In recent months the invocation of personal issues and tragedies by those in Southbridge politics has grown to the point of annoying.
It reached a crescendo at last week’s town council meeting.
One councilor elaborated upon the tragic passing of a sibling as an explanation for being absent from a subcommittee meeting. This prompted another to reference her having suffered a heart attack.
Now, please, hold off on the knee-jerk attacks about my lack of sensitivity. Allow me to make my point and then feel free to have at it.
It is one thing to cite such a situation as a legitimate excuse. It is quite another to milk it for public sympathy.
For instance, the councilor who brought up the matter of her heart attack appeared, to me at least, to be engaging in nothing more than a pitiful effort at one-upmanship on the victim meter.
On the other hand, the councilor who brought up the case of his sibling’s death seemed, to me, to over-dramatize the matter. Perhaps this reaction was colored by what has become a recurring allusion to his status as a cancer survivor. That was brought up following his shaving his head in response to a bet. It has been invoked by him and others in response to what I believe was an innocent use of the vernacular admonition “grow a set” regarding a perceived lack of decisiveness on a particular issue.
This “pity me” tactic was employed by a school committee member whose televised crying jag launched a multimedia crusade over some fat jokes in an effort to silence any further criticism.
These officials, and any others inclined to employ this method of deflecting criticism, should take a cue from Town Councilor Conrad Vandal.
It is no secret that Councilor Vandal suffers from multiple sclerosis.
I dare to say that on an hour-to-hour, day in-day out basis, no other public official in this town faces, and conquers, greater challenges and limitations.
And yet, to the best of my recollection, I cannot remember him ever invoking his disability as an excuse for not fulfilling the responsibilities of his office.
Regardless of your opinions of his stance on various issues, I do not know a councilor who is more cordially responsive to constituent inquiries and complaints.
Few can match his record of attendance at council and subcommittee meetings.
More than anyone in town government he exemplifies the definition of courage that John Kennedy appropriated from Ernest Hemingway, “Grace under pressure”. And that goes equally for his wife.
I hope that this will not be seen as an attack on particular individuals.
Rather, it is a plea to refrain from using a legitimate explanation for an inability to perform one’s duties in public office as a means for currying sympathy.
Next time, before you speak, ask yourself, “What would Conrad do”?
Then, maybe, you’ll be judged on your performance rather than your pathos.
Assuming, of course, that’s what you really want.