October 17, 2019 Dena Jensen
Today, on the date of the 2019 Whatcom County Candidate Forum, whose organizing sponsor is Common Threads Northwest, two candidates in the November 2019 local election have issued communications in which they noted they were declining to participate.
This marks the first known occasion, since the birth of the “Wake Up Whatcom County-wide Candidate Forum,” in 2017, that candidates have stepped up in a public way to decline to participate in a candidate forum sponsored by Common Threads Northwest based on how candidates view the event sponsorship.
The 2017 forum listed the following sponsors in common with this current 2019 Whatcom County Candidate forum: Common Threads Northwest, Whatcom Business Alliance, Building Industry Association of Whatcom County, The Fourth Corner, Whatcom County Farm Bureau, Association of General Contractors, Whatcom County Association of REALTORS®, Citizen’s Alliance for Property Rights (CAPR), and Whatcom County Cattlemen’s Association. Sponsors, unique to this year, are Whatcom Family Farmers and Washington Policy Center.
This morning at 10:00 a.m. Joy Gilfilen, currently making a bold run for Whatcom County Sheriff against incumbent Sheriff Bill Elfo, updated a Facebook post made on October 16, 2019 sharing details about the candidate forum. Her update stated:
“I am editing this post this morning at 10 AM (in this specific paragraph) to let you all know that after considerable thought, I have made a moral decision to not attend or participate in this debate tonight. We will leave this post up because of the important comments that have been made.”
Following Gilfilen’s announcement in the morning, Noisy Waters Northwest, received a copy of an email sent out by current Port of Bellingham Commissioner candidate Anthony Distefano. Distefano is running against incumbent Port Commissioner Bobby Briscoe. The email Distefano sent was addressed to Dick Donahue, who is listed on the Secretary of State records for Common Threads Northwest as a governing officer for the organization.
Dick Donahue had sent out a press release about the candidate forum that was dated October 8, 2019. Candidates who had been invited to the forum, however, had been notified of the upcoming forum prior to that press release. Distefano had written an email to Donahue on September 3, 2019 politely declining to attend and stating his reason as being his perception of an alignment of Common Threads Northwest with the former Whatcom Tea Party. Subsequently, Donohue responded and asserted, according to Distefano, that there is no connection whatsoever between Common Threads Northwest and the Tea Party, adding that other stakeholders would be attending.
Following that, the up-and-coming Port Commission seat hopeful had planned on attending the forum, but examined information about the organization further. In “looking over their history with a deep viewing,” Distefano indicated he couldn’t conceive that Common Threads Northwest could separate their formation from the Tea Party. Therefore, he sent the following email today:
From: Anthony Distefano <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Oct 17, 2019 at 2:57 PM
Subject: I will not be attending the Common Threads Forum 2019
To: Dick Donahue
To whom it may concern-
I apologize for the lateness of this but I will not be attending the Common Threads forum this year.
As I initially wrote on September third of this year as quoted below in response to the invitation, I was dismayed about the partisan nature of the forum.
It was with great pleasure that I was able to attend the various forums this year as they were non-partisan and built around a greater understanding of how public office may serve the community it represents.
However, having been shown some of the historical nature and the email sent below, it is impossible for me to participate in a group that believes that the very institution I am running for should be diminished, and the public investment undone. If any group wishes to have a non-partisan forum in these next weeks or anytime in the future, I will be happy to participate. Thank you again for the invitation, and I hope to be able to see everyone at future non-partisan forums. Warmest Regards, Anthony Distefano Candidate for Port Commissioner District #3
Below is the email that was sent by me to Common Threads Northwest on September 3rd, 2019 in response to their invitation:
September 3rd 2019
“Anthony Distefano would like to thank you for your invitation to participate in the Common Threads NW All County Election Forum. Anthony will be attending a number of forums in the following months that are hosted by impartial and neutral third parties. Unfortunately, because Common Threads NW has clearly aligned itself with the former Whatcom Tea Party (as evidenced by the following email, dated March 12, 2017) we will be politely declining this invitation.
“It is with some regret, but also the knowledge that it was a great catalyst, that the Whatcom Tea Party closed its doors effective January 27, 2017, so that we can continue to move forward with our new projects. The tea party lives on, but with new names and new organizations.
One of the main Whatcom Tea Party assets is our mailing list. We would like to transfer it to Common Threads Northwest. However, we feel it would be unethical simply to transfer your contact information to another organization without permission, so we won’t do that. But we would appreciate it very much, if you would take this opportunity to subscribe to the Common Threads Northwest mailing list. Please click this link to subscribe. You will find many of your Whatcom Tea Party friends over there.””
Additionally, here is Joy Gilfilen’s more detailed statement, sent to Noisy Waters Northwest this evening, as to why she felt compelled not to participate in the Whatcom County Candidate Forum:
“Today, as a Whatcom County Sheriff’s candidate I made a decision to withdraw from the Common Threads Northwest candidate forum based on moral grounds and on my personal integrity. It is a deeply complex issue, but at the baseline I realized that the organization has often used its power and influence as a bully pulpit to push an agenda that is highly politicized and often acts contrary to my inner core values of freedom, fairness, free enterprise and the nature of life itself. Was I willing to ratify the organization’s political behaviors by attending the event just to seek votes? No. I was not. It made me sad, since I would love to have an opportunity to speak openly with farmers, ranchers, business people and others who live in the unincorporated areas (like I do) without pre-judgmental politics standing in the middle.”