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Warren elections chief to resign following controversial comments

Vincent Calenda expected to resign Friday morning following 16 years leading canvassers

By Ted Hayes
Posted 8/28/20

The chairman of the Warren Board of Canvassers was expected to resign his post Friday morning after he made a derogatory statement about some Democrats, and used what some believed was a racially insensitive term to …

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Warren elections chief to resign following controversial comments

Vincent Calenda expected to resign Friday morning following 16 years leading canvassers

Posted

The chairman of the Warren Board of Canvassers said he would resign his post Friday morning after he made a derogatory statement about some Democrats, and used what some believed was a racially insensitive term to describe former First Lady Michelle Obama, on a Facebook post Wednesday.

Vincent Calenda said late Thursday afternoon that he would submit his resignation papers Friday morning, after Warren residents shared screen captures of a Facebook thread in which he made the statements. The captures were also sent to council president Keri Cronin and vice president John Hanley.

"Evidently they don't want me to exercise my first amendment rights," Mr. Calenda, the brother of Warren Town Council member Steve Calenda, said Thursday afternoon. "I don't want this to be an issue. I'm just going to resign."

The comments were posted in response to a Facebook thread about Bette Midler, who was recently critical of Melania Trump's perceived difficulty with the English language during a speech she gave at the Republican National Convention.

"Typical Hollywood Liberal S**t Head," Mr. Calenda wrote in the thread. "I'm certain that she thinks that the Racists who hates all white people. Michelle Nappy head Obama did a better job!!!"

Screen captures of his comments quickly circulated in Warren before resident Jay Blackbeard wrote a letter to Ms. Cronin and Mr. Hanley early Thursday afternoon, questioning Mr. Calenda's ability to be non-partisan and run a fair election here.

"I absolutely cannot abide bigotry or deliberate divisiveness from a public appointee," Mr. Blackbeard wrote. "I would appreciate a response regarding what action you plan to take in ensuring a fair election as well as any statement on the chair's words."

Ms. Cronin responded via e-mail later that afternoon. Though she said she was not sure what official action could be taken prior to the September council meeting, she wrote that she had forwarded his concerns to Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto. She also denounced Mr. Calenda's Facebook post:

"His statement is both disappointing and offensive and in direct conflict with the resolution unanimously adopted by the Town Council on behalf of the Town of Warren which commits to being anti-racist," she wrote. "Mr. Calenda's words do not reflect me, the Town or the party I am affiliated with."

Mr. Calenda, himself a Registered Democrat, deactivated his Facebook account Thursday afternoon. He had served as chairman of the Board of Canvassers for 16 years.

Conflict of interest?

In his letter, Mr. Blackbeard also pointed out a possible conflict of interest on the board as its vice-chairman, Byron Kee, is the father of Bristol Warren Regional School Committee candidate Tara Thibaudeau.

"As a layman this seems to be an obvious conflict," Mr. Blackbeard wrote.

In response, Ms. Cronin said she agrees a conflict could potentially exist:

"The Vice Chair of the Board of Canvassers should recuse themselves from any action or activity that would impact a candidate for the school committee to whom they are related," she wrote. "If this policy has not been followed, it should be reported to the State Board of Ethics."

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