Uncivil Civics

Today we welcome our newest Our Greenwich columnist, Frank Trotta. Trotta, the father of three, has lived in Cos Cob since 1992, and has worked in Greenwich since 1985 — a relative “newcomer” to Town, but a “Townie” at heart. He has been involved on the local, state and national levels in Republican politics and conservative causes since his teens.

Driving to work, contemplating what I should write for my first blog, I noticed dueling signs on Valley Road. Traveling west, on the left (appropriately) was a house with an Obama sign and directly across the street a house with a McCain-Palin sign. I thought I could write about neighbors disagreeing without being disagreeable – much like my next-door neighbor and I with our own juxtaposed McCain-Palin and Obama signs.

But what struck me the next day was the sudden absence of the McCain-Palin sign from the right side of Valley Rd. Hmmmmm. A sudden change of heart? Did McCain say something to change the homeowner’s mind?

Well, it turns out there is a rash of missing McCain signs in town – including mine. Indeed, there is a police department investigation of the apparent thefts. The local McCain coordinator in Greenwich, Joe Romano, reports that at least 21 of the limited number of McCain signs allotted to Greenwich were missing. As he put it, “This was way too many lost signs to be a coincidence.” And his 21 do not include the Valley Road sign, or my sign which the culprit tore up and left in shreds on the corner of my block. Interestingly, he or she walked right past a “Camillo for State Rep” sign on my lawn to get to the McCain-Palin sign.

The missing signs sadden me for so many reasons. Obvious among those reasons is the lack of respect it illustrates – respect for another’s property, but moreover a lack of respect for another’s opinion, an attitude that my freedom of speech stops when you disagree with me. But this also reflects something I have long lamented – a change in the civility that once was the hallmark of our great town.

A lack of civility in our local political discourse is something even those too young to vote have noticed. According to a quote in a recent Greenwich Time article, “‘Camillo was more soft-spoken, though,’ said fellow junior Yui Nobunaga, 16, from Cos Cob. Krumeich, she added, ‘kept on attacking him.’” That was exactly what I observed, myself, when I attended the League of Women Voters debate earlier this month. There were four candidates in two contested races speaking at that debate, and three of them (Republicans Fred Camillo, Scott Franz, and Democrat Mark Diamond) were all polite, focused on issues, and courteous. The sole exception was Ed Krumeich, the Democrat running against Fred Camillo.

Krumeich was constantly criticizing Camillo in the LWV debate and even more so in the Channel 12 debate. He even has a section on his website where he tries to define who Fred Camillo is – and surely not in a positive way. Camillo is not an incumbent, so Krumeich resorts to personal innuendo, about Fred’s family, about Fred’s temperament, and about Fred’s careers. For instance, in debates and on his website he refers to Camillo’s “familial connections” to the carting industry. Krumeich proudly claims he is half-Italian but that half didn’t bless him with a vowel at the end of his name. As a full-Italian who is so blessed, I know a bit abut being stereo-typed. I understand what people think when they hear “family connections” and “carting industry.” Just Google “carting industry” and you will see the top links are about organized crime. Krumeich should know better – and probably does.

Fred started his own garbage collection business in Greenwich. I remember seeing Fred, with his perpetual smile, driving his garbage truck down Greenwich Avenue, waving to friends early in the morning, before going to his other job. Not a silk-suited “don” but an entrepreneur running a start-up and working elsewhere to make ends meet.

In another post I will write about how highly I think of Fred. This post is about the change in the tone of political discourse in our town. The stolen signs and the slurs are symptoms of a change in character. Some in our town have forgotten that the words “civic” and “civility” come from the same root. If the voters of Greenwich reward such behavior then perhaps we deserve what we get.

(For more on this topic see: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/civility.html. “The word civilité shares the same etymology with words like civilized and civilization. Quite simply, the root word means to be “a member of the household.” Just as there are certain rules that allow family members to live peacefully within a household, so there are rules of civility that allow us to live peacefully within a society. We have certain moral responsibilities to one another.”)