A top aide to Mayor James Harrington was accused of circulating a photo of challenger Jass Stewart kissing his partner, Denzil, on their wedding day and making disparaging comments about Stewart.
West Bridgewater Selectman Jerry Lawrence remembers the anti-gay postcards sent out days before the April 2006 election intended to sway voters against voting for him.
The smear tactics didn't work.
“I was really just very disappointed, and I've got to say that the community came together and was so supportive,” said Lawrence, 35, who is gay and won 60 percent of the vote in a three-way race. “It was unbelievable.”
Now, Lawrence is among local residents eyeing developments in the Brockton mayoral race after a top aide to Mayor James Harrington was accused of circulating a photo of challenger Jass Stewart kissing his partner, Denzil, on their wedding day and making disparaging comments about Stewart.
Moises Rodrigues, Harrington's director of community services, has denied the allegations.
Harrington said Tuesday that if the claims are true, “then I'll have to decide at that particular point how I'm going to handle it.”
Harrington could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
After a city resident complained about the situation and The Enterprise began making calls about it, several people in the city said they have witnessed a campaign to make Stewart's sexuality an issue.
“I'm very upset. First of all, it shouldn't matter what someone's sexual orientation is,” said Danina Rodrigues, 27, of Brockton. “As a minority in this community, I am shocked that people would even stoop as low as this.”
Her husband, Tony Rodrigues, said Moises Rodrigues, no relation, gave the picture of Stewart to him and then made a disparaging comment about Stewart when the two met recently to discuss city business.
The issue has sparked conversations across the city, including in the general store at the Belair Towers elderly housing complex in Ward 7 on Wednesday.
“It's dirty politics. I mean, if you can't run a fair campaign and run it on the issues, I don't think it's fair,” said Julie Farrington, 67, president of the Belair Towers Tenants Association.
“The man was entitled to his opinion, if that's all it was,” said Whitman's Ned Kirby, 79, a former GOP state representative who opposes gay marriage.
The incident has drawn attention to whether or not a candidate's sexual orientation should be a campaign issue.
“It's not really a non-issue, unfortunately,” said Cathy Adler of Easton, a member of that town's No Place for Hate Committee who, with her longtime partner, Ellen Dehm, became the first gay couple in Easton to obtain a marriage license.
“I think the public knows better than that and it certainly shouldn't be an issue,” said U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, who is openly gay, when reached in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.
“If anybody was trying to use that (as a campaign issue) I think it would be unfair,” Frank said.
Frank, who has brought his dates to the White House, said last week he met with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other federal officials.
“My kissing practices never came up,” Frank joked.
William Pribusauskas of Brockton said voters ultimately decide if a candidate's sexual orientation becomes a campaign issue.
“Every aspect of a candidate's life is subject to scrutiny,” said Pribusauskas, 59, Ward 6 Republican Committee chairman. “It's up to the individual voter to decide whether that issue has an effect on their vote.”
What impact the issue will have on the mayoral race remains to be seen, experts say.
“Negativity works. There's no doubt that it does,” said Michael Kryzanek, political science professor at Bridgewater State College.
Yet the fact that somebody associated with the mayor is alleged to have done this, especially in a state where gay marriage is sanctioned, “certainly casts a cloud over the campaign,” Kryzanek said.
And the mayoral race is “so close,” Kryzanek said.
In the Sept. 18 preliminary election, Harrington received 44 percent of the vote, just 1 percent and 107 votes more than Stewart, who won 43 percent.
The two ran against each other in 2005, when Stewart won 44 percent of the vote against Harrington, 59.
Stewart said Harrington contacted him Wednesday.
“He's been very apologetic to his credit, and I appreciate that and my family does, too,” Stewart, 36, said.
Stewart said he received dozens of phone calls and e-mails Wednesday from people making similar claims against Moises Rodrigues.
“It's more widespread than I had even imagined,” Stewart said.
Stewart said he hopes the mayor “will step up to the plate on this issue and show that discrimination of this type or any other type will not be tolerated in our government, that he makes the appropriate decision about Mr. Rodrigues' future in that public position.”
Marc Solomon, campaign director for MassEquality, a 200,000-plus member group working to protect marriage equality in Massachusetts, said smear tactics against gay candidates often backfire in Massachusetts “because people are fair minded.”
“People care about safety and housing and schools and health care, not a person's sexual orientation or race or gender,” Solomon said. “We're better than that in Massachusetts.”
Several Brocktonians said having a gay mayor wouldn't bother them.
“Honestly, it doesn't bother me. If he does the job, that's all that matters,” said Michael Coolidge, a Brockton High School senior.
“Someone's sexual orientation should not matter,” said Kelli King, 40, a city mother of three whose children attend parochial school.
“It's no different in the public sector than the private sector. Obviously, it's a question that shouldn't be raised,” said Bill Gillis, 48, a married father of four.
“I don't think it should be a factor in a political race,” said Cheryl Priest, 56, of Brockton.
Lawrence, the West Bridgewater selectman, said the Brockton mayoral race developments will “trigger some hate,” but also open doors of opportunity for people to become informed.
“I hope the city will see through this and not just accept these scare tactics and vote for who they think is the right person for the job, regardless of their personal life,” he said.
Maria Papadopoulos of The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.) can be reached at email@example.com.