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Politics and PBH



To the Editors of The Crimson:

As a general Steering Committee member of the Ehrenreich administration at Philips Brooks House (PBH), and a committee chair during the Romano administration, I would like to clear up a few misconceptions that appeared in two articles during Commencement Week.

In Andrew Cohen's article decrying liberal dogmatism on campus, he writes, "those who say that PBHA should not become actively involved in electoral politics are criticized for trying to undermine this valuable organization and even question the concept of service" and "anyone who challenges" the tactics and rhetoric of the PBHA Steering instantly portrayed as a heartless snob who would like to argue that such stifling tactics do not occur; they most certainly do. However, Cohen makes two errors, perhaps in attempting to keep matters simple.

Cohen never clarifies what he understands "electoral politics" to be. If this is interpreted as supporting certain candidates, then PBHA policy definitely precludes "electoral politics." This is for two reasons: 1) it is unethical, and 2) it would blatantly violate our tax-exempt status requirements.

However, in referring to "electoral politics," it is more likely that Cohen was speaking of the controversy surrounding the endorsement of a statement that asked people to vote "no" on Propostion 1-2-3. We should remember, however, that since this type of action benefits no single political figure and merely takes a stand on an issue, it does not violate our non-profit organization status.

Hence it is not clearly against PBH policy to make such endorsements. There is certainly room for argument on either side as to whether PBHA should do such things. One may argue that this was an issue that would directly impact our services; if Proposition 1-2-3 had passed, it was possible that it would have created a larger homeless population.

"Electoral politics" is a loaded and ambiguous phrase. By not clarifying what he means, Cohen has obscurred current PBHA policy, and has treated a highly complex issue in a most superficial manner.

The second problem is his assertion that the Steering Committee portrays its ideological opponents as heartless. It may be more accurate to say "certain Steering Committee members." Among ourselves we have no consensus on how to deal with "electoral politics" and thus could not have a unified attack strategy. I personally agree with Cohen on many points and would not allow the Steering Committee, as a body, to slander his intentions. It is, however, imposible to prevent individual Steering Committee members from directing snide comments at their ideological opponents. Even I, despite my work at PBH and at Perspective, have been the recipient of such indirect comments. These comments, however, have never been a group effort.

The other article I found far more troubling. In the profile of Anthony Romano by Spencer Hsu, Anthony is portrayed as a nice guy, but an ineffective leader and a naive idealist. It is ironic indeed that the most laudable parts of his character could have been twisted in such an unfair fashion.

Anthony is certainly an idealist, but he is also a very effective leader. He was one of the best fundraisers the Association ever had, founded one of PBH's most solid programs (Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment), and did his best as president in the face of soul-less "pragmatists." It is almost a crime that one who devoted his life to PBH did not recieve a Stride-Rite Public Service Award.

Certainly, the end of his tenure was troubled. But this was not due to intransigence or "a lack of political savvy." It was because Anthony would not be coerced into abandoning his principles "for the good of PBH." Cohen would be proud of Anthony's strength in the face of such attacks which question his love for the institution. His "fatal flaw" was not buckling under to superior authority, not selling out in the name of consensus-building. We should all have flaws as terrible as the courage of our convictions.

It should be stressed that in spite of Ehrenreich's rather condescending appraisal, Anthony was not wrong in his views. He was entirely and indisputably correct, and had the high moral ground. However, with time and the changing of the guard, past events are buried, and institutional inertia prevails. This is Anthony's curse. His inspired and devoted service will be transformed over time into "unrealistic idealism." PBH's overwhelming desire for consensus will sweep away the real issues facing it, and honest and moral people will be cast as villians. This is the sad truth that is not revealed in Hsu's article. Nikos Buxeda '91   General Steering Committee member   Director, Keylatch Program

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