Town Republican leaders on Tuesday defended their campaign against Democrats’ recent charges of “dog whistle” racism.
The GOP’s six candidates for board of directors are focused on lifting the local economy and guarding all town residents from ongoing fiscal chaos at the state Capitol, where Democrats have long been in charge, Republican officials said at a morning press conference. Democrats, they said, are using race to scare voters and boost their chances at the polls.
“Dog whistle” politicking occurs when officials use coded messages designed to resonate with a specific audience. Democrats say the party’s use of phrases like “right hands” and “home grown” are meant to imply something entirely different.
“Let me be very clear,” Democratic redevelopment agency member Mike Farina posted on Facebook on Oct. 4, “When (local Republicans) say they will KEEP MANCHESTER IN THE RIGHT HANDS... what they really mean is KEEP MANCHESTER IN WHITE HANDS.”
Race, says board of directors Minority Leader Cheri Eckbreth, is in no way part of the GOP campaign.
“This campaign isn't about race or dog whistles,” Eckbreth said. “It's about continuing our record of crossing the aisle and lending a helping hand to serve our Manchester community.”
Democrats have touted their slate’s diversity. Of the party's 10 candidates for the boards of directors and education, six are women, two are African-American and one is Hispanic.
“The Republican slogan ‘Keep Manchester in the Right Hands,’ what does it mean?” Democratic Town Committee Chairman Mike Pohl said Tuesday. “To me, when they say ‘right hands,’ they must mean it’s in the right hands now, which means very little diversity. How can it mean something different? Out of 18 candidates on the Republican ticket, they couldn’t see fit for any racial diversity whatsoever?
“Then there is the Republican T-shirt, which reads ‘Home Grown,’ ” Pohl said. “To me, this implies people who aren’t born here aren’t welcome here. This is not the Manchester that we Democrats want. We want all of our people, our children, to feel welcome here and have a stake in the future of Manchester.”
Republicans, Eckbreth said, “believe we are the right hands based on our record of results as community leaders and volunteers.”
“Home -grown leaders,” she said, refers to “our lifelong ties and dedication in service to our community.” Also, she noted that both parties are running more women than ever for top positions, “testimony to the diversity of Manchester and the progress we have made as a community.”
Democrats also contended that the Republicans’ campaign website — http://protectingmanchester.com/ — initially used “Hartford” in a bullet point list to imply that the GOP will protect the town from minority incursion. The list initially included promises to protect Manchester from “divisive Hartford politics” and “suffering any implications that come from Hartford’s inability to control spending.”
The wording was changed to “divisive State Capitol politics, gross financial mismanagement and legislative gridlock” and “protecting the town’s revenues, rainy day funds and bond ratings from suffering any budget implications that come from our state’s inability to control spending, set a balanced budget or adequately fund our share of state revenues.”
Eckbreth said Republicans changed the wording just to clarify that “Hartford” was used only to mean the state Capitol. In any case, the contention that Republicans are trying to suppress diversity is ridiculous, party leaders said.
“We are a diverse community,” incumbent Republican board of directors member Tim Devanney said. “That’s who we are.”
Mayor Jay Moran, a Democrat and board of directors majority leader, said he does not accept the charges of implicit racism because he knows the Republican candidates.
“I’m not an expert on dog whistles,” Moran said, “but I do know these individuals and I don’t think that was their intent. I think they’re good people trying to do the best for Manchester, as are the Democratic candidates.”
The GOP’s board of directors slate is newcomers Claire Miller-Burti and Danita Collins Sulick and incumbents Eckbreth, Devanney, Mathew Galligan and Jennifer Nye. The Democratic slate includes newcomers Yolanda Castillo and Pamela Floyd-Cranford and incumbents Moran, Deputy Mayor Margaret Hackett, Steve Gates and Sarah Jones. The top nine vote-getters will be elected.