WILMINGTON, MA – Running for elected office is certainly not easy. Candidates face intense public scrutiny and can often find themselves the victims of dirty politics, mudslinging, and character assassination. Sometimes allegations levied against candidates turn out to be accurate, sometimes they’re flat out false, and sometimes the truth lies somewhere in the gray middle.
State Representative hopeful Judy O’Connell (D-Wilmington) knows the rough and tumble world of local politics firsthand, having recently served six years on the Wilmington Board of Selectmen and three years on the Wilmington School Committee. O’Connell not only ran her three successful campaigns over the past 10+ years, but she also played influential roles in the prevailing Town Election and/or Town Meeting efforts involving the new high school, the Yentile Farm Recreational Facility and the Ristuccia Arena over that time.
Last week, an anonymous letter was purportedly sent to the Wilmington Apple, Lowell Sun, Wilmington Patch, Tewksbury Patch, Your Tewksbury Today, and the Wilmington/Tewksbury Town Crier. Wilmington Apple received the letter on Tuesday, which listed the aforementioned news outlets as also having been sent the letter (cc’ed).
The letter alleged that Ms. O’Connell currently has two federal tax liens on her Wilmington home for failure to pay her federal taxes in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Enclosed with the letter were copies of two Notices of Federal Tax Liens (public documents) which verified the author’s assertion that liens existed. Wilmington Apple independently confirmed the validity of the lien documents.
“I find it appalling for anyone seeking public office to not pay her taxes while seeking elected office,” reads part of the letter. “How can the voters expect Ms. O’Connell to be trusted with managing state funds when she can’t manage her personal finances?”
The Response From Judy O’Connell
Upon receipt of the letter, Wilmington Apple immediately reached out to Ms. O’Connell’s campaign to offer her an opportunity to share her side of the story.
Ms. O’Connell provided the following statement:
This week I was asked by different media outlets to respond to a question that was raised anonymously by someone who is concerned about the fact that my home is the subject to two federal income tax liens. These liens are a matter of public record. While I do not relish the thought of certain personal issues becoming the subject of public discussion, I understand and respect that a resident, even anonymously, has a right to ask these questions. I also welcome the opportunity to share my story.
I have many blessings, and I count them each day. What I have not been blessed with, however, is perfect health. For nearly fifteen years now, I have battled Crohn’s disease.
For those who are not familiar with the disease, Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease that attacks the digestive tract. For many years starting in 2004, I was hospitalized for complications. The period 2010 through 2015 was particularly difficult, during which time I was hospitalized 8 to 10 times. In 2014, I accepted the advice of my medical team and underwent a major, invasive procedure. Following the surgery, I began a course of treatment that included regular IV infusions. The good news is that since 2015, my condition and overall health has improved dramatically, and I have not had any recurrence of the disease. The doctors inform me that I am “in remission.” The bad news is that for a few years, my condition kept me out of work a lot, and as a single, self-employed head of household, the financial impact was unavoidable.
The fact that financial strain has been unavoidable does not mean that it is irreparable. To the contrary, I have been tackling this situation the same way that I tackle every other obstacle: honestly, with determination and conviction. I have been working my way out of this situation, and I will continue to do so. I am not ashamed of experiencing setbacks. Most people do. I do not feel sorry for myself. In terms of medical problems, all too many people are a lot worse off than I.
I want people to be clear that I have always filed my tax returns. I have always acknowledged what I owe. I am not evading the obligation, and I knew this issue was a matter of public record before deciding to run for this election. I have been working toward wiping out this debt, and that is exactly what I will do. In the meantime, the liens will remain on my property until the debt is paid, or I sell my home, whichever comes first. I made a conscious decision not to consider any solutions which might enable me to avoid this obligation.
So, how did this situation relate to my candidacy for State Representative? I hope and believe that it reveals something about my principles, and the way I deal with adversity. As Charles R. Swindoll once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Like many residents of the District, I have learned that at times life can be tough, but if you take your problems head-on, stick to your principles and continue moving forward, things have a way of working out.
I hope this answers any questions that you have. Thank you again for the opportunity to share this message with the residents of Wilmington and Tewksbury.
The Response From Other 19th Middlesex State Rep Candidates
Wilmington Apple reached out to the other Republican and Democratic candidates in the race for comment.
“I find this entire story very distasteful. Judy O’Connell has given so much to the community and during a time when she has had health issues which caused her a financial burden. This is the type of mudslinging that keeps good people from running for public office,” responded Mark Kratman (D-Tewksbury).“Judy should be applauded for working hard to pay off her debt while taking care of her family and still giving so much of her time to make the community a better place for all.”
“Was this information obtained from another candidate? If so, they should be the one bringing their concerns forward rather than sending information to the Wilmington Apple or any other news agency,” continued Kratman.“I believe the residents would much rather hear about the issues facing both Tewksbury and Wilmington. Only by working together with respect for each other are we going to solve the issues facing our community.”
“I’m just happy to hear that Judy is doing well and has just about recovered, and I hope that she continues to do so,” added Dave Robertson (D-Tewksbury). “I have no comment on her financial situation.”
No other candidate chose to offer comment.
More Dirty Politics?
On a separate, but related note, the O’Connell campaign recently took to social media to reveal that an increasing number of their lawn signs in both communities were being stolen or vandalized.
“The Committee for Judy O’Connell for State Representative for the 19th Middlesex District is sharing that there have been multiple signs in both Wilmington and Tewksbury that have either been stolen or vandalized,” read the announcement.“If your sign has been taken or dismantled, please let us know and we will gladly replace it. Other appropriate action with the local authorities is in process. Thank you for your continued support!”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Slippery Slope Of Anonymous Letters
Wilmington Apple will continue its practice of not publishing letters where the author’s identity is unknown. The author is allowed to remain anonymous to the reader, but not to the editor.
Wilmington Apple generally receives more than a dozen tips each week regarding all sorts of stories. (Believe me, all sorts.) On rare occasions, the communication will be anonymous. While Wilmington Apple is not a particular fan of anonymous letters, if the information within the letter is found to be credible (independently verified, and often double sourced, at a minimum), pertains to a topic that is fit for public consumption, and rises to a level of “newsworthiness,” Wilmington Apple will generally pursue the story.
In this particular case, it is troubling to not know the identity of the author, his or her motives, and whether or not he or she is affiliated with a competitor’s campaign. That said, the letter’s claims of the existence of liens did check out, candidates’ tax payment histories are widely considered “fair game,” and voters do have a right to know about such issues before casting their votes. Ms. O’Connell, to her credit, disclosed more than most in her position probably would have in her attempt to explain the circumstances surrounding her tax payment history. The irony that a candidate winds up revealing so much in response to an anonymous letter is not lost on me.
NOTE: Revisions/clarifications in red. (UPDATE: 8:45am)
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