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School Committee candidate Aschkenasy faces ethics complaint over campaign video

In a still from the now-removed portion of a campaign video, Select Board member Miriam Aschkenasy sits at her seat in the board's hearing room.
April 16, 2024  Updated April 25, 2024 at 8:49 a.m.

A complaint filed with the State Ethics Commission alleges that Miriam Aschkenasy, a member of the town’s Select Board who is now running for School Committee, violated conflict of interest laws by using a Town Hall hearing room for a campaign video.

Fred Levitan, a former Town Meeting member, said that he filed a complaint with the commission on Thursday, the same day Aschkenasy sent the video to supporters. The state’s conflict of interest laws restrict the ways that public officials can use public resources in connection with political activity. Levitan charged that Aschkenasy improperly used the board’s hearing room, as well as the Brookline town seal, in the video.

Aschkenasy has since removed the video from YouTube and replaced it with a shorter version that removes the alleged violation. “In an abundance of caution I took down the video as soon as I was made aware that there was a question about its content,” she said in a statement. The new video contains only footage of her speaking at a candidates’ event.

“A total of 104 people had viewed the video at the time it was removed and replaced. I have not heard anything from the State Ethics Commission but will gladly fully cooperate if I do,” she said.

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In the opening of the original video, which was viewed by Brookline.News before being taken down, Aschkenasy is seen in the Select Board’s hearing room with her son. Sitting at her place at the dais, she says, “What I’ve learned both as a parent and a Select Board member is that I have something to offer the School Committee in my knowledge of how the town works.”

In her statement, Aschkenasy said that the 30-second portion of the video was “me showing my son, a civically engaged junior at the high school and head of the film club, the Select Board offices and hearing room and him asking me a question at the podium. He wanted to see where I go every Tuesday for the past several years, and it was exciting to show him what civic engagement volunteerism can look like. That was the 30 seconds in its entirety and yes, we did pose together in front of the seal because he was excited to see it.”

A 2011 advisory from the State Ethics Commission says that using public buildings or office space to campaign – (when not in the context of, for example, a debate where all candidates are invited) – is a violation of the state ethics law.

It offers a scenario similar in some ways to Ashkenasy’s use as an example of a violation, saying:

“An incumbent Selectman seeking reelection uses her official position to gain access to the Board of Selectmen’s meeting room, which under town policy is not available for private use, to make a campaign video featuring herself in the meeting room standing next to the town’s seal, urging voters to vote for her, and soliciting campaign donations.”

Unlike the example offered in the commission’s scenario, the Select Board room is typically open to the public during regular business hours, according to Christina Metcalf, a spokesperson for the town.

Aschkenasy said she did not ask for donations or votes while filming the video in the board’s hearing room.

Gerry Tuoti, a spokesperson for the state ethics board, said that he could not confirm or deny that the commission has received a complaint because of its confidentiality requirements. The Commission is authorized to impose a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation of the conflict of interest law, according to Tuoti.