BETHLEHEM — Proverbial shots were fired shortly after the start of the first town board meeting following party endorsement announcements.
Bethlehem Democratic Committee Member Ted Hartman targeted Republican Town Board Member Jim Foster with questions stemming from the passing of the board’s Black Lives Matter-inspired resolution last September.
The resolution, which passed by a 4 to 1 vote, denounced racism and committed the town to work towards racial equity. It also signaled the launch of its Police Reform & Reinvention Collaborative effort. Foster was the lone vote against the resolution.
Hartman has been an ardent supporter of Black Lives Matter. The criminal and immigration attorney recently argued to have a Black Lives Matter sign erected at Tri-Village Little League. Attention to his cause drew controversy after the league’s board of directors turned him down. The league received backlash for the decision despite its own efforts to promote racial unity.
“Have you had enough time to read the resolution, and do you support the resolution that was made in September?” Hartman asked. “The reason I ask is because, there are people that have been saying that wasn’t really the reason why you voted no.”
Following a short pause from Hartman, Town Supervisor David VanLuven answered by reiterating the board’s policy of not responding to direct questions during the board’s public comment section. The board, however, has occasionally broken away from that policy to address weighted topics. The town supervisor extended that opportunity to Foster.
Foster shared in September that residents had little time to review the resolution before the board’s vote. The draft shared with residents on that Friday was further revised after Labor Day weekend. The draft passed by the town board was uploaded just hours before the start of the meeting, said Foster.
A copy of the resolution was uploaded to the town’s website on the Friday before the holiday weekend. Only a half dozen people attended the online board meeting, some of whom shared they were unaware of the resolution until that day.
Public reception was mixed among the half dozen who spoke during the September meeting’s comment period. Those opposed expressed concerns with wording that appeared to endorse the Black Lives Matter organization. Those residents balked at the idea while attributing blame on the organization for recent riots and social unrest.
“I think as we heard in the public comment period here tonight, and also the recent appointment of our police chief, critically important issues like this resolution are too important to rush through without allowing people ample time to review and provide input. And, that’s why I’d prefer to table it,” Foster had said.
The rest of the board felt the latest revisions were not substantial enough to warrant delay. Though members of the board have openly expressed support, capitalizing Black Lives Matter as a proper noun on social media, the last draft omitted “matter” from the resolution’s title.
Foster’s response to Hartman repeated his argument from last September.
“It wasn’t so much an issue for me not having enough time to review it. Like I said during that meeting, the new draft came out — I think — right around 11 a.m.,” he said Wednesday. “It had new language I think that would have impacted folks on any side of the issue.”
Hartman further pressed the issue, asking Foster if he would support the resolution today. The town board member said his opinion on the board’s haste to pass the resolution had not changed. Foster, who is also an attorney, said he would have liked residents to have had more time to provide input, but because he has not heard any discussion since last year, his position has not changed.
“That’s a dialogue I would have been happy to have, but now we’re dealing with hypotheticals, Ted,” Foster said.
The political season kicked off with the recent announcement of party endorsements. The town’s Republican party endorsed Foster to seek another term on the board. Local Democrats have political newcomer David DeCancio running for his seat. VanLuven is running for reelection, as is Town Board Member Maureen Cunningham; each on the Democrat ticket.
VanLuven interjected a second time, allowing Foster a final comment before wrapping up the nearly six-minute long exchange. Left unanswered was Hartman’s question as to whether or not Foster would refute a statement from last year by former Republican Committee Chair Keith Wiggand, who described the town board member on social media as “giving an impassioned argument against the resolution.”
“Keith Wiggand says a lot of things that I don’t necessarily agree with. I don’t control him, unfortunately, and I certainly say he doesn’t speak for me,” Foster said. “I think all of us on the board experience things like this where people may agree or disagree with us, and that’s the function of living in a democracy. We can’t control what they say or what they do. They may try to tie our names to certain things [we] ourselves do not want to be tied to, or vise versa.”