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Forum gets heated as Hartford Selectboard candidates challenged on Facebook posts

  • Hartford Selectboard candidates up for election on March 2, 2021, are, top row from left: Jeff Arnold, Dennis Brown, Lannie Collins, Julia Dalphin, Rachel Edens, Dan Fraser and Tony Gove. Bottom row from left: John Hall, Michael Hoyt, Wayne Kendall, Sandra Mariotti, Brett Mayfield, Remington Nevin and Ally Tufenkjian. (Courtesy and Valley News photographs)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/23/2021 10:12:57 PM
Modified: 2/23/2021 10:12:56 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A candidate for Hartford Selectboard is facing criticism for sharing a Facebook post that some residents feel threatened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just days after the U.S. Capitol riots.

The Jan. 9 post shared by Tony Gove, who’s running for the remaining two years of a three-year seat, read in part, “Dear Iran, since we took out your #3 in charge, I will graciously offer you our #3. Her name is Nancy. Nancy Pelosi.”

Along with the post, which was written by another person in January 2020 following a drone attack in Baghdad that killed Iranian military commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Gove wrote, “Still feel the same a year later,” according to a screenshot of the post which another Hartford resident then shared on a public, Hartford-centered Facebook page.

Gove’s post has since been deleted, but it was referenced during the question-and-answer portion of a virtual “meet the candidates” event Monday evening, during which Gove and the other 13 candidates vying for five seats on the Hartford Selectboard were present.

Wilder resident Ashley Andreas read part of the post and asked Gove to respond, saying “Offering (Pelosi’s) life up for another life, which was taken, does not seem like a good display of ethical, level-headed or nonpartisan politics.”

Gove, an Army veteran and small business owner, said that Andreas misrepresented what he had written.

“You can make any assumption of what that message meant. It can be twisted in any way that you want,” he said.

An email to Gove for further comment was not returned Tuesday.

He had made the “still feel the same” Facebook comment about Pelosi just days after the Jan. 6 protest at the U.S. Capitol, when Pelosi and government officials hid for safety while rioters stormed the building and broke into her office, attempting to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. One woman was arrested after she allegedly joined the riot and threatened to shoot Pelosi in the head.

Two weeks ago, when another Hartford resident had challenged Gove on his post, he responded on Facebook, “I do not Condone anything that happened at the Capitol in fact I found it to be a disgrace to our country” but also blamed Pelosi for the “divide” in the country and wrote, “I am not a fan of hers.”

Gove’s opponents spoke briefly about the issue during Monday night’s meeting, with candidate Julia Dalphin saying she has issues with Facebook and social media in general, and adding “I do not believe in violence.”

Mike Hoyt, another candidate running against Gove for the seat, said “people have to be cognizant of what’s on your personal Facebook page.”

The question over Gove’s social media use was just part of the lengthy candidates’ forum, which got increasingly heated as the event stretched into its fourth hour. During the discussion, which was attended online by around 100 people, members of the public asked the candidates questions about their policy, background and thoughts on a perceived “divide” within the town of Hartford.

At one point, Wilder resident Samantha Shafer accused candidate Wayne Kendall, who is white, of making Facebook posts in November that “downplayed” fellow candidate and current Selectboard member Rachel Edens’ experiences with racism as a Black woman.

The posts, which Kendall made to a public Facebook group shortly after Edens was appointed to the board, included screenshots of tweets Edens had written decrying the racism she’s experienced living in Vermont, along with the words “New Selectboard member.” Responses to the post ranged from outrage at her appointment, to support for Edens.

“I want to know how Wayne plans on being inclusive. ... If he can’t accept the fact that someone is dealing with racism,” Shafer said during Monday’s event.

In his response, Kendall apologized to Edens but added that there are “all different forms of racism,” and denied that his criticism of her made him racist.

“My grandfather, who lived in Sharon, was a full-blooded Blackfoot Indian. So I understand racism,” Kendall said. He added, “There is no color. It’s a human being. I don’t believe in color.”

Kendall’s response drew criticism from other candidates, including his opponent Ally Tufenkjian, who accused him of racial “colorblindness,” an approach to race relations that attempts to view and treat all races equally but that many critics say is a way to avoid earnest discussion.

“I am concerned about some of the things that were just shared,” said Tufenkjian, who has said she is part of a slate that includes Edens. “Colorblindness is a huge problem and works to the detriment of acknowledging equity and diversity.”

In an interview Tuesday, Kendall said he takes offense to the implication he’s racist, saying, “I don’t care what skin color you are. I don’t judge anyone by the color of their skin.”

Edens, who is running for a different seat on the board than Kendall, was not given the chance to respond to his words during the meeting. But in a separate interview Tuesday she said Kendall’s statement at the forum was “heartbreaking” but not unexpected.

Edens said she feels Kendall’s comments were racist, and not the only discriminatory treatment she’s experienced since taking a position on the Selectboard last fall.

“The political process here is so isolating,” Edens said. “No one knows what this political process is like except other Black women.”

Voting for Town Meeting will take place by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 2.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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