A cup of coffee and some healthy conversation

Carl Kustell and Lisa Daft have plenty to debate, but focus on civility

By Josh Bickford
Posted 4/11/24

They stand on different sides of the political aisle, but on Friday they met for coffee.  

Lisa Daft, a former member of the Committee on Appropriations and a Republican, and Carl Kustell, …

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A cup of coffee and some healthy conversation

Carl Kustell and Lisa Daft have plenty to debate, but focus on civility


They stand on different sides of the political aisle, but on Friday they met for coffee. 

Lisa Daft, a former member of the Committee on Appropriations and a Republican, and Carl Kustell, the current Town Council President and a Democrat, said face-to-face conversations can go a long way to building a better understanding between neighbors and building a stronger, more united community. The coffee meetings have been taking place for months.

“Personally, we have a lot in common,” Kustell said. “But on a political level, we both stick to universal values. We’re never like ‘I’m right, you’re evil.’ Second, we don’t engage in character attacks. Everybody can say something mean. That happens. Assume good intentions until they show you otherwise.”

Daft said finding common ground with difficult issues can happen, “But you can’t use social media and signs in your yard. If you’re not going to sit and talk with them, that’s the problem. You have to be open to hearing… if you’re going to stay in your echo chamber, I call it my bubble, that’s all your hearing. You have to go outside of that to hear from someone with a different opinion. That’s what Carl does. He’s taking that information. He’s not saying ‘My way is the only way.’”

Daft can recall her first encounter with Kustell years ago.

“We met at the Town Hall when John Taylor put up those flags around the semi-circle. I remember we were there, a bunch of us, and Carl was there. I was like ‘Wow, why is he here?’” Daft said. “My interactions, based on his votes on the Council, I didn’t really think that he supported these types of events. I was introduced to him. I was a little judgy. I think I said ‘I’m surprised to see you here.’ We talked a little bit. Just a few words. And he said, ‘Why don’t we have coffee?’ And that’s when it started.”

Kustell’s offer was a key step in opening up lines of communication, they said. Now they often discuss contentious topics, but with an understanding that they are still friends, neighbors and fellow Barrington residents. 

“I think you come by these issues, and you have to be open to ideas from people who are either on the other side of the aisle or you disagree with. Because, sometimes, number one, you’re wrong when you dig into it. And two, in anything involved in governing, you’re representing everybody. And three, I see someone in Lisa who’s active, cares about the issues, is reasonable and a good person. Why would I let a party label cut me off from having a conversation with her?” Kustell said. 

The Council President said he also appreciates Daft’s institutional knowledge of the community.

“She knows things that happened here in the past that I don’t know,” he said. 

Daft said the conversations have been very beneficial. 

“For me, what I learned from having our first coffee was that he was very different than what I assumed he would be like just based on what I had seen … during Covid it (Council meetings) was on Zoom,” she said. “Carl lives almost around the corner from me. I drive by his house probably twice a day. We are like neighbors. Our kids are a little bit different in age, so we never really overlapped in the school system. I never came across him in that regard. But what I found was that by sitting and talking in person that it’s much easier to get to know somebody. And I think that starts to connect you in a different way — more as a neighbor, as a community member, not just as a person that represents or is part of a political party. Because I don’t think that those political attachments really help in a community.”

Daft said the topics for conversation can vary from local issues to national politics.

“When we sit here and talk about turf fields and garbage collection and flag policy and things like that, we can have an open discussion about it and be open to hearing each other’s side without actually any judgment,” Daft said. “What I liked the most was that he was willing to just listen to what I was saying… on behalf of our committee. Just to have someone who will listen to you, that goes a long way. I respect him for putting himself there to listening to what I had to say.”

Kustell said he looks forward to the conversations.

“We both support the first amendment. We both believe in universal values…Freedom, democracy,” he said, adding that productive conversations can occur between people from varying political backgrounds as long as they believe in those values. 

“We both come at this from a way, we’re going to tell our truths and do it in a way that we don’t talk down to people. Beyond that, we have a lot of shared values and commonalities.”

Kustell and Daft both believe that the “conversations” taking place on social media platforms do very little to bring communities together. 

“As a practical matter, you’re going to be sitting next to people you disagree with at every kids recital or sports event… So do you want to have your blood pressure rise every time?” Kustell said. 

Daft agrees. 

“Our common sense of community should be our priority,” she said.

The Council President’s willingness to reach a hand across the political aisle has not been warmly received by all. Kustell said someone from own party voiced concern — “There’s pushback. I’ve had somebody said, ‘You have to be more part of the team.’”

But Kustell believes in the power of in-person conversations. It is one of the reasons he pushed to eliminate the Zoom option for Council meetings. 

“One reason I got rid of Zoom, and I caught a lot of flack for that, is that people are at home and they feel like they are watching TV. But they’re not. When you come before your neighbors and you’re now in an environment, we can make eye contact, we’re going to act a little bit differently,” he said. 

Kustell and Daft recalled how some aggressive and demeaning some people were when writing in the chat section of the Zoom meetings.

“It was disgusting,” Daft said. “It just creates more tension. This (in-person conversation) just feels like a bridge in the community. It doesn’t have to be one side or the other. It can be a respectful middle ground. Or a space where we can be problem-solvers. We can still have our own opinions.”

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