Bennington Select Board member disparages resident in online post

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BENNINGTON >> Select Board member Michael Keane has drawn criticism for a post made online in which he referred to a Bennington resident as a "dybbuk."

A dybbuk is a creature from Jewish mythology, the malicious soul of a dead person who possesses a living body.

Keane posted a photo of Joey Kulkin, a former Select Board candidate who runs the Politics of Bennington Facebook group, standing in the doorway of the Fiddlehead at Four Corners art gallery during the Bennington Battle Day Parade on his private Facebook account. The caption reads, "Doorway with detached isolate, perhaps a dybbuk."

"This cold and calculating use of dybbuk to suggest I'm a Jewish demon is max-level dirty and disturbing, and shows intent, as Keane specifically chose a derogatory Jewish term to spit on me as well as other Jews in Bennington, Vermont, and around the world," wrote Kulkin, who is Jewish, on his page on Friday morning, "Michael Keane's bigoted comments were both hurtful and a vile representation of the worst parts of humanity." He titled his post "Anti-Semitic bigot on the select board."

Within a few hours of Kulkin's post, Keane, who is also the chairman of the Bennington County Democratic Party, posted an apology on his own page, stating, "I am truly sorry for having offended Mr. Kulkin in a recent post and photo, and I apologize."

In an interview, Keane said that it was certainly not his intent to disparage the Jewish population, especially as his wife, to whom he has been married for 30 years, and his in-laws are Jewish. He did say he regretted making the post, saying, "I made a bad judgement call, and I apologized for it."

"I don't know what Mr. Keane feels in his heart about Jews," said Kulkin in an interview, "I can only react to his hateful words about me that haven't really been corrected or explained. If Mr. Keane had made a derogatory comment about a homosexual person, I think most homosexual (and heterosexual) people would find it insulting. When you use a grouping to disparage someone — be it race, gender, or religion — you are disparaging both the entire group of people as well as yourself. Keane's apology was thin and only addressed hurting my feelings without accepting responsibility for how his words were wrong. Yes, I accept his apology for me personally, even though he didn't think it important enough to pick up the phone, or send an email, or even stop by to do so in person. But I think he owes the public more of an explanation. Perhaps the Select Board should censure him."

Kulkin's page has been critical of several local politicians, and Keane is a frequent target. In February, Kulkin wrote several posts criticizing Keane, select board chairman Tom Jacobs, and then-board member Sharyn Brush for voting to pass a budget for the non-profit Better Bennington Corporation while all three were members of the organization, which he called "a clear conflict of interest no matter which definition you apply."

In March, referencing the BBC vote, Kulkin called Keane, "a new and controversial candidate" who "recently came under scrutiny," while suggesting that the more senior Justin Corcoran should be the board's new vice-chairman instead of Keane. Keane was eventually elected as the vice-chairman.

In July he questioned Keane and Jacobs' connections to the "Putnam Square Partners," a business created by the two board members, along with Jason Dolmetsch of MSK Engineering. Kulkin brought up the water bond vote that was taking place at around the same time, for which MSK was the engineering group in charge of the project, writing, "since PSP formed the Town has awarded MSK (more) than $500,000 for services either by winning bids or through contracts. The contract for the south end water tank design, bid, and oversight was for $297,355."

"We were trying to get to a point where something would happen with the Greenberg-Putnam building," said Keane when questioned about the group, "It went nowhere." Jacobs and Keane have insisted that the partnership did not represent a conflict of interest, and that no money or services were exchanged between members of the group, which they say disbanded in 2014, after negotiations to put a hold on the property while a group of investors could be found fell through.

"I was a newspaper reporter of 23 years and still have an interest in writing about local politics and ethics concerns," said Kulkin, "I have included Mr. Keane in many stories. As such, I can understand why he dislikes me. I've come embrace names he's given me, such as Jimmy Olsen (a reference to the junior reporter who works alongside Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the "Superman" comics) and ankle biter, but I never thought he'd stoop to anti-Semitic insults."

Chuck Sweetman, who is co-chairman of the Bennington County Democratic Party alongside Keane, said that he was not familiar with the comment Keane made, but said, "He sure as hell is not anti-Semitic, or anti-anything." Sweetman noted that Keane had pushed for more inclusivity, not less, during the five or six years that they have served together. "He's a high-quality person," he said, "who donates so much time to Bennington and the Democrats."

Attempts to reach Jacobs for comment were not successful Friday.

— Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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