None of us should be surprised by the content of Tony Oberdorfer’s acid editorial in this week’s Belmont Citizen Herald. What many of us are wondering is “why was it printed”?
For those of you who haven’t read the opinion piece “Fiddling while Rome burns,” (and I’m not recommending you do), Oberdorfer throws a wheelhouse punch at everything that he perceives to be wrong in town. Those include: “so-called liberals,” the Senior Center, town administrators (there are too many of ’em) and, of course, “our beknighted School Department,” “compliant School Committee” and … wait for it… “greedy” parents. Oberdorfer accuses this last troika of a “conspiracy against suffering property owners.”
Anyone who’s a regular reader of the BCH’s opinion page has had to wade through Tony’s ill informed dreck before. What set this week’s editorial apart, however, were the very personal attacks on Town Meeting member Anne Mahon. Mahon’s crime: she had the temerity to suggest that Belmont’s excellent school system is a magnet for young families moving into town and one reason that property values in the town remain high. Not such a crazy idea, but for Oberdorfer, it’s heresy. Why, everyone knows that people move to Belmont because of its proximity to Cambridge — the same reason that they move to, oh…Chelsea, or Everett!
I’ve contributed to the BCH editorial page before and I’m an ardent supporter of using your editorial and op-ed pages to sponsor a healthy debate over issues before the town. Moreover, I know that editor Tony Schinella usually takes the time to work with contributors on their submissions — both to get them to length and to shape the message. That’s why I’m really confused and concerned about the fact that Oberdorfer’s personal attacks on Anne slipped by. At a minimum, I think that Tony O. should have been asked to cut the ad hominem attacks. Let’s face it: Anne’s not the only one suggesting that the quality of the schools and the desirability of Belmont as a destination town are linked. Attack the idea if you want, but not the person.
Second, Oberdorfer’s ham fisted attacks on “liberals,” “progressives,” and “greedy parents” were just over the top. We’ve got a free press and, of course, BCH can publish any opinions it likes, but this kind of stuff really poisons the well. At the end of the day, we all pay taxes in town (tax increases are borne just as much by parents of young children as by retirees). But I don’t think its too much to ask that, with so many critical issues facing Belmont and requiring the town to come together in the months ahead that the town’s paper should be doing what it can to foster healthy discussion and debate. Oberdorfer’s Op-ed does neither: it’s a rhetorical hand grenade tossed into the midst of an important public forum. — Paul