📷 Demetri Kasperson resigned as chairperson of the Southbridge Democratic Town Committee on Thursday, citing actions of State Senate candidate Tom Merolli. (Image from 12 February 2018 Southbridge Town Council meeting, courtesy Southbridge Community Television)
Kasperson resigns citing Senate candidate’s behavior
By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Editor
SOUTHBRIDGE — For the second time in 15 weeks, the Democratic Town Committee has seen its chairperson resign after decisions not to support their party’s candidates in some races.
Demetri Kasperson announced his resignation as chairperson via the Southbridge Democratic Town Committee’s (DTC) Facebook page late Thursday morning. Kasperson said he is stepping down after Tom Merolli of Mendon, the Democratic nominee for the Worcester and Norfolk District State Senate seat, recently announced he and Southbridge Town Councilor Kristen Auclair were dating. In his public notice of resignation, Kasperson affirmed he and Auclair had been dating for five years and lived together while she and the Senate candidate began an “ongoing illicit relationship.”
On Thursday morning, Kasperson took to the DTC’s Facebook page to announce the meeting would be cancelled and he had tendered his immediate resignation “Due to the ongoing deception of me and the Southbridge Democratic Town Committee by the Tom Merolli campaign.”
Kasperson went on to allege the Merolli campaign had “benefited from my contributions of time and money while covering up an ongoing illicit relationship with my partner of 5 years. When they were exposed, they mischaracterized the innocence of the relationship and the circumstances under which it was discovered.”
Merolli told The Citizen Chronicle on Thursday night that he disagreed with Kasperson’s comments and he remained focused on seeking election next month.
“Mr. Kasperson’s choices and decisions are his own. My personal relationships are private. With regard to my campaign, the suggestions of Mr. Kasperson are inaccurate. I do not intend to comment further on this matter,” Merolli said. “My campaign to represent the people of this district in the State Senate is ongoing.”
Auclair declined to comment on the matter when reached on Thursday evening.
Merolli and Auclair were briefly detained by the Southbridge Police behind West Street School shortly after midnight on September 26. According to police logs, officers had been investigating a “suspicious automobile” near the soccer fields and a series of walking trails behind the elementary school when they came upon Merolli and, about 15 minutes later, Auclair. Police officers spoke to the two politicians before advising them of trespassing signs and sending the couple on their way.
Merolli took to his campaign’s official Facebook page on September 28 that he and Auclair “are in a relationship,” and were simply taking a late night walk and “talking about life and our future” when police found them. Three days after Merolli announced his relationship with Auclair, Kasperson announced plans for a DTC meeting to discuss rescinding the panel’s endorsement of the State Senate candidate. The DTC’s Facebook page posted such a meeting, which would be open to the public, would be held on October 9 with the rescinding of Merolli’s endorsement being weighed due to “ethical reasons.” A brief exchange followed as members of the organization and other interested parties offered their thoughts on the matter.
Kirsten Nelson Roenfeldt, who as the DTC’s vice chairperson is now at the group’s helm on an interim basis, acknowledged the difficult spot local Democrats now find themselves in.
“If the Southbridge Democratic Town Committee had known about Tom’s unethical relationship, my endorsement vote certainly would have been different. We must have a high ethical standard for all of our Congress people,” she told The Citizen Chronicle on Thursday. “Going forward, the focus of the SDTC will be the midterm elections. We are focused on getting out the vote, and making sure the people of Southbridge have our voices heard. Democrats stand for a life of opportunity for all and government that empowers us, the people. Vote on November 6. And join us to get others out to have their voices heard.”
On Thursday evening, a post on the DTC Facebook page added, for purpose of clarification, local Democrats had not voted to rescind their endorsement of Merolli.
In his resignation notice, Kasperson added that he would be unenrolling from the Democratic Party after being a “lifetime” member. He reasoned he “cannot support any political party whose desire to win is more important than the character of its candidates.”
SECOND CHAIRPERSON TO RESIGN, LEAVE DTC IN RECENT MONTHS
Kasperson’s decision comes fewer than four months after his predecessor had done the same after a controversy in which Jacquelyn M. Ryan, then the DTC’s chairperson, publicly supported and affirmed she had voted for four candidates for Southbridge Town Council, none of whom were DTC-endorsed candidate Marketti. Marketti finished fifth in a field of seven candidates for three three-year terms on the Town Council. In the days after the town’s annual election in June, Marketti composed a political cartoon depicting Ryan as a weathervane “blowin’ in the wind.”
Ryan, now the chairperson of the Southbridge School Committee, resigned from the helm and ranks of the DTC on June 20. At the time, Ryan told The Citizen Chronicle that Marketti “was unwilling to compromise and he does not work well with others,” leading for her votes and support to be cast for Auclair, John Daniel, and David Adams. Only Daniel had been endorsed by the DTC.