FALMOUTH – Two candidates are competing for a selectmen’s seat in Falmouth, but only one’s answers to a questionnaire made it into Friday’s Falmouth Enterprise, the edition before the May 17 election.
Mark Finneran, who is challenging incumbent Selectman Doug Jones for the seat, was two days late in turning in his answers to a League of Women Voters questionnaire. But that was nine days before the May 15 edition of the newspaper.
Still, the answers did not make it into the newspaper and there is no clear explanation as to why.
The League says it was a misunderstanding but places the blame on Finneran for turning in his answers late and in hard copy rather than by email.
Addressing what she called a “miscommunication,” Alice Carey, who is chair of voter services for the League of Women Voters of Falmouth, also took some of the blame herself. “I was really very, very sorry,” she said.
The newspaper’s editor, Bill Hough, also says the lion’s share of the blame lies with Finneran.
While saying, “It’s an unfortunate thing that happened,” Hough also said, “Marc has to take some responsibility here. Once you miss the deadline, everything is up in the air.”
Finneran places the blame on the League but said he was concerned about just this kind of thing happening because he feels Alice Carey and others in the League do not like him.
“I fully expected it,” said Finneran. “And honestly, when I analyze all these things, I know I must be getting closer. I must be on the right track.”
Finneran, who is a vocal, and some would say abrasive, critic of town government, is seeking a seat on the Falmouth Board of Selectmen for the third time.
(In a Cape Cod Wave interview in May 2014, Finneran said, “I’ve got a sixth sense for how things operate. That’s just how my mind works. I can see patterns.”)
The newspaper ran the questionnaire responses of his opponent Selectman Doug Jones, by themselves with a note stating that Finneran had not turned in his answers.
Next to Jones’s candidate responses in the newspaper was the statement: “There are two candidates for one seat on the board of selectmen. Douglas H. Jones is the incumbent. Candidate Marc P. Finneran did not respond to the league’s invitation to answer its questionnaire.”
Finneran takes issue with that wording.
“Saying I didn’t respond, that represents to people that I don’t care and that’s the furthest from the truth,” Finneran said.
By handing the answers to Alice Carey at the Candidates Night at Morse Pond School, in view of many people, Finneran said, “I wanted to be sure she had them. I said, ‘Here they are.’”
Carey said that she was running the candidates forum and as a result that was a hectic night for her.
“Marc gave me the hard copy,” she confirmed.
But she said that she could not do anything with Finneran’s hard copy. “That wasn’t the process. All candidates were to answer via email,” Carey said.
In that conversation, Alice Carey said she understood Finneran to say that he emailed the answers directly to the editor of The Falmouth Enterprise.
“It was a rushed conversation. I believe he said he sent them to [Enterprise editor] Bill Hough,” Carey said. “That was my understanding.”
She said she did not subsequently hear from Hough nor did she attempt to communicate to him by phone or email that she had received the answers from Finneran.
“Bill didn’t contact me, so I thought [Finneran] had reached him,” she said.
Carey said, “Don’t make a big deal out of this. This is an honest mistake. It’s unfortunate and I felt badly about this happening.”
When Finneran saw the May 15 edition of the Enterprise, he said his reaction was not anger or frustration.
He said, the omission was expected from establishment entities like the Enterprise and the League of Women Voters that do not like the way he questions the town leadership.
Matthew McNamara, who has acted as Finneran’s campaign manager in the past but this year is acting as just a supporter, sent out a press release about the omission to a few media outlets.
McNamara stated that the Enterprise wrote that Finneran did not answer the questionnaire, but “never confirmed the accuracy of its claim, yet provided full coverage to Mr. Finneran’s opponent.”
One of the people to hear about the omission was State Representative David Vieira (R-Falmouth).
Vieira called Alice Carey to ask her about what happened, Carey said. That led to Carey writing an explanation that she sent Saturday morning to Vieira, Bill Hough, McNamara and the League steering committee.
In the explanation, Carey wrote, “I also was surprised when Marc Finneran’s responses to the Enterprise Questions for Selectman did not appear in today’s paper.”
She said that at the Candidates Night she told both Finneran and school committee candidate Ginamarie Tolentino that she had not received their responses.
Tolentino said she would email them the next day, whereas Finneran handed her the hard copy of the responses right there on the spot.
In Carey’s Saturday morning statement, she wrote, “I still have this copy and would be willing to cooperate in somehow communicating them to others. I am at a loss as to how that could be accomplished.”
Alice Carey ended the note by stating, “I am sorry about this situation but have to admit that throughout the process of organizing Candidates Night it has been very difficult to communicate with Mr. Finneran.”
When Cape Cod Wave interviewed Alice Carey about the matter later in the day on Saturday, May 16, she had still not given the answers to the Enterprise nor had the Enterprise requested them.
Asked if she would do anything differently in the future, Alice Carey said she did not know what she could do differently, except to keep trying to contact candidates who did not turn in their questionnaires.
The League of Women Voters of Falmouth steering committee First Vice President Betsy Fontes said she had received Alice Carey’s emailed explanation.
“It was a screw up, there’s no doubt about that. Things happen. Marc probably feels paranoid because he is controversial,” Fontes said.
But she said the blame goes to Finneran who missed the original deadline.
“The reality is, if [Marc Finneran] did what he was supposed to do, none of this would have happened. When he did hand it to Alice, she had a million things on her mind. She just assumed he had sent it in himself. I know Alice did not do it intentionally,” Fontes said.
She said that Finneran’s viewpoint that the League is against him is not true.
“That’s the League’s mission to be non-partisan,” Fontes said. “I don’t think it was done intentionally. We might need to take a look at how we’ve done things and make some changes.”
She said at the steering committee’s next meeting, the group may look at why they are involved in the candidates’ questionnaires at all and perhaps the Enterprise should deal with candidates directly.
“That would be my recommendation. The less hands, keeping it simple,” she said.
She said it was also unfortunate that at candidates’ night because of the order of the candidates, there was no time for questions to the two selectmen candidates, Finneran and Doug Jones.
“We have to look at that. It’s really bad that selectmen [candidates] didn’t have time to answer any questions,” she said.
Meg Borden, who is the Second Vice President on the steering committee of the League of Women Voters of Falmouth, said on Saturday, May 16, that she had not yet looked at the Enterprise, had not checked her email and did not know anything about the Finneran omission.
When the matter was explained to her, she said, she was surprised she had not been contacted but she defended Alice Carey, who has been running the voter services for the League for 10 years.
“I think it’s very unfortunate because Alice has been running the voter service for years and she is certainly one of the people that really does exhibit being non-partisan,” she said.
She was one of several people interviewed who said it was particularly unfortunate that it happened to Marc Finneran.
“He has a tendency to get really emotional over issues. He may have taken it more personally,” Borden said.
But she added, “Certainly anyone would be upset by it.”
Borden said the bottom line was that Finneran missed the deadline. “A missed deadline is a missed deadline,” she said.
Echoing Fontes, Borden said that it was highly unfortunate that at the candidate’s night, an event run by Alice Carey, selectmen’s candidates were to debate at the end of the night and there was no time left by the time it was their turn.
The event was run jointly by the League of Women Voters and Falmouth Community Television (FCTV) but, in another mishap, FCTV had technical problems and was unable to broadcast the event live.
As of Saturday evening, May 16, Finneran had not heard from anyone at the Enterprise or the League of Women Voters apologizing or even acknowledging the mistake.
“It’s business as usual. The supposed honest people aren’t,” he said.
Finneran said the reason he gave a hard copy to Alice Carey was because she told him that she was not receiving the emails that he sent.
Finneran said he received an email from Alice Carey on May 3, the day before the deadline that was sent both to him and to his opponent Doug Jones stating that she had not received back the candidate questionnaires from either of them.
Finneran said he worked on the answers that day and emailed them on May 4, the deadline day, to Carey.
He received an email message from her and a phone message that she still had not receive his email, so he emailed them a second time.
And then, he said, just to be sure, he printed the answers out and brought them with him to the Candidates Forum that Alice Carey was running on May 6.
As far as technology goes, Finneran said he does not have a computer set up at his house and uses a computer at his mother’s home for emails. He said he does not like to use computers and does not send many emails.
He also said, “There are certain people who don’t like me,” and he said he believes Alice Carey is one of them.
It is for that reason, he said, he brought the answers in hard copy to the candidate’s night to be sure Alice Carey had them.
“I pressed them into her hands,” he said.
Finneran said giving Carey the hard copy at a public event with many witnesses was to ensure that no one could claim he did not turn the answers in.
Yet that is exactly what happened.
The election is Tuesday, May 19, and the newspaper will not publish another edition until three days after the election.
One of the people contacted by Cape Cod Wave about this story called Doug Jones, and within hours of that call, on Saturday, May 16, at about 5:30 p.m., he posted Finneran’s answers to the questionnaire, along with his own, on both his personal Facebook page and his candidates’ Facebook page.
Jones did not return a call for comment for this story.
Hough confirmed that he did not contact Carey or Finneran about the missing answers to the questionnaire before going to press on the edition before the election.
The onus was on Finneran, Hough said, particularly given that he had missed the deadline, to make sure his questions got to the newspaper.
But Hough said that if Alice Carey had notified him that she had the answers on May 6, he would certainly have had them typed up and published in the newspaper.
Finneran said he did not believe that Hough did not ask Carey or Finneran where the answers were. He said, “I refuse to to believe that. Am I that much of a nonentity?”
He pressed a Cape Cod Wave reporter on the matter. “Do you think Bill Hough didn’t ask where [the answers] were before he put the paper to press? Come on,” Finneran said in disbelief.
Hough said when he received Alice Carey’s email on May 4 with all the questionnaires except Finneran’s and Tolentino’s, he did not speculate on the reason.
“I didn’t make any judgement one way or the other,” Hough said.
He said he believes there is a precedent for a candidate not answering the questions and he intends to check into that.
Hough stressed that once Finneran missed the deadline for the answers, it was Finneran’s responsibility to make sure the answers got to the Enterprise.
“I put the onus on Marc—not solely, but by far the lion’s share on Marc. It’s in his court to get those answers [to the Enterprise]. He can’t just give them to Alice. He’s got to follow through. If he aspires to be a selectmen, you’ve got to follow through.”
As to whether he thinks the omission could influence the election, Hough first said, “It might. I don’t know.”
But then he reconsidered. “I don’t think it will. They are too different. You have two candidates that couldn’t be further apart. If you have two people that are similar, or their viewpoints overlap a little bit, then it might. But you either like Marc or you don’t. You either like Doug Jones or you don’t. The battle lines are drawn. I don’t think anyone is going to be undecided until they read the paper on that one,” he said.
Hough said that Finneran giving Alice Carey the answers the night of the Candidates Forum was not sufficient. “Her mind is otherwise occupied,” he said.
Hough said there is a long tradition of the League handling the candidates questions. “It is the candidates job to get their answers to the League and the League sends them to us. We’re very hands-off on purpose.”
He said the league also comes up with the questions for the candidates.
Over the years, Hough has written editorials critical of Finneran but he called any suggestion that the past criticism influenced his behavior in this case, “foolishness.”
If Finneran believes the League deliberately did not turn the questions in, Hough said, in part, “he’s got problems.”
When Hough was asked if he had not received Doug Jones’ answers by press time if he would have telephoned the incumbent selectman candidate, Hough paused. “That’s not a fair question. I have no idea,” he said.
Hough said that some have questioned whether the League should continue to be involved with the questionnaires given what happened this year. He said he hasn’t considered that yet.
But he said, “I don’t think it makes the league look bad.” He repeated that he believes there is precedent to a candidate opting not to fill out the questionnaire. “This probably wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t Marc,” he said.
On Sunday, May 17, two days before the election, McNamara wrote to Hough saying that he believed Hough had still not received Finneran’s questionnaire responses. He emailed Hough the responses and asked whether Hough could post them on the Enterprise website. Hough said he would.
Finneran was inconclusive about how big an effect omitted questions has on his campaign. But he said, “I don’t feel it had a positive effect.”
He said the matter is being discussed in town. “Emails are flying all over the place in support and against.” But, he said he is staying out of it. “I don’t really want to be a part of this,” he said.
And while Alice Carey insisted the whole thing was a mistake, a misunderstanding, Finneran begs to differ.
“I don’t think it’s a mistake at all. All I know is, I gave it to them. These people have a history of loving me,” he said sarcastically.
As an aside, he said, he has always wondered why the Enterprise, “outsources” this particular function of gathering the candidates’ answers to the questions.
But he said that what he believes was an intentional effort not to publish his answers has a bright lining.
“I look at it as I must be doing something right,” he said.
Finneran said if he doesn’t win in Tuesday’s election, he will likely try again.
“I’m not going anywhere. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that I represent the majority of Falmouth. These people are wasting my friends’ money, my mother’s money and my town’s money.”
– Laura M. Reckford
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