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Fresolo bares fangs, spleen over Dismas.

Byline: Dianne Williamson


Remember the rabies-ridden raccoon that attacked a shopper in the Big Y supermarket May 8?

I think it also may have bitten John Fresolo.

I am not technically a veterinarian, but how else to explain the rabid behavior of a state representative who hijacks a public meeting, works an already-angry crowd into a frenzy and then recklessly tries to cut state funding for a program he had previously supported?

"When Demagogues Attack" was the heading of a raucous hearing May 9, in which Mr. Fresolo could have used a shot from the same sort of tranquilizing dart gun aimed at aggressive bears when they lumber into residential neighborhoods and try to chomp on a letter carrier.

There he was, gesticulating and waving his arms like a disgruntled TV evangelist, all because a respected social-service agency was trying to do its job and tell neighbors about a group home planned for 50 Arthur St.

"His behavior was reprehensible," said lawyer Margaret Guzman, a board member of Dismas House. "I think he should be ashamed of himself and think about what it means to be an elected representative ... He refused to foster discussion. He refused to even let it happen. He would interject and he kept jumping up, making motions. It was odd, then it got really frustrating."

The object of Mr. Fresolo's wrath was Dismas House, a re-entry program for former prisoners, which plans to place a supervised residence on Arthur Street for up to six people who have jobs, years of sobriety and a track record with Dismas House. Mr. Fresolo opposes the home for the typical reasons - it's too close to a school and the neighbors weren't properly notified. He has since tried to cut state funding for Dismas House, but has garnered little support.

Meanwhile, someone should tell him that it's one thing for an elected official to pander to constituents by voicing objections to the siting of group homes - such spectacles are disheartening, but at least we're used to them. It's quite another for a so-called leader to play on people's fears and incite neighbors into a near riot.

This was a meeting at which people shouted at the retired judge who moderated the session to shut up. A meeting that grew so raucous that some in attendance considered calling police on their cell phones. It was a meeting that "developed into bedlam," according to news reports.

The star was Mr. Fresolo, and the crowd of 100 cheered him. Although the meeting was intended to solicit citizen input, Mr. Fresolo, quite literally, would not get off the stage. He had skipped a premeeting session that established ground rules for what was sure to be a tense encounter, and he showed up May 8 to inflame irate neighbors who believed they had found their warrior.

"I went over to him at one point and said something like, `John, you've got to calm these people down, don't let this escalate,'" Ms. Guzman recalled. "He told me to get over to my side of the stage."

The Rev. Richard Whitefleet-Smith, a United Methodist minister who was also at the meeting, said Mr. Fresolo had the chance to mend bridges between the groups and foster dialogue.

"Instead, he chose to be an agent of anger and divide the groups even more," the minister said. "He was very confrontational and rude. It was a divisive meeting that really bordered on a riot, and I think he took advantage of some vulnerable neighbors who really were upset. I left the meeting thinking that he abused the power of his office."

It's inexcusable, and it isn't the first time. John Fresolo is one angry guy, a posture that plays well to the cheap seats but falls far short of true leadership.

"People will never be reasonable when it comes to siting methods for these homes, and Mr. Fresolo's opposition wasn't unexpected," Ms. Guzman observed. "But what is unexpected is when a public official uses people's fears, on purpose, in an attempt to tap into a mob mentality. There is no reasonable reason that their response should have been like this."

Contact Dianne Williamson by e-mail at
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 15, 2007
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