Letter: von Keyserling Should Resign
To the Editor:
Chris von Keyserling is a leader within the Greenwich RTM, one of the largest grassroots democratic institutions in our country. He is persistent and eccentric, and seems to take pride in his gadfly persona.
There are a number of valid arguments against von Keyserling’s inappropriate behavior toward a 56-year-old female union worker at Nathaniel Witherell. That does not seem to be the issue here: despite von Keyserling’s alleged initial assertions to the contrary (and with videotape confirmation), all sides believe his accuser and denounce his actions at some level.
What remains at issue is the level of responsibility to which von Keyserling should be held, namely, whether he should be forced to resign his position on the Greenwich RTM. There is a range of compelling arguments to consider. Appeals to ethics and decency come to mind first: This was not words but intentional, non-consensual touching (pinching? is there a difference? does it matter?) of a woman’s groin. What if someone in power did that to our colleague, our daughter, our wife, our mother, our grandmother? Don’t we have a duty as citizens (and leaders) to make the workplace safe for them? If we do nothing, aren’t we condoning this type of behavior?
Secondly, there are the legal and economic concerns: Will this lead to another lawsuit, prompt another large financial settlement, or otherwise further hurt the image of Greenwich, given the global coverage? von Keyserling’s defenders point to the social and political considerations of the case: he has contributed much of his life to the town; he comes from a different time; we would lose a valued leader. But these defenses instead make the point that we should expect more from our democratically elected leaders who work in the service of our town, not less. Institutional shifts in the standards of our society should be promoted and protected by our governments and leaders, not dismissed or excused.
If von Keyserling is incapable of meeting today’s higher standards, then he is not capable of continuing to represent this town. Assertions to the contrary do a disservice to town residents and to those representatives “from another time.” Regardless of the time, our public institutions are governed according to the rule of law. Regardless of their age, our leaders serve the interests and welfare of the people. Doctors take an oath to “do no harm.” U.S Presidents take an oath “to protect and defend the Constitution.”
And members of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting take an oath as well. We think that oath should be expanded to include not committing crimes and misdemeanors, and the Rules of the Representative Town Meeting expanded to include expulsion for violating that oath. Meanwhile, Chris von Keyserling should resign voluntarily. Not just for ethical, legal, political or economic reasons, but for societal ones. As a representative of “we the people,” he should be held to a higher standard of democratic principles and action in the public interest, not a lesser one.
The writers are residents of Greenwich. Rebecca Wayland is a former vice chair of the Social Services department; Lawrence Perry is a former chairman of Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency; Stephanie Raia is a former member of the BET; and David Singer is a former selectman.