People joke about a possible October surprise every campaign season, and in Greenwich it came on Monday in the form of a New York Times article by Dan Barry titled, “Were the Fake Trump Signs a Prank? Or a Political Dirty Trick?”
The article brings us back to Greenwich on the morning of Oct 25, 2019 when “Trump/Camillo” signs appeared across town. The bottom of the signs, where typically an attribution to a candidate and source of funding appears, was the name of a website FredCamillo.com that linked to an avidly pro-Trump website.
At the time Fred Camillo was running for his first term as Greenwich First Selectman. His running mate was Lauren Rabin, not Donald Trump of course, but Mr. Camillo was unhappy about the signs, commenting to GFP at the time, “This is a new low for Greenwich. It is desperate, dirty and fraudulent.”
Barry’s New York Times article mocks the Republican response at the time: “How dare someone link a Greenwich Republican candidate with the Republican president of the United States!”
Initially Greenwich Police instructed members of their department not to touch the signs, but later in the day they reversed that stance and included instructions to remove them.
All day and over the weekend there was speculation and finger pointing about who was responsible for the signs.
It came out that that Paul Cappiali, working on the Camillo campaign at the time, hired someone in Texas to bluff their way to getting a copy of a receipt for the signs.
The receipt from Signs on the Cheap in Houston was to none other than Greenwich Police Captain Mark Kordick.
The jig was up.
As Barry says in his article, when then Deputy Chief Mark Marino asked Kordick what he knew about the signs, he replied, “A lot.”
After Kordick admitted he was responsible for the signs, he was placed on paid leave.
The election came and went, and Camillo was victorious.
Several months later police chief Heavey terminated Kordick’s employment.
He did not go softly into the night.
Instead he sued, claiming his right to free speech had been violated.
It was through the discovery process that Cappiali, now Greenwich’s Harbor Master, was revealed to have used a ruse to find out who made the signs.
There were also embarrassing texts between Camillo and a friend, and Camillo and John Wetmore from the Town Attorney’s office using crude language about Kordick, saying, “He better pray I do not win because I would be police commissioner and he will be gone.” (Plaintiff’s exhibit 120, text exchange between Camillo and a supporter on October 28, 2022. Page 48)
The lawsuit was set to go to trial in September. A jury had been selected and three weeks blocked off in Stamford Superior Court.
Witnesses were subpoenaed including this reporter who had hoped to cover the trial but was advised not to given her subpoena.
The Friday before the trial, Kordick’s attorney announced the town had settled with Kordick for $650,000, though the town attorney described the payment not as a settlement but rather reflecting the need to “comply with the demand of its insurance carrier to end the case.”
Alas it is silly season again.
Since Signgate 2019, much has happened in Greenwich politics.
In January 2022 the RTC was taken over by a new group of Republicans.
Then in November 2022 all three Democratic candidates for State Representative won, for the first time in a century.
But this week, the sense of deja vu continued on Monday night when RTM members arrived at Central Middle School to discover familiar looking red and white signs.
Almost four years to the day from the Trump/Camillo signs, new signs linking Camillo to Ron DeSantis appeared, saying:
Local Elections matter…Now More Than Ever
Vote Republican. Vote Team.
‘He’s done a very good job in Florida.’
– Fred Camillo on Ron DeSantis, Greenwich Time 7/27/2014.
Help Fred Make Greenwich Florida of the North.
This time, the attribution at the bottom of the signs stated, “Paid for by Mark Kordick with proceeds from Kordick v Town of Greenwich.”
None of this might be a surprise to readers of the New York Times. Mr. Barry’s piece quotes Kordick saying he was once again thinking of exercising his free-speech rights with a few campaign signs.
In response to a request for comment on Tuesday, Beth MacGillavray, chair of the RTC said, “It is not surprising to see Democrats put up various signs that do not pertain to this election and issues. While the Republican party remains committed to addressing essential local issues that impact the governance of our town, it appears the Democrats have chosen another approach campaigning. We firmly believe that our constituents are discerning and will continue to focus on what truly matters to our community and work towards our positive and constructive vision for Greenwich.”
First Selectman Camillo also responded Tuesday by email to say, “Many people have called me about the signs and all I will say is it’s just a childish maneuver to again distract the voters from the issues at hand.”
“I will continue focusing on my work as First Selectman and also on getting out the message of my record and vision for the voters,” he added. “Throughout this campaign, I am very proud to say my team has not sent out one email disparaging my opponent. While I wish I could say the same for the other side of the political aisle, I won’t be distracted with this foolishness.”
Also reached by email, Former Police Captain Kordick, who is an elected member of the RTM, said his signs were lawfully posted on public property or otherwise within the public right-of-way to remain in place until he removes them.
“They are my property and stealing or removing them without my permission would be unlawful,” he said.
He added, “I do not doubt, just as they did in 2019 with the help of corrupt Greenwich Police officers, that Greenwich Republicans will make an effort to violate my rights under the First Amendment.”
Finally, he added, “As they have done before, I expect the Greenwich Police Department to arrest any person stealing or damaging ANY political sign posted on Town property, including and especially m own. I am willing to press all charges as they related to the theft of my property. Further, as I did before, I am prepared to take legal action against any group or entity that violates my right to political free speech under the federal and state constitutions.”
Asked if he was obliged under any type of gag order following his lawsuit, he replied, “As for any agreement that I may have entered into regarding the settlement of claims against any individual defendant(s) in my lawsuit, the terms of that agreement are confidential.”
“That matter has been resolved. That said, I can confirm that I am not bound by any agreement that restricts my right to engage in current or future political commentary.”
As for the actual content of the sign, he said, “The background noise surrounding my previous lawsuit against the Town should not drown out the sign’s message. That message is that Fred Camillo’s far-right politics and proud support for radical Right Wing Republicans like Ron ‘Don’t Say Gay’ DeSantis do not align with the moderate values and inclusive nature of Greenwich’s best people. Voters should not support a candidates who would heap positive praise on a hate-filled bigot like Ron DeSantis.”
What’s left to say?
The elections are on Nov 7, 2023. May the best person win.