Incumbent school board members Kathleen Kelly-Arnold (D-Ward 2) and Kelly Thomas (R-Ward 12) are facing one of the more evil things in life: whisper campaigns. They are particularly vicious because there really is no good way to respond. Being on the receiving end of such a campaign is a lot like being ask “when did you stop beating your ______” (wife, children, dog, etc…) It’s also a tool used by scoundrels who either don’t have a legitimate criticism of their victim on the issues or don’t have the integrity to confront their targets with their complaint.
“K2A,” as she’s known to some, wasted little time in demonstrating her independence after being nominated by Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart and confirmed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Stewart resisted heavy Democratic Party pressure, including from Mayor Joyce Craig, to nominate someone other than Kelly-Arnold. The party apparatchiks wanted someone more in the mold of disgraced former Ward 2 board member David Scannell, who resigned abruptly after admitting he released confidential information to the press to scandalize a board member he considered a political enemy.
In nominating Kelly-Arnold, Stewart highlighted her decade as an at-Large member of the board and her experience as Chairman of the Special Committee on Negotiations. This experience, he said, would help her hit the ground running and provide Ward 2 with immediate representation.
In addition to the support of Stewart and everyday Democrats across the city and ward, except Mayor Craig and her allies who are backing K2A’s rival, she’s earned strong Republican backing, including from myself, Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur and former GOP Chair Will Infantine, among others. She also earned the endorsement of the Concerned Taxpayers of Manchester.
In being one of those leaders who truly collaborates with others and at least tries to reconcile differing points of view in the hope of solving problems, she has alienated Craig, the Manchester City Democratic Party and the Manchester Education Association, all of whom are backing her opponent Sean Parr. Parr is a transplant from New York City, which he still lists it as his home on Facebook. A minor point, perhaps, but when your candidate is an unfamiliar, recently transplanted carpetbagger, it only makes sense that the whisper campaign is unleashed.
Being a Ward 2 resident, I’ve heard the chatter and it disturbs me as a person a of faith, a parent, a citizen and a taxpayer. While it’s hard to nail down the ultimate source of the whispers, it’s clearly being pushed by those affiliated with the MEA. They are virulently opposed to K2A’s candidacy. Not only has she shown solidarity with the other members of the negotiations committee, on which she was asked to serve after Katie Desrochers was removed for publicly trashing it, she has the audacity to support a parent’s right and ability to choose alternatives to their local school.
K2A has bucked both her party and the union on the idea that only wealthy people who can afford to pay tuition should be able to send their kids to schools that are outside of their attendance district or zip code. She’s okay with parents who home-school, send their kids to charter schools or, heaven forbid, send them to parochial or private schools. While she and I differ on the tools to provide those choices, there’s no doubt that she supports parents being able to find the best fit for their child(ren).
The MEA is particularly galled by the fact that she sends her daughter to a Catholic school. They say it shows a lack of respect and confidence in the city’s schools. They don’t seem to feel that way about Alderman Bill Barry (D-Ward 10). He, for years, has sent his daughter to Catholic school, yet they’ve endorsed his reelection bid. Perhaps the difference is he’ll do what ever they tell him to do and Kelly-Arnold won’t. It could also be that he, like the union, supports letting only people like him, who can afford the tuition, send their kids to private schools. What is glaring is the different treatment for two people who do the same thing…send their kids to Catholic school.
I asked K2A why she chose to send her daughter to a Catholic elementary school. “For religious instruction,” she said. Funny, I sent my older kids to Catholic elementary school for the same reason and am sending my two little ones to Catholic school for the same reason. Does that mean K2A and I don’t support a quality education for our public school children? Absolutely not! After all, the vast majority of people have and will have graduated from them. Unless we literally want to be surrounded by idiots, we want our public schools to provide an excellent education. In fact, we’d like them to do so well that the alternatives more than two thousand families in this city have chosen become less attractive by comparison.
The truth is, though, that, unless you understand why people choose “other than Manchester public schools,” you don’t know what to fix, how to fix it or why it even needs to be fixed at all. People like Kathleen Kelly-Arnold bring a sorely needed perspective to an institution that has a habit of circling the wagons and firing inward, all the while blaming the competition for its own faults, missteps and problems.
The whisper campaign also stems in part from Mayor Craig’s personal grudge against Kelly-Arnold’s husband Patrick Arnold, who ran against Craig for mayor four years ago. Craig is not one to reconcile with her opponents and is rather unconcerned with who she has to go through to strike at them. In this case, it’s Kathleen Kelly Arnold; a wife, mother, successful and respected businesswoman, coach, volunteer and a “loud and proud” cheerleader for Manchester. She has devoted her life to her family and community and deserves better than the evils of a whisper campaign that strikes at the heart of what she believes is best for her child.
The whisper campaign against Kelly Thomas in Ward 12 is a bit different. In fact, until recently, it wasn’t a whisper campaign at all. It was a full frontal assault by Constance Van Houten, the incumbent Thomas defeated two years ago. Van Houten, in her typical demeaning and shrill manner, has been hammering Thomas on Facebook for leaving Ward 12 “unrepresented” and has condescendingly cast all manner and kind of aspersions, to stump for her Mayor Joyce Craig backed opponent James Toland.
It is true that Thomas has missed several board meetings. Like former at-Large Member Nancy Tessier, whose absenteeism NOBODY complained about, including Van Houten, Thomas’ absences have been due to her health. Unlike Tessier, however, Thomas is expecting to recover from the health issues she’s confronted which is why she’s running for a second term. The social media posts have disappeared from Van Houten’s pages, but the whisper campaign goes on. So loud have the whispers been, that I have learned that a local media outlet (not the New Hampshire Union Leader) is planning to publish a “hit piece” a day or two before the election to damage Thomas’ reelection bid. That’s dirty pool and why I decided to write this article.
For those who don’t know, Thomas was crippled in a car accident as a teenager. Once a star soccer player, she was paralyzed from the waste down in the crash. From time to time, she’s battled health issues that are rooted in her injuries. Recently, however, those battles have literally been life threatening as a series of serious infections have not responded to their usual treatments, forcing Thomas to undergo several surgeries aimed at scraping the infections off her bones.
A working mother of twins who attend Manchester public schools, Thomas’ recovery from these procedures hasn’t allowed her to attend the meetings. The doctor’s orders are doctor’s orders. However, that doesn’t mean Thomas has been asleep at the switch. She has continued to do her work as a school board member. She helps her constituents, stays informed of the matters pending before the board, offers her input and is otherwise fully engaged.
When the infections started to attack her and she was having difficulty staying late at the meetings, I suggested she ask Mayor Craig if she could attend the meetings electronically. She could be on someone’s speaker phone or computer via Skype or FaceTime or other electronic means. The state’s Right to Know Law, RSA 91-A, makes specific provisions for “electronic attendance” at meetings. She told me Mayor Craig refused to allow it. I suggested she raise it at a school board meeting and press the issue. She declined, saying she didn’t want to make a political issue of it and that hopefully the infections would go away.
The infections didn’t go away and have proven more difficult to cure than originally thought, requiring far more dramatic intervention as time went on. That’s the bad news. The good news is that she’s been responding well to the treatments and is confident she will be able to return to the Aldermanic Chambers for meetings, in addition to the work she’s continued to do She DOES watch the meetings from home, just so you know, so it’s really bothersome that Mayor Craig disallowed her to participate electronically. Maybe now that Mayor Craig’s refusal to accommodate Thomas’ needs as a person dealing with her disability and its consequences have been made known, Thomas will be allowed to participate as she needs to until she can participate as she wants to. No doubt a Mayor Victoria Sullivan would allow Thomas to participate in meetings electronically.
Having grown up in Ward 12, where my mother and most of the neighbors I grew up with still live, I have faith that the people in my home neighborhood will give Kelly Thomas another term IF they know the truth. Thomas is a remarkable young woman whose drive and determination to overcome the accident caused disability is truly inspiring. A licensed substance misuse counselor, her life has been touched, as so many have, by the opioid epidemic. It’s why she’s a single mom. Her input on these matters as the school board faces them is of the utmost importance. She deserves another term to give it and, as with Kathleen Kelly-Arnold, she deserves better than to be so spuriously and wickedly attacked.