Published May 22, 2017 in The MetroWest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM — It was over in less than two minutes.
Framingham police on Monday released a recording of mayoral candidate John Stefanini interfering with an opponent’s campaign material at the library.
The May 13 incident, captured on surveillance video, erupted into a political controversy this month, prompting a police investigation and forcing Stefanini to issue an apology.
Campaign volunteer Norma Shulman was stationed at the library to collect signatures for Yvonne Spicer, who is also running for mayor.
In an interview earlier this month, Shulman said she left her campaign items in the lobby to attend a forum taking place from 9 to 11 a.m. When she returned, the items — including a clipboard with signature sheets and a handmade poster that had newspaper articles about Spicer glued to it — were gone.
Video obtained by the Daily News through a public records request shows Shulman setting up the display shortly before 9 a.m., leaning a piece of blue poster board against a glass window. Beside it were a clipboard with signature sheets and handwritten sign that read “Framingham Voters Sign Here.”
Stefanini can be seen emerging into the lobby around 10:22 a.m., holding a mobile phone to his ear. Stefanini paused for a moment before walking toward the display and photographing it with his phone. He then removed the material and tucked it behind a trash can.
Stefanini exited the library, stopping to shake hands with a woman on his way through the sliding door. He returned about 13 seconds later, again holding a phone to his ear as he stooped to remove three news articles that were glued to the front of the display.
Shulman reported the incident to library staff, who called the police.
Stefanini later apologized to Spicer, but stood by his rationale for interfering with the display. In a letter published last week in the Daily News, Stefanini wrote that it was inappropriate for the Spicer campaign to place material in a municipal building.
State and local election officials challenged that claim, however, saying there is no law that prohibits campaigning on town property. Library Director Mark Contois confirmed political candidates and their surrogates are allowed to campaign at the library under a longstanding policy, though candidates are encouraged to remain with their campaign material.
Stefanini issued a new apology Monday, saying the video paints an “unflattering picture” of his actions. Stefanini said he has the “utmost respect for civil and dignified political discourse.”
“My response is and continues to be that I acted in good faith in reliance upon Framingham’s long standing practice of candidates for political office not placing leaflets and other campaign materials in municipal buildings,” he wrote. “I have acknowledged my mistake in having taken the situation into my own hands. In retrospect, I should have asked library authorities to tend to the matter. I have apologized to the Spicer campaign and the people of Framingham for my error.”
In light of the incident, town officials have discussed drafting guidelines about campaigning on municipal property. Town Manager Bob Halpin said police reviewed the circumstances and determined no crime was committed.
“The overall feeling is that it’s a misunderstanding,” Halpin said.
Stefanini and Spicer are among at least seven candidates vying to be Framingham’s first mayor. Candidates have until July 3 to collect the 500 signatures needed to appear on the ballot. Voters will also elect a new City Council and School Committee in the Nov. 7 contest.