Franz Reichsman is running for a one year seat on the Brattleboro Selectboard.
Introduce yourself – who are you and why are you running this year for a 1 year seat?
Hello, iBrattleboro. I first came to Brattleboro in 1970 when I was 20 years old. My life trajectory developed in such a way that after medical school and residency in Brooklyn I was able to move here permanently in 1986. I bought my house on Chestnut Street (the old Sauer’s Market) in 1987 and I have lived here since then. I was an emergency room doctor for 30 years, including 28 years at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. For seven of those years I was the medical director for all ambulance services and rescue squads in the 23 towns of Cheshire County.
I’ve been interested in politics since I was young. At age 14 I made a cardboard sign reading “Young Citizens for Johnson-Humphrey” and stood alongside it in front of a local candy store. I collected $2.41 which I sent to Lyndon Johnson’s election campaign. (Nonetheless I do not claim full credit for his landslide victory that year.) Unhappily, a year later I was protesting against the war in Viet Nam.
In 1984 Ron Squires and I (along with Kathy Hoyt of Norwich) started the Mondale campaign in Vermont under the name “Vermonters for Mondale-Ferraro.” The two candidates had just been nominated at the Democratic National Convention, but there was no prospect of victory nor money for a campaign in Vermont. With meager financial resources, Ron and I rented a storefront in Brattleboro, had stationery and bumperstickers made, and waged a spirited although relatively low-profile campaign. (We were not covered by the New York Times or Washington Post.) Vermont, along with just about everywhere else, went for Reagan, but Mondale did carry Brattleboro, a harbinger of things to come. In 1986 I was elected chair of the Windham County Democratic Committee, and I remained active in Democratic Party politics for many years thereafter.
In local politics I have been a town meeting representative on and off since about 1990. I was appointed to the Brattleboro Parking System Advisory Committee around that time, and thus I’m to blame for the construction of the current transportation center. More recently I served as chair of the Representative Town Meeting finance committee for five years. I volunteered for the finance committee because I thought it would force me to become more familiar with the municipal budget, which it did.
While there are somewhere between several and many topics I’m concerned about in town affairs, what has motivated me to run for the select board right now are the events related to Brattleboro’s emergency medical services system and the brief tenure of Yoshi Manale as town manager. My concerns flow in two directions: What happened, and what should happen now? In terms of what happened, I think the people of Brattleboro deserve a fuller discussion of the process by which our relationship with Rescue, Inc. came crashing to an end, and of what lessons we can learn from what happened. As of now, that discussion has not happened. I understand that there may be limits on what is discussed in public and in print, but it seems to me we could go beyond what has been discussed thus far.
In terms of what should now happen with EMS, there is a lot to think about. It is not clear to me to what extent the relationship between the town and Rescue can be repaired, but whatever the dimensions of the overall system (and there are several possibilities as outlined in the AP Triton report), I think we need to push as hard as possible for a mutual aid agreement. I think it is political malpractice, with potentially deadly medical consequences, for us to rely on ambulance backup from 25 minutes away when there are ambulances available right down the street.
I can’t believe that the people in charge of our local ambulance services would permit such an uncaring system to continue. With my background and connections in the EMS world, I think I can help bring about a reasoned and reasonable conclusion to the efforts currently underway. I’d certainly like to try. The good of the community must be considered by all to be more important than personality differences and rehashing old grievances by those responsible for responding to emergencies.
What unique perspectives or experience do you bring to the board?
I guess I’d refer back to my longwinded answer above. I’d add that I think I’m a good listener and decision maker. Having lived long enough to have been proven wrong on many occasions I’ve gotten pretty good at saying “I don’t know” and at changing my mind when the evidence points the other way. Also, in addition to my medical degree, I have a masters degree in public health from UMass with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatistics, so I’m comfortable with numbers and with evaluating sources of information.
Do you have anything in particular you’d like to accomplish in the coming year on the board? What is motivating you to offer your services this year?
In addition to the above, I’d like to see an expanded consideration of community safety issues. I paid close attention to the Community Safety Review Committee’s work in looking at and hearing from historically marginalized groups. I think their report provides an important beginning for a wider discussion with the community as a whole taking part. Recent events in the downtown area, including retail theft, stolen catalytic converters, mysterious gunfire, and almost impossible to control drug dealing, tells us how important a well-trained, high-functioning police department is. We’re lucky to have a good police department, and we need to support and strengthen it.
What’s your favorite part of living in Brattleboro? What do we do well?
My favorite part of Brattleboro is the spirit of community we find here. Brattleboro is pretty much the only place I’ve lived as a fully established adult, and it’s the feeling of being a part of a striving, open-minded, compassionate community that makes us who we are and makes Brattleboro the place we choose to live. In thinking about this, my mind goes to the Common Ground, the Good Life, the Co-op, Brown and Roberts, Delectable Mountain, and many other stores on Main Street, our terrific restaurants, the Senior Center, the Outing Club, the openness and tolerance shown at public meetings, the hard work done by so many volunteers and organizations in town. All that is my favorite part.
What’s our greatest weakness in Brattleboro? What needs attention?
It would be great if more people would get involved in town government, but there are real constraints on what we can expect people to do. With that in mind, we need to find processes and procedures that make participation more possible and more palatable for a greater number of people. I’m hopeful that the Charter Review Commission will come up with ways to address the increasing demands involved in participating.
What can Brattleboro voters expect of you on the following issues:
-Brattleboro ambulance services – which option do you prefer?
It’s too soon to pick a single option. We’ll need at least a few months of further discussion to reach that point.
-Living Memorial Park upgrades
Great ideas for needed improvements. Of the separate components that have been proposed, I think replacing the refrigeration system at the skating rink would be my first priority. Which other items can we afford right now? How much debt burden can the town absorb? What other demands for borrowing are we facing over the next few years? These are aspects of the discussion about which I have not yet heard adequate discussion.
We’re doing good things. Let’s keep it up.
I’m in favor of it. (See above.) More specifically, I think the benefits of surveillance cameras outweigh the civil liberties concerns, which are well founded as general principle, but which can be addressed in other ways.
-Housing & Gentrification
It’s going to take a while to fix this situation. There are already irons in the fire, and the town should be careful not to get in the way of promising developments. In general I’d like see a mixed use approach, where housing is built in close proximity to public transport and to existing services. I’d like to see housing built on Putney Road, for example, along with improvements in alternative modes of transportation. I would not say I’m familiar enough with any specific proposals to offer a more detailed opinion.
You forgot death.
If you could make an immediate change (free of charge!) to Brattleboro, what would it be?
I would turn Main Street around so it faces the Connecticut River, and I’d move the railroad tracks over to the New Hampshire side. Reclaim the river and the river bank for the daily life of the people! And while we’re at it, rebuild the island and the island park in the middle. The whole thing could be done for maybe a billion dollars. (C’mon Becca, get on it!)
Read any good books lately? What can you recommend?
I think Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters is a remarkable exploration of the issues surrounding sexual identity in today’s world. It opened my eyes to the depth and complexity of trans life. Also, two books of political analysis: Why We Did It by Tim Miller and Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein are both incisive and fun to read. If you haven’t already read it, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson is totally awesome, and rather uncharacteristically, I totally loved two books by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant and Never Let Me Go. (Turns out there’s a reason they gave him the Nobel Prize.)
Is there any thing you’d like to discuss that we didn’t ask you about?
Yes. The key to a better serve is staying loose and generating racquet head speed during the serve motion. Early preparation and proper footwork (don’t neglect the split step!) are the key elements in hitting better shots. Those things, and choosing the right shot to hit based on your and your opponent’s position on the court are the crucial ingredients to a more successful game.
Thanks for taking time with iBrattleboro.com
Thanks for asking!