A Board of Education Candidates Forum held this week at the high school became contentious when the touchy subject of campaign financing was raised.
The panel of four candidates seeking three seats in the upcoming election spoke on a variety of issues before addressing questions from the audience. At that point Bloomfield resident and former BOE member Matt Yar asked sitting board member Dianna Fuller to explain a recent $150-a-head fundraiser sponsored by Democratic Councilman Michael Venezia.
“The average citizen in Bloomfield could not afford to pay $150,” he said. “Who was your targeted audience?”
When Fuller replied that the fundraiser was organized by her cousin, Yar countered, “It was promoted by the Councilman himself . . . Somebody’s not telling the truth.”
“I don’t like being implied to be a liar, Mr. Yar,” Fuller shot back, her voice shaking. “That fundraiser was done by my cousin. If Mr. Venezia was supporting it, then so be it. Talk to Mr. Venezia. I take contributions from anyone who would like to support my campaign.”
She added, “I’m dedicated and I want to do my job and it doesn’t matter what my political affiliation is.”
Fuller, who said she did not know what amount was raised at the fundraiser, said she had also hosted a $35 wine-and-cheese fundraiser at a friend’s home.
Following this exchange, another member of the audience asked about a contribution by Republican party member Candy Straight that was given to the other three candidates, Mary Shaughnessy, Kent Weisert and Dan Anderson, all running as members of “BEST (Building Excellent Schools Together) Team 2012.”
Shaughnessy, currently the BOE President, said Straight made “a modest contribution” to their campaign, while Weisert joked, “I must confess to a deep, dark secret, that I did sit next to Candy Straight in 10th grade World History class and at that time I had a teeny bit of a crush on her.”
Amidst laughter from the audience, Weisert admitted he did not know how much Straight contributed. Shaughnessy told Patch after the meeting Straight gave $250 to the "BEST team."
The discussion of campaign contributions is a political hot potato in Bloomfield right now, with some residents expressing the view that “Pay to Play” is alive and well leading up to the BOE elections on April 17.
The term pay to play, commonly known as the practice of seeking monetary contributions to gain political advantage or office, was how one Bloomfield resident described Fuller’s campaign practices. The resident, who asked not to be named, told Patch in a separate conversation, “An elected official sponsoring a candidate in a non-partisan election at $150 a ticket is focused toward vendors and contractors. You have to wonder: what do they want in return?”