We need Balint’s skill in managing disagreement without alienation

BRATTLEBORO — When I first heard of Becca Balint, it was because we were on opposite sides of an issue.

The issue was whether or not to build affordable individual homes on land that led down a wooded hillside to cemeteries off of South Main Street. Byron Stookey, longtime head of Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing, was leading the charge for a small development.

I supported this project, but it was the most conflicted decision I've ever had to make.

I had spent years on the BAAH committee and felt strongly about affordable housing, so I was on the “build” side. But I'd also been on the Brattleboro Tree Advisory Committee - in fact, I was one of the founding members. I greatly value trees and the natural landscape. In particular, in town they are a cherished resource.

But even though I have loved ones, my two life partners, buried in the Shir Heharim Cemetery and have always enjoyed the quiet walk to it, the need for housing trumped those feelings.

The men in my life now buried there, I felt, would have approved. Marty, though an intrepid hiker in his younger years, was not sentimental about nature. He had great regard for the work of those who sought to better life for all. He was ultimately a practical guy.

Which is how, years earlier, while we were both Representative Town Meeting members, we had come to be on opposing sides of the town's proposal to build a parking garage. I was concerned with aesthetics; he, with what it could do to alleviate downtown parking. In fact, he volunteered to write the project's promotional brochure. Of course, he was right - we needed it.

I heard from Byron Stookey who was leading the “enemy camp.” He was mightily impressed with Becca Balint's campaign to defeat the housing proposal - and even though he was on the other side, clearly there was no animosity.

From all I've read, this is characteristic of Becca. She is able to press her viewpoint without alienating those who have an opposing view. How we need that talent right now!

And now, with Becca running to be Vermont's Representative in Congress, I have to say, on the balance, for several reasons I am glad she won the battle of “to build or not to build.” I am glad to be able to walk past a quiet and wooded patch of land to lay stones on the graves of my loved ones.

But I'm even more glad she prevailed, because maybe, just maybe, this little hometown victory encouraged Becca to be more involved in local, then statewide, political action.

I am so glad to see one of the issues she has fought the hardest for as a state senator - which she has addressed in numerous legislative initiatives - is affordable housing.

I am so glad that I'll be able to vote for my long-ago “opponent” in November.