An ugly social media mess has spilled over into Wilton’s municipal election, after residents discovered Facebook posts made by Board of Education candidate Andrea Preston before she was a candidate, that they say are racist and inappropriate for someone who wants to be involved in oversight of Wilton Schools. Several residents upset by the Preston’s online statements have criticized her online and in posts forwarded and emailed around town, with some including screen shots of comments Preston made on the social media platform, on publicly visible group pages–some stretching back to 2015.
Preston’s critics have been very vocal, saying her comments on hot button current event topics such as the Confederate Flag, Black Lives Matter, and Wilton students chanting “Build the Wall” at a football game against Danbury last year are troubling. They have suggested that Preston wouldn’t be able to separate her political beliefs from issues that the BoE might face, including those on diversity, and add that elected officials–especially members of the BOE–need to be able to debate and discuss issues without divisiveness.
Her supporters say Preston is entitled to have her political beliefs, and that the emails and posts being circulated are part of a calculated attack on someone just days before an election in an effort at character assassination. They say that Preston has given many volunteer hours to serve Wilton on other boards and she shouldn’t be judged harshly because she is willing to step forward and volunteer to serve in municipal government.
The debate on Facebook continued after Preston acknowledged it in a post on Wednesday, Nov. 1, saying that anyone who knows her knows she can be passionate about her political beliefs. The online discussion became heated and loud enough that News 12 caught wind of it, and ran the story on Thursday, Nov. 2. [Editor’s note–it’s the third story from the local news channel about Wilton in as many weeks, that highlights a negative situation.]
Now, Preston has issued a press statement, along with Republican Town Committee chair Bill Lalor. In it, she offers to “discuss any issues or concerns about me, these posts or my candidacy,” and encourages anyone to contact her. GOOD Morning Wilton has been in contact with both Preston and Lalor and is hoping to have that discussion to be able to share it with readers.
Statement by Andrea Preston:
“As I noted on Facebook, I appreciate the opportunity to address my prior Facebook comments posted on several hot-button political issues, which were posted well before I became a candidate for the Board of Education. I am not shy about my political views. Voters deserve to know what I think. I take responsibility for what I posted and welcome discussing my views with all voters anytime, anywhere. In fact, I am running on being a steadfast voice for transparent and open dialogue on the many issues facing the Board of Education and Wilton, whether or not sensitive, controversial or otherwise. People want informed, sincere and plain talk, especially where their kids’ education is concerned. Those that wish to discuss any issues or concerns about me, these posts or my candidacy are encouraged to contact me at email@example.com.
“That said, some on Facebook and in the press are wildly, if not maliciously, misconstruing my comments and using them to ascribe beliefs to me that I do not share, and, in fact, abhor. Any suggestions of racism or hate are ridiculous at best and offensive in the extreme. I understand those who do not share my political beliefs or my position on controversial issues that pervade national events, but I welcome their dialogue and feedback. But I will not sit idly by while a group of people try to malign my character to make a political point. That tactic is damaging to all volunteers who might ever serve as well as the town as a whole. Who would want to serve the town when faced with such easy willingness to vilify those with whom they disagree? And before those same persons dismiss this question by saying, the shoe is on the other foot, I’d ask them – when does it stop? When do you start listening and communicating rather than posting and demagoguing? When do we stop talking past each other?
“As a Board of Education candidate, I know voters expect more of me – to be more informed, more measured and more inclusive in my views and exchanges. I understand, and so I will conclude as I started – with an offer to have a real and constructive dialogue in person about these or any of the other issues affecting our students. That’s my commitment to them and to the voters of Wilton. Thank you for the opportunity to serve this community.
“I’ll be at Coffee Barn on Saturday from noon – 1 p.m. if anyone would like to stop by and chat with me.”
Wilton RTC Statement (Bill Lalor, RTC Chair):
The Wilton RTC commends Board of Education candidate Andrea Preston’s professional and measured response to yesterday’s orchestrated attempts by a small handful of people to ruin her good name. The RTC stands by Andrea, and we hope that closed social media groups purporting to “go high” will abide by basic rules of decorum in the future.
“Andrea should have been contacted before unauthenticated “screen shots” were circulated (at the 11th hour before Election Day, naturally). In fact she was not contacted by anyone among the closed group circulating the link and only learned of it afterwards. The reason is simple, and tactical: this was an old-fashioned character assassination, not an attempt to foster dialogue or “go high.” It was partisan politics.
“In view of the broader attention this incident has now seen in the local press, Andrea is now issuing a further statement and will continue to reach out to as many voters as she can. As Andrea said last night, she had not heard about this effort or the screen shots until hours after they were circulating on social media. Needless to say, Andrea is happy to now have the opportunity to set things straight, and her further statement is below.
“It is worth noting the recent Pew poll suggesting that 58% of Americans are afraid to voice their political opinions. Andrea, fortunately, is not afraid to speak her mind. But while it is fair enough to discuss a candidate’s tone and temperament, incidents like this will unquestionably discourage good people from volunteering and serving in the future. That is especially regrettable for Wilton, where volunteers are so critical.”