Martyn steps down as campaign manager, from steering committee; Baron apologizes
UPDATED, April 10: A board member of the Arlington Housing Authority has said in court that the campaign manager of a first-time candidate came to her home and, earlier, another supporter of the candidate threatened to release emails that she said were damaging to the board member.
Jo Anne Preston, elected last June, told a Cambridge District Court judge on Monday, April 5, that Lynette Martyn, campaign manager for Kelda Fontenot, came to her Mystic Lake Drive home on Friday, April 2.
In the light of the controversy, Martyn has stepped down from the Arlington Fights Racism Elections Committee and from her role as Fontenot’s campaign manager (April 8 statement below). The next day, she announced to Facebook that she is stepping down from the Arlington Fights Racism Steering Committee, effective immediately.
"After the sudden and hostile appearance at my front door (which followed three threatening phone messages)," Preston told YourArlington, "the Arlington Police, late Saturday night, called in for an emergency restraining/protection order. The judge on call was favorably disposed to give one but wanted one or more threatening messages since the emergency orders had a higher standard for evidence. One of the ... people involved graciously furnished them the next day."
Preston wrote April 6: "What I had to do is not post anything on the internet which might be seen as negative to their candidate," Fontenot, or favorable to incumbent Nick Mitropoulos.
Martyn, a member of the steering committee of the grass-roots political group Arlington Fights Racism (AFR), was asked for comment, and her statement is published in full below. The group has endorsed Fontenot.
A series of police reports document part of the dispute. While names have been redacted, Preston has named Martyn and Sheri Baron, a supporter of Fontenot and not a member of AFR. At 11:54 a.m. April 2, police spoke with Preston.
She told police that Martyn came to her home and that, earlier, Baron asked her to endorse Fontenot. but she declined. The report says Baron asked her to forward to the group "housing documents that were not public record." After that, Preston was blocked from a Zoom meeting.
Following the conclusion of a virtual Housing Authority meeting, Preston told police she received an email from Baron saying that she has "pages of your emails and texts, excoriating the board .... Ones in which you call them criminals not unlike the Mafia." The email continues: "... when these go public, you may have a difficult time defending yourself ...."
Asked to comment April 7, Baron issued a public apology two days later. Read it below.
The police report goes on to list threats made at 12:50 a.m. and 1:34 a.m. April 3.
Harassment order advised
Officers advised Preston to seek a harassment-prevention order and to document further claims.
In a separate report, police said two officers visited Preston's home and learned that Preston's husband, John Burt, had answered the door. He asked the woman to leave, and she did.
On Saturday, April 3, an officer investigating a case of past harassment, said he was told that Preston had received a text message saying emails would be "released" if she did not drop her support for a candidate.
On Sunday, April 4, an officer followed up. The reporting party expressed fear that "these women were going to harm her and continue to harass her.
On Monday in court, Burt said that, after a brief appearance, the judge commented that in ordinary circumstances, the case would amount to harassment, but he issued no order in a case involving politics unless the perpetrators made physical threats.
"I left one voice and text message early Friday expressing concern that Ms. Preston, in her role as a Housing Authority board member, had just posted on a public social media site, confidential and privileged information in violation of state ethics laws, regarding Ms. Fontenot’s current housing status. I regret my tone, which was inappropriate.
"I have had no other personal contact with Ms. Preston since Feb. 28. As a friend, I was deeply hurt and confused as to why Ms Preston would abuse her role on the board in this way. Especially, given Ms. Preston’s knowledge of the serious harassment of Ms. Fontenot.
"The worst of which was on a public site 3/28 when a poster asked about the registration address of Miss Fontenot’s car (non-public information) and inquired “Why is your car parked xxx each night?”, indicating that she and her family were being followed.
"Later, other disturbing forms of harassment included public false accusations of Miss Fontenot committing voter fraud on 3/29, a serious crime and dangerous allegation. All of this aimed at a multi-racial family who has been in and out of the shelter system.
"This is why when Ms. Preston did not respond, I stopped by her home, where I have been a guest on occasion, to try and speak with her. After I rang the doorbell and politely asked if Ms Preston was available, I was verbally attacked by the person who answered the door, at which time I quietly departed.
"There are no emails, texts or voice messages from me to Jo Anne Preston asking her to endorse or not endorse any of the AHA candidates. I have one email from Jo Anne on the topic dated 2/14.
""Kelda can not run without support from AFR ... This project needs immediate attention. She is black, in the homeless system of Dept of Housing (temporary housing), willing to run, has many bad experiences with AHA and still on their waiting list, formally an Arlington resident and has a child in the Arlington school system, articulate (can be a strong voice for other tenants and for reform for the agency), and is willing to run but can not do it alone. I know everyone is busy with their own lives but this is a great opportunity to have a woman of color on the AHA Board, support tenants, and expose AHA bad practices.'
"I regret that my actions have distracted from the incredible qualifications of Ms Fontenot. I encourage people to attend her final meet the candidate event this evening 7:30 at tinyurl.com/meetkelda to learn more about Ms. Fontenot's candidacy and what she has to offer the position. I also encourage all Arlington voters to show up this Saturday and to vote."
AFR statement posted to Facebook April 8:
"The Arlington Fights Racism Steering Committee is aware of the controversy involving one of our members and an Arlington Housing Authority board member. We are saddened by the distraction this is causing and are attempting to deal with the facts as they emerge.
"We wish to apologize to all the candidates running on the AFR platform for drawing attention away from their campaigns, and for the unfortunate predicament in which they find themselves because of it. Lynette Martyn has voluntarily stepped down from the Arlington Fights Racism Elections Committee and from her role as Kelda Fontenot’s campaign manager.
"We categorically reject any insinuation that Lynette or any AFR Steering Committee Member has contacted Jo Anne Preston or any of the AHA incumbent’s supporters about their endorsements. No evidence has been provided to back up these false accusations.
"We hope these allegations do not prove detrimental to Ms. Fontenot’s candidacy or to those of our TMM candidates, and we urge the community to focus on the many strengths each of them would bring to the offices to which they aspire. We are continuing to sort fact from fiction regarding this unfortunate episode. The voters should rest assured that we consider ourselves accountable to the truth and to the community."
Burt submitted a letter to YourArlington on April 7. It had not been solicited, and Burt agreed that it be quoted in full here:
:I was an early sympathizer with Arlington Fights Racism. Last year, they persuaded my wife, Jo Anne Preston, to run for the Board of the Arlington Housing Authority, and although she distanced herself from them over their tactics, she remained basically on friendly terms with them.
"As this year's town elections approached, she began to have misgivings about their candidate for the Housing Authority board, never mind what they were, and held back from endorsing her.
"At the same time, she corrected on social media some statements AFR supporters had made about the incumbent, with whom, despite many disagreements, she has come to develop a good working relationship.
"Figures supporting AFR's candidate began a campaign of harassment and intimidation against my wife, culminating in several threats from an important supporter (a member of the Arlington Human Rights Commission), and an vulgar, middle-of-the-night, threatening voice mail and series of texts from a prominent member of the Arlington Fights Racism board, who is also their candidate's campaign manager.
"I don't think I need to point out that threatening an elected official is not a good way to build a coalition. Arlington Fights Racism has endorsed a full slate of candidates for this Saturday's election. I know no ill of them.
"But I suggest to them that they should henceforth be more careful about which organizations they choose to speak for them."
Baron's April 9 statement to Preston
"I am so sorry for what has happened, and the stress and emotional pain it has caused you. You did not deserve this. I take full responsibility for my actions. I am very sorry, too, that it took so until now to reach out to you.
"I know that some of my emails were extremely upsetting. I over-reacted and I deeply apologize for that. I should never have behaved in a spiteful and mean-spirited way toward you. It was wrong of me to strike out at you that way.
"I deeply regret that you have had to go through this horrible situation Please accept my apology."
April 2, 2021: Housing Authority candidates don't speak, but one delivers
This news summary was published Wednesday, April 7, 2021. It was updated April 8, to correct the source of some statements. It was updated April 9, to add Martyn's statement and April 10, to add Baron's statement.
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