not change his positions in light of someone’s support.
Freedman also provided Bay Windows with a prepared “Position Statement on Gay Rights,” in which he even expresses support for the right of same-sex couples to marry.
“I am a Libertarian. I am neither a Republican nor a conservative. ... I therefore support a limited government, a government that does not have the power to restrict freedom of choice,” Freedman says in his statement. “A government which has the power to impose your opinions on others could likewise be turned against you if those who disagree with you should one day gain control of the reins of government. My position on freedom of choice extends to all areas of personal life, including ... the individual’s right to choose a life partner according to one’s own preferences; the individual’s right to choose how and whom he or she will marry ... the right NOT to be discriminated against because one’s particular lifestyle does not fall within arbitrary standards set by the government.”
Little interest in aldermen
Unlike this year’s School Committee races, there has been little interest in the elections for Newton’s Board of Aldermen. The Newton Tab reported on July 22 that only two seats will be contested this fall. But gay activists are interested in at least one of the Aldermanic races: Morrisey is running for a Ward 2 seat, and they believe he may be linked with Camenker.
As host of “Newton Talk,” Morrisey has repeatedly interviewed several religious-Right activists, including Camenker, the executive director of the Christian Coalition, and members of the Constitution Party who oppose gay rights. And, as previously mentioned, it was during Camenker’s appearance on the show that he called for candidates to run for the School Committee.
When contacted last week for comments, Morrisey initially declined to speak with Bay Windows because he claims the paper had already done an “injustice” to his candidacy. He then called and requested an in-person interview but then called again to decline the interview.
Gunner said Morrisey’s opponent, Marcia Johnson, is a strong supporter of the gay community. A Ward 2 resident, Gunner has agreed to work on Johnson’ campaign.