Friday, January 28, 2011

Suzio, Bruenn And The Gay Charge

Early in January, Laurie Rich Salerno posted a story in Meriden Patch concerning the nomination of Democrat Thomas Bruenn to fill a seat in the state senate left vacant by state Sen. Thomas Gaffey, who quit the senate after having been arrested on larceny charges that he improperly used his own PAC funds to pay for trips he also billed to the state over several years.

Mr. Bruenn and the Republican nominee for the seat, Len Suzio, who lost to Mr. Gaffey in the recent election, are not strangers to each other. Before the nominations were settled, Mr. Bruenn said of Mr. Suzio, “If I do get the entire nomination from the delegation of the 13th District [and Suzio does as well] I look forward to having discussions with Len Suzio...he and I worked on the BOE together. We know each other and we get along well for the most part."

Mr. Suzio, a fourteen year veteran of the Board of Education in Meriden, was equally complimentary of Mr. Bruenn, a 37-year Platt High School math teacher, now retired. "I know Tom really well,” Mr. Suzio said. “He knows me really well. He’s a gentleman. I would hope we'd have a nice campaign on issues."

It was not to be.

Controversy erupts over alleged gay question in 13th Senate District poll,” ran  the headline in the New Haven Register.

In the second paragraph down from the lede, which characterized the campaign as having turned “ugly,” Democratic Party Chairman Nancy DiNardo, “claimed that surrogates for Suzio’s campaign are running a telephone push poll that indirectly attacks Bruenn, who is gay.”

Ms. DiNardo then called for an apology from Mr. Suzio:
“Attacking a candidate because he is gay has no place in Connecticut politics. Leonard Suzio should take responsibility for this push poll and apologize immediately. The Connecticut Republican Party and Senate Republicans should join me in condemning this despicable attack.”
Mr. Bruenn told the Register he became aware of the poll after “several people who were contacted to take the poll called him.” He acknowledged generously, “What I’ve heard is all second hand, so I’m not going to point any fingers. If Len Suzio says he is not behind this, then I take him at his word. He and I have promised to run a campaign that is focused on the issues and I’m going to stick to that.”

Responding to the disclosures, Mr. Suzio said, “I think the media, before it runs a story, should demand proof that this push poll really exists. To me, this is the state Democratic Party trying to distract the electorate’s attention from a pending tax increase that will be the largest in the state’s history.”

Undeterred by Mr. Bruenn’s scruples, the usually quiescent Ms. DiNardo rushed in where the better angels of Mr. Bruenn’s nature feared to tread: Her demand for an apology from Mr. Suzio is premised on the notion, yet to be proven, that Mr. Suzio either knew about the alleged push poll or approved of it. Indeed, why should Mr. Suzio apologize for a smear with which he has no connection other than that imputed to him by the Chairwoman of the Democratic Party?

Let us suppose for a moment that both Mr. Bruenn and Mr. Suzio are honorable men. In that case, it would be true that Mr. Bruenn had been told by several people that someone had engaged them in a push poll in which the question was asked: “Would you be comfortable or uncomfortable with a state senator who is openly gay?” It would be equally true that Mr. Bruenn is correct in assuming Mr. Suzio was not “behind the push poll.”

Push polls of this kind are especially destructive because they seek to draw on poison prejudices to affect elections, but the implication, hidden like a scorpion in Ms. DiNardo’s charge that Mr. Suzio may have approved such methods, serves the same purpose, if her charge is untrue.

For this reason it is important to trace the long and winding fuse to its dynamite pack. Who were the several people who told Mr. Bruenn they were the recipients of the alleged push poll? Were those people connected to the Republican Party? Politics being a blood sport, is it not possible that those conducting the poll were Democrats unhappy with the possible election of Mr. Suzio, the push poll being an attempt to smear Mr. Suzio or the Republican Party days before an election in which a prior Democratic candidate had vacated his seat in disgrace after having been arrested?

No one can fault Ms. Rich Salerno for failing in her subsequent attempt to trace the alleged push poll back to its source.

In a follow-up report, Ms. Rich Salerno reported that Mr. Suzio once again denied that there was a push poll:

“I certainly don’t think there’s one going on. I know Tom Bruenn personally. I like him. We have a fun relationship because we can disagree agreeably, not getting personal and nasty. I believe the Democrats have manufactured this to try to exploit the sexual identity politics. In my opinion, it’s an attempt by the Democratic political machine to distract voters from the biggest tax hike in Connecticut that’s going to be foisted on them.”
Mr. Bruenn said he had not himself received such calls, though he believed they occurred. According to Ms. Rich Salerno’s follow up report, “The Curious Incident of the Push-Poll in the State Senate Race,” Mr. Bruenn “said Thursday that he would like to know who might be behind the calls, but that he wasn’t going to address them further.” Mr. Bruenn told the Patch reporter he “I don’t deal in rumors.”

The day before Mr. Bruenn declined to address further the damaging charge made by Democratic Party Chairwoman DiNardo that surrogates of Mr. Suzio were responsible for the putative push poll, Patrick Scully, “a journalist turned Democratic public relations specialist" and proprietor of a blog called “The Hanging Shad” told Ms. Rich Salerno, who also reports in Meriden Patch, that a Meriden resident, Mr. Kevin Larsen, had received a call from someone claiming to be a pollster who had asked him, “Would you be comfortable or uncomfortable with a state senator who is openly gay?” To his credit, Mr. Scully identified his source.

At this point, to her great credit, Ms. Rich Salerno went digging:
“Scully said his story originated when a Meriden resident named Kevin Larson (sic) contacted him. Larson reportedly said that someone he knew had received a call asking the question as to whether this person would be comfortable being represented by a gay state senator. The caller did not identify him or herself, and in a Friday interview with Scully, he said he was told that the incoming phone number was blocked.

“When contacted by Meriden Patch, Larson said he would prefer not to comment further on the incident to the media, that he had said everything to Scully.

“’Kevin Larson is a rock-solid source – he was extremely troubled by the call,’ Scully said. ‘He knows Bruenn as a teacher.’”
Good reporters know that information of this kind, especially damaging to the reputation of two men who may be presumed honorable, becomes less and less valuable, more and more questionable, the further removed it is from a primary source.

The primary source for what Mr. Suzio in this case believes to be a rumor is some unidentified person that Mr. Larsen knew who claimed to have received the push poll damaging to Mr. Bruenn. No one but Mr. Larsen knows at this point who this mystery person is because, according to Ms. Rich Salerno, “When contacted by Meriden Patch, Larsen said he would prefer not to comment further on the incident to the media, that he had said everything to Scully.”

And so, after a long detour during the course of which both Mr. Bruenn and Mr. Suzio have seen their reputations tarnished by what any judicious reader at this point would consider unaccredited rumors, we arrive, at long last, at the dead end of the road. The primary sources have shut up, no one is talking, and the matter is considered closed. Reputations having been mauled by unidentifiable sources, everyone quietly walks away, brushing the dirt off their hands and beaming like cherubs.

The good people of the 13th District will now be forced to sort the wheat from the tares in this twisted narrative before they vote for their senator, but they might take some solace from the fact that they will not be voting this time around for either the larcenous Mr. Gaffey or state Democratic Party Chairwoman Ms. DiNardo who, allowing her tongue to run off with her brain, immediately demanded, upon hearing the unaccredited charges, that Mr. Suzio apologize for the alleged push poll.

It may be possible that both Mr. Bruenn and Mr. Suzio have been set up in a controversy underwriten by others. This is a story that had been aggressively shopped around, and it is more than “curious” that all the primary sources who may have confirmed Ms. DiNardo’s suspicions have now disappeared back into the woodwork after the poisonous charge had been retailed – just two weeks before the special election that would send either Mr. Bruenn or Mr. Suzio to the state senate.
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