DTC awards breakfast looks at citizen government

Wilton Democrats honored two longstanding contributors to their party and the town and heard their honorees urge them to work across party lines to make government more effective. At the same time they got a spirited call to defend Democratic values from state Comptroller Kevin Lembo and heard Fairfield University associate professor Jocelyn Boryczka, in a sobering report on “fake news,” join Lembo in citing an increase in participation by Democrats as the upside of a troubling political scene.

At the spring breakfast on April 1 at Trackside, Richard Creeth, current Board of Finance member, former four-term selectman and past Democratic Town Committee (DTC) chair, was named Democrat of the Year by the DTC. Virginia “Gini” Benin, who over four decades has served on a dozen elected, appointed and voluntary posts, including the Board of Education, was honored with the DTC’s Lifetime Achievement Award before a bipartisan breakfast crowd of 80-plus at Trackside.

Creeth, a native of the U.K. who came to the U.S. in 1991, said that “Friends in England have asked why I love this country, and I tell them it’s because you can really see things getting done here.” He quoted Winston Churchill, “The price of greatness is responsibility,” and urged Democrats to heed those words in their attitude toward the President. “It is not in our interest that the President fails. It is in everyone’s interest that he succeeds.”

As a member of the Board of Selectmen, Creeth was instrumental in the establishment of the Energy Commission, which he now co-chairs.  At the Board of Finance he created a budgeting tool that more accurately predicts the financial impact of proposed expenditures. “He sees ways of doing things that others don’t,” said former DTC chair John Kalamarides, “and he presents them in a quiet, dignified, yet forceful way.”

Benin argued that bipartisan cooperation begins at the local level. “If we cannot do it here, we cannot expect it to work at the state or national level,” she told the gathering. “The only disappointments I ever had were when I saw people get up at meetings and they cared only about what they wanted and could not stretch to see what the community needed.”

Besides her service on the Board of Education, Benin won election to the Board of Finance and served there from 1990 to 2000. She has held appointed positions on the Town Committee on Senior Center Facilities, the Board of Education School Facilities Committee, the Town Building Committee on Code Compliance for School Buildings, the Town Building Committee on Cider Mill Renovation and Expansion and Wilton Ethics Commission. She’s held voluntary positions on the Wilton PTA, the Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County Board of Directors, the League of Women Voters (including two years in the National League of Women Voters), Wilton Library Association Board of Trustees and the Wilton Historical Society, on whose board she still serves. She remains active in the League of Women Voters.

Lembo urged Democrats to fight for the state programs and services they value, and praised the thousands who have done that since the election. “People are realizing they can’t be on the sidelines anymore,” he said. “Bring them in!”

State Democratic Chair Nick Balletto reminded the audience of the importance of Democratic influence at the state level. For example, he said, given recent decisions in Washington, “Women’s health care may come down to the states.”

In her talk on Sex, Lies and Wiretaps: The Politics of Fake News, Boryczka warned that “false news” amounted to “government by deflection,” and was designed to divert the public’s attention from real issues. The result, she said, is an eroded trust in democracy. “People see gridlock. They don’t see anything getting done. They think, it’s not working for us. Maybe we need another form of government.” She presented research suggesting that Americans today are “less likely to endorse democracy as a value, and less likely to reject non-democratic alternatives.” Like Lembo, she saw increased involvement as a positive sign, evidence of a desire to get “real” facts about political issues. She cited increases in New York Times and Washington Post subscriptions as evidence, and reminded the crowd that in the end what happens to our government is a personal choice: “It’s about us.”

Benin drew laughter when she described the occasional cost of the volunteering that she and Creeth have done, much of hers accomplished from her “office” in the family’s laundry room. “One teacher presented me with a painting my daughter had done. It was me on the phone. The teacher suggested I might pay a little more attention to her.” Benin’s family joined in the laughter.