NORFOLK — The man at the center of a controversy over an alleged injection of race into a state representative campaign is taking issue with the way his role is being portrayed.
Thomas Brown, a Wrentham resident and retired history teacher, admits asking Marcus Vaughn, the Republican candidate for the 9th Norfolk House District, who is Black, why he joined the GOP.
But he denies it was out of any racial animosity. He says Vaughn’s account of the event contains “numerous distortions and outright lies.”
Vaughn, in media interviews and in a video on his campaign Facebook page, has cast the incident as confrontation that left him “shaken” prior to a cable TV debate with his Democratic rival, Kevin Kalkut, a member of the Norfolk select board.
According to Vaughn’s retelling of the incident to the Boston Herald, Kalkut supporters were waiting when he arrived for the debate at Norfolk’s cable television studios on Oct. 28.
Brown, Vaughn says, took his hand, held it and asked him how he could be a Republican.
“‘You mean, because I’m a Black man?’” Vaughn said he responded, taken aback.
“‘Yes,’” was Brown’s apparent response, the Herald reported.
In his Facebook video, made after the incident, Vaughn describes the incident as “harassment,” and casts the encounter in slightly different terms, saying he was asked, “How dare I be a Republican because I’m Black.”
In the nearly three-minute video, an emotional Vaughn says he “can’t believe Kalkut supporters and the Democratic Party would attack me because I don’t fit their narrative based on my race.”
Kalkut, who arrived for the debate after the incident, said in a statement, “Upon arriving I was immediately briefed and without hesitation sought out my opponent to offer my sincere apologies and made sure that the individual was removed” from the group of supporters holding signs in front of the studio.
Vaughn, who appeared slightly nervous during the nearly hour-long debate — which covered issues ranging from MBTA woes to vaccine mandates — referred to the encounter only near the end of the broadcast, first incorrectly identifying Brown as chair of the Norfolk Democratic Town Committee. Vaughn went on to say that he appreciated Kalkut’s apology but said the idea a Black person could not be a Republican “is not the right way of thinking.”
Along with the apology from Kalkut, the Wrentham Democratic Commitee’s Facebook page includes a posting that refers to the incident:
“We are incredibly disheartened by the incident that occurred before the debate between Marcus Vaughn and Kevin Kalkut in Norfolk today. As a committee, we do not condone the sentiment that was expressed by one individual present. He has resigned from his role on the Wrentham Democratic Town Committee, effective immediately. The statements made by this individual do not under any circumstances reflect the group’s values as a whole.”
But that was met with a response by the Walpole Republican Town Committee: “Racism is unacceptable !!! Any time — Any where — from Any one !!!!! Please consider voting for Marcus Vaughan — genuine, honest and cares about the issues.”
On Vaughn’s own social media page, the incident and his video have elicited 117 mostly positive comments and nearly 7,500 views. He’s since made other references to the encounter on the site, including a link to the Herald story.
Vaughn also quotes U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., as saying, “One of the most threatening places to be in politics is a Black conservative.”
But Brown, who resigned from the Wrentham Democratic Town Committee that evening, is disputing Vaughn’s account of the incident. He did not respond to an email request for comment, but in a lengthy letter to the editor of the Franklin Observer, a local news website that first reported the incident last week, he denied Vaughn’s version of the events in which he says, “Why are you doing this to me, is it because I am black?”
“This statement represents a complete fabrication. And should be considered either a deliberate lie or a delusion on Vaughn’s part. What it wasn’t is an assault — that charge was fabricated, or perhaps a simple delusion,” Brown wrote.
Brown’s version of the comment about Black people and the Republican Party is also different from Vaughn’s.
Brown said during a discussion about civil rights legislation, “I followed up, ‘Why did you become a Republican?’ Then, Vaughn said, ‘Are you asking me because I am black?’ I replied ’yes.’ Marcus Vaughn took offense, then said coolly to me, ‘I’m going to use this in the debate (against Kevin Kalkut).’ ”
Vaughn declined a request to talk about Brown’s account. In an email to The Sun Chronicle, he wrote, “I’m now trying to put this behind me and look forward to finishing strong during this campaign.”
He said he’s already done four interviews about the incident. “I do not see the need to keep beating a dead horse,” he wrote.
Kalkut said the controversy was not affecting his campaign, while repeating that his apology at the time was sincere.
“We are going to continue our message on local funding and local services, the message we’ve had for nine and a half months to deliver for the district,” he said.
Kalkut and Vaughn are vying to replace state Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Wrentham, who is seeking to unseat state Sen. Becca Rausch, D-Needham.
The Ninth House District includes the towns of Wrentham, Norfolk and Planville as well as precincts in Walpole, Medfield and Millis.