During HCAM’s Hopkinton Hangout Hour candidate interviews on Wednesday, Select Board vice chair John Coutinho revived his criticism of Amy Ritterbusch and her supporters for what he said were offensive social media posts.
On Thursday Ritterbusch issued a statement questioning whether Coutinho might be missing the bigger picture in town — namely personal attacks residents have faced due to their race or sexual orientation. She also questioned whether Coutinho is “unable to talk about difficult subjects in public or to listen to people who do not agree with him,” citing his decision to withdraw from last week’s HCAM debate in protest.
While the Independent was unable to verify any specific personal attacks — Coutinho said they were deleted shortly after being posted — there have been Facebook comments questioning whether Coutinho, chair of the Hopkinton Republican Town Committee, genuinely is interested in social justice considering the support he has shown for Donald Trump, who as president has come under frequent criticism for racist leanings. Coutinho has described himself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.
“To be clear I want to reiterate that I do not in any way condone personal attacks on my opponent or his family members,” Ritterbusch, a Democrat, wrote in a prepared statement. “I spent a lot of time this past week looking online and asking friends and my own teenagers if they had seen any personal attacks on my opponent. I wish that my opponent had spoken to me directly about this beforehand by email, phone, text message or while we were together chatting and holding signs downtown two days before the debate. Since he has not provided more detail or screenshots it remains very hard for me to address.
“I worry that this has been a distraction and takes the focus away from the very real personal attacks many of our residents receive regularly due to their skin color, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. I commend the brave Hopkinton residents who had been uncomfortable to speak up before, but are now starting to speak up more on social media very specifically about the personal attacks they have experienced in Hopkinton both in person and online. This week a previous Select Board candidate spoke up about specific incidents of bullying his family experienced when they first moved to Hopkinton, and a current School Committee candidate’s name was spray-painted along with a gay slur in graffiti at Sandy Beach. And today it tears at my heart strings to read the real and very specific stories of racial bias and discrimination experienced by Hopkinton students, staff and alumni via a new Instagram account @bipocathopkinton.
“By avoiding a civil and fair debate moderated by HCAM, I worry that my opponent is unable to talk about difficult subjects in public or to listen to people who do not agree with him. This is an extremely important skill for a leader to have. Not everyone who comes before the Select Board is happy with everything in town, we need leaders who are willing to listen and see others’ perspectives even if they do not agree. A debate would have been the perfect time for my opponent to give his own perspective to the residents and clarify his positions on the issues. I have run a positive and transparent campaign this year and have released all of my campaign finance filings going back to 2017. I deeply regret that we were not able to have the debate on June 15.”
Coutinho last week had expressed an interest in moving past the controversy, but in his HCAM interview Wednesday he offered more commentary on the matter.
“It’s been a difficult year because of the nastiness going on,” he said. “Hopkinton’s better than what was going on. Certain people were turning a blind eye to some of the nastiness that was occurring. Hopkinton’s better than that. It’s tough. Facebook pages filled with nasty comments and then dirty deleted [removed quickly so there is no evidence].
“This is neighbors being attacked by neighbors. And others sit back in their campaigns and allow it. They’re complicit. I’ve had enough, and I know that Hopkinton’s had enough.”