By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — An annual gathering of city politicians took a divisive turn over the weekend when members of a local labor union handed out attack fliers targeting mayoral challenger Jennifer Kannan for among other things not graduating from high school.
One flier suggested she was “voted most likely to succeed in Methuen politics” without a high school diploma. Another highlighted her family ties to the city payroll, and a third suggested she was influenced by Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua while voting on the city solicitor issue earlier this year.
The fliers were paid for by Laborers International Local 175, which represents about 75 Public Works employees and 10 School IT workers in Methuen. Union members handed the fliers out to a sellout crowd Saturday at the Methuen Senior Center for the annual pancake breakfast hosted by the Methuen Democratic City Committee.
Kannan said the breakfast “took a negative turn” when the fliers were handed out. Kannan also criticized her opponent, Mayor Stephen Zanni — who she believes is working “hand-in-hand” with Local 175 Business Manager Michael Gagliardi.
“Steve brought this element to a positive event,” Kannan said. “People were just ripping them up and throwing them on the floor.”
“I thought it was unfortunate that these people would hurt my family when I’m trying to run a positive race for mayor,” Kannan said. “I think it’s negative campaigning. In my opinion there’s no room for that here in Methuen.”
Zanni distanced himself from the fliers yesterday, stating his campaign had no involvement.
“I do not condone this type of campaigning,” said Zanni. “I definitely disapprove of it. Whatever (Gagliardi’s) doing, I’m far removed from that.”
“There’s not one person on my campaign that’s involved with that at all,” said Zanni. “I wish (Kannan) would tell the truth. ... This negative campaigning, I don’t believe in it. I have nothing to do with it.”
Gagliardi yesterday defended handing out the fliers at the breakfast because he said “the voters in Methuen deserve to understand what somebody running for mayor stands for ... and what their education level is.”
One flier displayed Kannan’s campaign logo at the top along with the text “Class of 198?” and “Voted most likely to succeed in Methuen politics without a diploma!”
Yesterday, Kannan said she left Methuen High School during her senior year in 1982. That same year, Kannan said she earned a General Educational Development (GED) credential before entering the field of cosmetology.
Kannan, 46, who now works as a Realtor, said she has been enrolled for the last four years as a part-time student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where she is working toward a bachelor’s degree in political science.
A second flier read “Family Plan Kannan” and stated that “Konflict Kannan Kannot” negotiate police, fire or school contracts due to her relatives who work in those city departments.
Kannan’s brother, Richard Aziz Jr., is a lieutenant with the Methuen Fire Department. Her son, Billy Kannan Jr., joined the police department as a full-time patrolman in 2012 after serving for several years as a reserve officer. Kannan’s daughter, Brittney Kannan, is a teacher’s aide at Marsh Grammar School. Kannan’s sister-in-law, Maria Becotte, works as a teacher at the Marsh.
Kannan said yesterday she has closely abided by all ethics and conflict of interest guidelines since becoming a city councilor. If elected mayor, Kannan said she has been informed by the state Ethics Commission that a member of her staff will be allowed to sit in on contract negotiations in her place with any group that Kannan has a family conflict with.
The third flier was a Local 175 endorsement of Lantigua. But it contained a quote from Gagliardi claiming that Kannan was influenced by Lantigua when she voted in April against nominating Richard D’Agostino as Methuen’s next city solicitor.
Yesterday, Kannan recalled sitting near Lantigua at a political breakfast six years ago.
“Other than that I haven’t spoken to Willie Lantigua,” said Kannan, dismissing Gagliardi’s suggestion as “an outright lie.”
This is not the first time this year that Gagliardi and Kannan have clashed publicly.
A motion to appoint D’Agostino to a two-year term as solicitor was defeated 5-4 on April 1. Following the vote, Kannan said she was verbally threatened by Gagliardi — a claim Gagliardi denied.
“He told me I was going down,” Kannan told The Eagle-Tribune at the time. “I can’t understand why a labor leader would be lobbying Methuen city councilors for a non-laborer. It doesn’t make sense.”
Gagliardi is a Westford resident but works out of the Local 175 office on Union Street. Local 175 represents 750 employees in 32 cities and towns across the Merrimack Valley, North Shore and Salem, N.H.
“About Mike Gagliardi, I have one thing to say — no comment,” said Kannan yesterday. “I don’t want to give anybody wind in his sails. I don’t want to empower anybody. He’s not part of my campaign.”
Kannan also tied the fliers to the Zanni campaign on Monday via Facebook.
“We’ve received a number of calls about the fliers that went out over the weekend from the Zanni campaign,” reads a post on Kannan’s official campaign page. “Simply put, my campaign will be run on facts, truths, and real issues — not on mudslinging. Methuen voters deserve better than the abhorrent behavior displayed this weekend. The people of Methuen deserve a candidate who takes responsibility for their words and actions.”