Recent editorials of regional and national interest from New England’s newspapers:


Thugs invade Zoom session


Oct. 15

What word best describes what happened to Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, during a Zoom session with Newtown voters Monday? Appalling? Unacceptable? Disgusting? All of the foregoing?

The same words can be applied to the posting, on Facebook, of a picture showing the Christopher Columbus statue – removed this summer from New Haven’s Wooster Square – holding the severed head of Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District. Worse still, the perpetrators of this abomination, as well those who Zoom-bombed Rep. Hayes’ virtual meeting, remain unidentified and free to re-offend.

During Rep. Hayes’ Zoom session, someone posted racial slurs, which we won’t dignify by repeating, while two others interrupted the proceedings with posts in support of President Trump. This was supposed to be a discussion of policies and Rep. Hayes’ intentions for the coming congressional term. Instead, the venue – software that enables multiple people to meet virtually, without leaving the safety of their homes or offices – allowed the session to devolve into insults and stomach-churning discomfort for all involved.

Make no mistake, we disagree with large swaths of both representatives’ platforms and have butted heads with Rep. Hayes a time or two since she took office in 2019. She reversed her campaign vow not to support Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in her bid to become speaker of the House after the Democrats’ takeover in the 2018 election. She voted for what we called, in a July 6 editorial, “the Moving Forward Act – a $1.5 trillion rung on the Green New Deal ladder that gently resists, but tolerates, child labor abroad.” (She responded with a letter to the editor disputing this characterization.) Her voting record matches that of now-Speaker Pelosi 100%.

However, Rep. Hayes has earned the respect of district residents by taking on a challenging position in Congress with no political experience, and performing competently enough to bring forth a viable re-election campaign this year. Her achievements as a public-school teacher – notably, being named National Teacher of the Year in 2016 – should insulate her from the sort of crude insults she endured Monday.

The incidents highlight a grave cultural sickness in the United States. Too many people feel they can say anything behind the wall of anonymity that is the internet. Too many people have come to believe no expression of hatred or disdain is beyond the pale; that it’s open season on anyone whose beliefs are different from those of the cretin spewing venom into a keyboard or smartphone.

It has become reflexive to pin the blame for the demise of civility in American affairs – in politics, business and even personal relations – on Mr. Trump, whose tweets and public comments often range from discourteous to loutish. More likely, Mr. Trump is a creation of a disturbing national trend, not its originator. Responsibility for the words of the thugs who bombed Rep. Hayes’ Zoom session and posted the gory photo depicting Rep. DeLauro – anyone else who disregards even the simplest rules of public comportment – falls solely to the perpetrators.




More time, money key to easing eviction pain

The Boston Globe

Oct. 14

With thousands of people across Massachusetts facing potential homelessness after the statewide eviction moratorium ends Saturday, there is no perfect solution, no surefire way to prevent the pain and hardship of displacement.

The Baker administration’s Eviction Diversion Initiative is a good-faith start at solving the problem. What it needs is more money and more time — time to get the word out, time to hire those who can help implement it, and perhaps even time for Washington to get its act together and help with that additional funding.

The statewide eviction moratorium passed by the Legislature in April effectively prevented newly unemployed renters from being tossed out onto the street for nonpayment of rent. The state’s highest court, meanwhile, also ordered its own temporary halt in eviction proceedings in the spring in response to the pandemic. Landlords, on the other hand, still had mortgages and bills to pay.

Governor Charlie Baker extended the eviction moratorium once, with the most recent deadline set for Oct. 17 — and with US District Court Judge Mark Wolf warning in a case challenging the moratorium, “The length of time for which the moratorium is in effect will be relevant to whether it continues to be constitutional.”

But Baker said Tuesday that his own belief, that “the longer the moratorium stayed in place, the bigger the hole people would have to work themselves out of,” was driving the new deadline more than Wolf’s threat.

And so, over what Baker described as a six-week process, the administration, working with court officials — first with the late Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants and then with Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey — came up with a multi-pronged approach to dealing with what could be a flood of new evictions after the moratorium comes to an end.

“We do expect a significant influx of cases we’re going to have to deal with,” Carey said in an interview. “It could be anywhere from 25,000 to 200,000. We just don’t know. . . . Obviously no one wants to have widespread homelessness.”

The governor’s plan provides some $171 million toward the effort, $100 million of that for the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program, $48.7 million for HomeBASE and other rapid rehousing programs for those who do get evicted, and $12 million for legal services and mediation services — to help tenants and landlords work out plans outside of the court system.

Housing advocates are grateful, but they also know that $100 million for the RAFT program won’t go far if the problem is as big as they believe it is.

In one recent study on the economic impact of the pandemic, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimated that “45,000 renter households will not have enough income remaining to cover the cost of both housing and basic needs.” That number, they noted, doesn’t include contract or seasonal workers or undocumented workers.

As Lewis Finfer, co-director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network, pointed out, “$100 million is a lot of money” but, with RAFT now providing up to $10,000 a year per renter, that would still cover only 10,000 to 12,000 people.

In a letter to the governor, the Citizens Housing and Planning Agency, which includes both housing advocates and landlords, pleaded for at least $175 million in new RAFT funding.

But the other big issue is simply time — time to get all the people in place who can help head off a tsunami of evictions by informing tenants of the program. Carey estimated it would take 30 to 45 days to get the housing specialists who will be an important part of the mediation process on board. Recalled judges will take less time, she said. Volunteer lawyers are being enlisted by the Boston Bar Association to help triage cases. The availability of already hard-pressed legal services lawyers to see them through is still an unknown factor, and so is the timing around when new evictions cases will make it to the courts.

There is nothing sacred about that Oct. 17 date by which the governor has chosen to end the eviction moratorium, especially now that a plan has been fleshed out to cope with its aftermath and the benefits of another short delay to get the program up and running outweigh concerns about renters getting further into debt. In fact, the parallel federal moratorium set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tenants who meet its criteria doesn’t end until the end of this calendar year (which will protect some renters in the Commonwealth). Wouldn’t it make sense for the state and federal measures to end at the same time?

Whenever the moratorium ends, there will be the inevitable pain and confusion — but both could be mitigated by a good public education program, more money, and a little more ramp-up time. The governor could — and should — make that happen.




Facts too hard to come by in pizza dough case

The Portland Press Herald

Oct. 15

Two dates are certain in the deeply disturbing product tampering case that hit the news this week.

On Aug. 14, the Sanford Hannaford supermarket received complaints from two customers who reported finding what looked like razor blades in the balls of fresh pizza they had recently purchased.

On Oct. 11, police in Dover, New Hampshire, arrested Nicholas R. Mitchell and charged him with tampering with pizza dough that had been made by his former employer, It’ll Be Pizza, in Scarborough.

What happened between those two dates, however, is not so clear. In fact, it’s more clear what didn’t happen.

Hannaford has acknowledged that it did not report the apparent tampering in Sanford to the police. The supermarket also did not warn its customers.

Apparently, Hannaford didn’t check in with It’ll Be Pizza, either, because if it had, the grocery retailer would have likely found out that the dough maker had a good idea of who might be out to hurt them.

Mitchell worked as a forklift driver for It’ll Be Pizza until he was fired in June. Since then, the company received more than 100 harassing phone calls that it was able to trace to a phone registered to Mitchell.

In the last few weeks, razor blades or blade fragments were found in pizza dough made by It’ll Be Pizza (branded as Portland Pie Co.) in Hannaford stores in Saco and Dover. Saco police identified Mitchell as a suspect, and matched him and his car to security camera footage in and outside the Saco store.

Hannaford has recalled all It’ll Be Pizza products from all of its stores, and the recall has been expanded to Shaw’s and Star Market stores in New England.

This is the kind of action we would have expected after the first customer complaint back in August, but nothing happened for almost two months. Hannaford corporate communications issued a statement Wednesday blaming a “a failure within our email system” that prevented the report from reaching the right people in the corporation, but that still leaves questions unanswered.

Did the Sanford store employees recognize that they had been a victim of product tampering, or did they write it off as a quality control problem? Did they follow up with the corporate office when they saw that there had been no response?

And most importantly, what is the supermarket chain doing to make sure that nothing like this will happen again?

It’s a relief that no one was injured by the razor blades, but considering how people handle pizza dough, it’s also a lucky break. And it seems unlikely that someone would tamper with products in August and October but not at any time in between. Someone could have been seriously injured in the weeks since the first report was made in Sanford.

Fortunately, this kind of crime is extremely rare. But anonymous violence has the power to terrorize a whole community. If people are going to have confidence in the food supply, we need more transparency than we have seen so far.




Thin Ice

The Caledonian Record

Oct. 13

Last week LI announced it would not open Fenton Chester Ice Arena for the winter. The decision, which the school says is a financial one, reverses missives the school made to local partners earlier this fall.

It’s a disapointing development for the region and one we hope can be solved by local stakeholders.

The rink is owned by the town of Lyndon but managed, as part of a five-year contract, by Lyndon Institute. The arrangement is in its final year.

From our view in the cheap seats, there are financial and logistical considerations that are easy to understand.

We understand that LI is still reeling from poor financial management by previous administrations; enrollment is down; and boarding program revenue is largely gone. We understand the school had terrific intentions when it offered to manage the town-owned rink four years ago. We understand the facility is suffering ill effects of deferred maintenance and hasn’t operated profitably once in a long time. Finally we understand the many challenges posed by a pandemic to athletic and community programs.

What we don’t understand is why Lyndon Institute waited until now to make their announcement. The decision impacts three area high school programs (the St. Johnsbury Academy and Lyndon Institute boys and Kingdom Blades cooperative girls) as well as the Lyndon Area Youth Hockey Association and its membership of more than 100 skaters ages 4 to 14.

As recently as August, these programs were told by LI that the rink would open as long as high school hockey was permitted by the state. They proceeded with customary registration efforts and are now left managing a crisis rather than their rosters. These parties are rightly frustrated that they were given no chance to adapt or improvise.

The town isn’t very happy either – by the timing of the announcement and/or lack of communication from the school. It didn’t help that nobody from LI attended a marathon meeting on Monday night to address the rink.

For its part, LI officials previously said the decision to re-open Fenton Chester Arena was tied to the status of high school hockey, which accounts for a large chunk of the rink’s annual revenue. When so much planning goes into a rink and community hockey programs, it’s frustrating that the state is delaying a decision on the 2020-21 high school hockey season until Nov. 1. But we understand from officials that hockey will likely get the green light.

Local programs certainly hope so, and officials from St. Johnsbury Academy and LAYHA joined community partners and the town on Monday night to commence emergency problem-solving. The appearance of the Academy at the table is certainly a welcome and notable development.

Despite their conspicuous absence from that call, an LI hockey program is going to have to be part of any collaborative effort to open the rink, even if the school can’t afford to manage the operation. Athletic Director Eric Berry previously signaled his school’s intent to have a season if the VPA allows it. We know he will be an effective partner.

In the short term, we’re hopeful these parties can come together to save local hockey for the season - even a shortened version of one. We don’t think it’s logistically viable to sustain a local program from Jay Peak and we’d hate to see an end to this great game in the NEK.