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Coutinho, citing ‘hostile environment’ online, pulls out of Select Board debate

by | Jun 15, 2020 | News, Z-Lead Image Front Page

Monday’s HCAM Select Board debate was a short one, as incumbent John Coutinho announced in his opening remarks that he would not participate due to individuals in the community creating “a hostile environment” that has included “vicious attacks” on his candidacy and his family.

The opening question from moderator Tom Nappi, HCAM’s news director, asked about the candidates’ top priorities if elected. After Amy Ritterbusch, who is a registered Democrat, offered her take, the question was posted to Coutinho, a Republican.

“Tom, first I want to thank you and I want to thank HCAM for your efforts to put this virtual debate together,” Coutinho said. “Unfortunately, the online activities of some in our community have created a hostile environment for thoughtful and constructive political discourse, as well as vicious attacks not only on my candidacy but members of my family, including my innocent children.

“It seems that no matter how committed I am to our town of Hopkinton, and how hard many try to focus on the needs of our community during these unprecedented public health and economic times, others just lash out on social media, through their surrogates, to divide our community in any way possible.

“Given the hostilities focused on partisan politics and the lack of legitimate debate in this campaign around the real issues facing Hopkinton for a volunteer position, I can no longer in good conscience participate in any discussion with those that allow this to happen.

“As such, I am removing myself from their petty process and turning the campaign over to the voters of Hopkinton, and with all due respect to the organizers of this debate, that decision starts right now. I hope that the residents of Hopkinton recognize my extensive fiscal experience, my tireless work, my deep love and commitment to our community, and will vote for the best of Hopkinton on Monday, June 29th.

“Thank you and good night.”

A surprised Nappi gave Ritterbusch an opportunity to make a closing statement before ending the program.

“I guess I’m disappointed not to be able to debate the real issues with my opponent, but it’s up to him, and of course I want to stick with the FCC rules about you can’t have a debate with one candidate, so that’s fine,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of information about both of us on the internet and social media and in the papers, so I think everyone can get to know us that way, even though they couldn’t get to know us in the debate.

“I’m sorry if he felt — if he was attacked on the online community. I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to discuss that since he left the debate.”

In response to Nappi’s original question, Ritterbusch had said her priorities have changed since the pandemic.

“If you would have asked me six months ago I think I would have said the growth and development in Hopkinton was my top priority, but now with this COVID situation I think it’s going to have to be the growth and development combined with the response to the COVID-19 situation and the effect it’s going to have on our economy,” she said. “We’re going to have to be very careful with our budgeting to make sure we’re not spending too much, and we’re cutting — not cutting so much, but delaying expenses to make sure that we can pay for everything. Nobody likes their taxes to go up, but nobody wants their services to be cut. So, budgeting is a top priority of mine.

“I think transparency and better communication with the residents is another top priority. I think a little more outreach to the community, making sure they’re aware of projects, how to communicate with the Select Board, how to find things on the town website, how to get engaged if they are interested on an issue or just want to get involved. Those are my top priorities.”

The three candidates vying for two spots on the School Committee, Lya Batlle-Rafferty, Joe Markey and Dawn Ronan, had their debate later in the evening and discussed a variety of issues.

Select Board and School Committee are the only two contested races in the Town Election, which is scheduled for June 29. For a complete list of candidates, click here.