Apprised that his rival in the race for Fitchburg mayor has linked him to domestic terrorists, Jay Allen has an interesting reaction: He laughs and laughs.
"He wrote that?" says Allen, a 14-year veteran of the Fitchburg Common Council, between guffaws. "Oh my God! That is just crazy. Just absolutely insane."
Allen is referring to a March 9 fundraising letter (PDF) sent out by former Fitchburg Mayor Mark Vivian and obtained by Isthmus. The two men are vying for the open position of Fitchburg mayor in the April 7 election. Vivian, who was Fitchburg's mayor from 1999 to 2003, tied for second place in the primary, and won a coin toss seriously, that's how it's done for the right to oppose Allen, the top vote-getter.
In his letter, before asking for contributions to beat back Ald. Allen's nefarious designs, Vivian asserts:
"My opponent, Jay Allen, has introduced legislative action to use the City's police powers to condemn land owned by the Novation Campus, and threaten 2.5 million dollars of your tax money to interfere in what should be a private matter between current tenants living illegally on Novation property and its owners. The illegal tenants have known ties to an organization identified on the U.S. Federal Government list of domestic terrorist groups."
Grab the kids and run for cover! Can car bombings in McKee Park be far behind? Will deadly biological agents be added to the produce at the Agora Pavilion farmers market? Will Berbee and Promega become havens for sleeper cells?
Allen explains that he recently introduced a resolution to begin an eminent domain process against Alexander Co., which is developing the Novation Campus. He says the goal was to compel the company to discuss the possible sale of Drumlin Farm, a five-acre community garden that enjoys huge community support (see "Losing the Farm," 1/24/09).
The stratagem worked: Novation is now in discussions with Fitchburg officials about a possible sale. That led Allen to table his resolution, about three weeks ago. Fitchburg's current mayor, Tom Clauder, has said he's been told the land has an appraised value of $2.5 million, the amount cited by Vivian. But the Alexander Co. hasn't set an asking price and the city hasn't agreed to spend any amount ("threaten … your tax money," as Vivian puts it) for its acquisition.
Indeed, the nonprofit Madison Area Community Land Trust has expressed interest in acquiring the site, said to be the birthplace of Wisconsin's urban agricultural movement. That means it could become a protected community asset at little or no cost to Fitchburg taxpayers unless, of course, Mark Vivian gets elected.
"Correct," says Vivian, when asked if he opposes any intervention by the city of Fitchburg to acquire or protect this property. "It's a natural extension of the Novation project and in these hard economic times we really should be looking at ways to bring jobs to the community."
Allen calls this "a false choice," saying the Novation campus "currently has 30 acres that are much easier to develop than this property." He also disputes Vivian's assertion that the tenants of a building on the property are there illegally. "They have a lease," he notes.
At any rate, says Allen, the current proposal would not protect their tenancy; the Community Land Trust is eying the building as an office.
As for the tenants' alleged ties to domestic terrorists, Allen says he has no idea what Vivian is talking about.
Neither, it turns out, does Vivian.
"The group is called Food Not Bombs," he says, when asked what domestic terrorist outfit he was referencing. "They've been working with the people [at Drumlin Farms] to organize protests."
Vivian concedes that Allen may not have known of this connection but finds that blameworthy: "It's on the Internet. Look it up." He says Allen "needs to do his homework" to make sure he's not leading Fitchburg down the primrose path to perdition.
And indeed, the Internet, widely regarded as an infallible source of information, does contain references to a group called Food Not Bombs in connection with domestic terrorism.
Food Not Bombs? The group's very name declares its preference for feeding over bleeding, sustenance over violence. It's an all-volunteer organization that tries to reduce food waste and provides vegan meals to the homeless. That's right, it makes IEDS Improvised Edible Dishes.
In 2006, the national group's name showed up on a list that an FBI counterterrorism official showed a class at the University of Texas in Austin. It was a list not of "known domestic terrorists," but of groups one FBI analyst thought might appeal to people intent on terrorism.
That this list included such groups as Food Not Bombs and the left journalism site IndyMedia drew widespread ridicule. It was seen as an example of the feds' seeming inability to make reasonable judgments about potential national security threats.
"One group targeted bears the name of 'Food Not Bombs' (see www.foodnotbombs.net to judge for yourself the threat they pose)," editorialized The River Reporter of Narrowsburg, New York. "Apparently, the doctrine of preemptive attack that debuted with the Iraq War is now focused on our own citizens."
Now this exemplar of the federal government's bad judgment is being seized on by Mark Vivian to scare the citizens of Fitchburg into supporting his candidacy.
No wonder Jay Allen responded with a laugh.
But if you think that's funny, wait till you see what Vivian wrote in his fundraising letter a few sentences later: "My opponent will attempt to distort my record with confusing and misleading allegations."
Heaven forbid! There's no place for such reprehensible tactics in Fitchburg.