Alderman At Large Joe Kelly Levasseur made me look.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who has seen his latest bender on social media, and his unhinged televised antics.
On the June 13 installment of the “Joe & Will Show” he disparaged several of his colleagues on the Board of Aldermen, and used a PeeWee Herman doll to mock Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart. He lit up a sign outside his business to shame and intimidate Ward 8 Alderman John Cataldo.
He uses his Twitter account to call people school-yard bully names – people who don’t share his conservative politics. On June 20 he called for an FBI agent to be “hung by a rope.”
It shouldn’t even matter why he does it – it’s all politically motivated.
But here’s why it matters, and why I’m going out of my comfort zone to make an issue of it. I don’t normally editorialize on city politics.
Levasseur used his weekly televised program to talk about how he and Will Infantine were cutting off GOP support of Cataldo who “broke” his campaign promise on the city’s tax cap. It should be noted that tax cap was created to be broken – if a majority of board members agree that the city’s funding needs require it. It can also be voted out of the charter, according to the city assessor. You can read more on that here.
Bottom line is Cataldo was under no obligation to vote for the proposed tax cap budget – except in the mind of Levasseur. Campaign promises are just that. Rolling up your sleeves and doing the work at hand as a board is what the job requires. Making up your mind about a budget before you’ve even seen it is mindless.
Or as Cataldo said during last Tuesday’s meeting, “What is the good of saying ‘no’ just for the sake of saying ‘no’?”
But before Cataldo even voted, Levasseur launched a preemptive strike on him, and publicly shamed Cataldo for his anticipated support of Alderman Dan O’Neil’s alternative budget.
The day before the vote, Levasseur used the lighted sign outside his restaurant to bully Cataldo by calling him a sell-out to taxpayers for not upholding his campaign promise.
For those who’ve been paying attention, Cataldo, a first-term alderman, has been doing his homework and trying hard to untangle the perpetual mess that is the city’s budget process by initiating a way to change the city’s pay matrix, known as Yarger-Decker. That was another of his campaign promises. Year after year it’s cited as the problem, yet nobody in all these years – until Cataldo – has actually done anything to fix it.
In reflecting on why he voted as he did, Cataldo said:
“I believe it’s important to sit down as adults and have a discussion. In this budget there’s money to cover our obligation to pay severance, there is money to put toward redistricting and there is money in contingency to cover the cost of restoring steps and longevities for employees who’ve gone without a raise for a while now, all while staying 5 cents under the allowed increase in taxes under the tax cap. What Dan has also listened to is a conversation I’ve worked hard at bringing to the forefront of this board, which is to bring savings to tax payers for years to come…“
Beyond Levasseur’s intimidation tactics toward his colleagues, on June 18 Levasseur used his Twitter account to go after a constituent (whom he doesn’t know personally) who directed a question to the NH GOP about Trump’s policy on separating families and detaining children. It’s not even a local issue. But Levasseur couldn’t stop himself, calling Blake Tyler an “Anti American puke, “Absolute scum,” and “moron.”
His modus operandi is dehumanizing anyone he dislikes, usually for political reasons. He has since locked his social media accounts as non-public.
He refused to meet with me to talk about all of this, calling me a “two-faced liberal ‘reporter.'” I hear he regards me now as part of the “fake news” conspiracy.
Last week Rich Girard, a school board member, suggested to me that Levasseur is just exercising free speech. Yesterday I learned via a Facebook post that an 11-year-old in our city took her own life, an unspeakable tragedy attributed to bullying, in the post. Girard responded to the post by asking if the school was aware of the bullying, and what actions the school took to address it. He said he has sent an inquiry.
That is a good question for all of us to ponder when it comes to how we respond to bullying.
Free speech isn’t free; you have to take responsibility for your words – especially when you are elected to be a voice for citizens at City Hall. I don’t know any taxpayers who’d get very far if they sat in the chambers and called the Mayor – or any of the aldermen – pukes, scum, clowns and morons.
Unchecked, this will continue to be politics as usual in Manchester. Levasseur’s behavior fits the bullying profile, in my opinion, and I’m wondering why no one is taking steps to address it. I hope Girard has also submitted an inquiry to the Board of Aldermen on Levasseur’s intimidation tactics toward his fellow board members.
All of this is why I am rejecting politics as usual.
Joe Kelly Levasseur continues to say and do whatever he wants to do or say, things that are unprofessional and inappropriate. If he wants to be a political pundit, he should resign his seat and devote himself to his social media hobby, bullying anyone and everyone who thinks differently than he does. If he wants to be an alderman-at-large and represent all residents he needs a crash course in behavior modification.
And most of all, there’s this: In his behind the scenes handling of Cataldo, with support of a group of Republican operatives, Levasseur tried to leverage Cataldo’s vote through various methods, including social media bullying. That reads to me as a violation of our city charter:
SECTION 9.03 STANDARDS OF CONDUCT.(g) Non-interference. The board of mayor and aldermen, the various boards and commissions and the board of school committee shall act in all matters as a body, and shall not seek individually to influence the official acts of any city official…
Recent history should not be forgotten. In the minutes of a February 2014 Aldermanic meeting, testimony from then Police Chief David Mara, Assistant Chief Willard, as well as some of Levasseur’s fellow board members, describe Levasseur’s chronic abhorrent behavior and actions during a process that culminated in Levasseur being censured by his colleagues, a toothless edict with no real consequence.
You can read the first 10 pages of the meeting minutes for yourself, they’re posted below.
Four years later, and nothing has changed. That’s unacceptable.
I’m calling on residents and city leaders to hold elected officials to at least some minimum standard of civility. I know I’m not the only one shaking my head here. I know I’m not the only one who has seen and heard Joe Kelly Levasseur in action.
I hope I’m not the only one wondering how much longer we will condone inappropriate behavior with our collective silence.
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Carol Robidoux is publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com.