He also wants to replace her on the Select Board.
Each responded to questions and offered statements to lead off the Bedford League of Women Voters candidate forum on Bedford TV last Sunday. Both are on the ballot for a single seat in the March 13 town election.
Fleischman is seeking her fourth three-year term; she was elected twice to the Planning Board before that. Whitt-Leitner is a 2020 Bedford High School graduate and a student at Norwich University in central Vermont. Norwich is the nation’s oldest private military college. (Contacted this week, Whitt-Leitner said he would transfer to a school closer to home if elected.)
Contrast was exemplified in their closing statements. Whitt-Leitner said the town is beginning “a new era” and needs “a change in leadership, a new way forward, a different type of thinking – someone to push us forward to make us better.” Fleischman asserted that Bedford is “one of the safest communities with an excellent quality of life. We have an outstanding civic reputation as a fiscally well-managed town.”
“I really want to change this town. I worry about what the town will be in the future,” Whitt-Leitner said. He noted that the ethos at Norwich teaches active citizenship and he is following that model. He added that he would like to be Bedford’s first Black Select Board member.
Fleischman said she has tried to be a “voice of balance” and “have used my platform to help bridge differences and come to collaborative decisions,” Those are especially critical as the town moves toward post-pandemic days, she said, when she will continue to “bring to bear all of the experiences I have had as a parent, a taxpayer and a public servant.”
She acknowledged the impact of the Covid-19 virus on Bedford and highlighted some of the ways town government has responded, such as channeling small-business relief from the state, streamlining permitting outdoor dining permits, waiving the year’s restaurant license fees, sponsoring the emergency food bank and rental assistance, testing for the virus, and increasing access to mental health services. Whitt-Leitner also expressed concern for all victims of Covid-19.
Asked about the increasing reliance on professional involvement in local governance, Fleischman called this a “transitional moment” in which “we benefit tremendously from professionalism. We also have a tremendous and proud history of civic involvement,” which will continue. Whitt-Leitner said volunteer service reflects “passion in life,” and “that extends to civic involvement.”
Another question focused on the board’s role in providing public information about a new fire station. Fleischman said that “we were preparing a series of events and conversations” when the arrival of the virus stopped public events, and “I am committed to a robust conversation when we re-engage.” Whitt-Leitner said the outreach is necessary and said he thinks firefighters should be involved with the design of the facility.
The League asked each candidate how his or her ideas and vision could advance racial and economic justice in the town.
Whitt-Leitner said that growing up as an African-American in Bedford, “I always felt personally safe here. No matter where you are from, you can come here and raise your family and be economically stable.” Fleischman said “Bedford is no different than any other community” during “a very challenging time for our country. Bedford isn’t immune to these issues. We can always do better.”
Asked whether the town should hire a sustainability director at this time, Whitt-Leitner said he would not. “We really need to look at cash flow.” After recent spending, he said, the town needs “to sustain ourselves with what resources we currently have.”
Fleischman pointed out the work of the town Energy and Sustainability Committee in evaluating the return on investment for the director position. “Many communities are investing in this particular kind of position because a wealth of grants is available. There’s money being left on the table. I will always listen to all sides and try to find the correct moment – our current budget may not allow it but next year it would be an excellent investment.”
Another question focused on the commitment of time inherent in serving on the board. Fleischman said a member attends not just board meetings but also sessions of other committees as a liaison or appointee. There are weeks when the commitment is four nights and even some daytime meetings, she said, with a typical week being at least 10 hours.
Whitt-Leitner said he considers service on the board to be a constant personal commitment – plus he needs only three or four hours of sleep nightly.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763