MERIDEN — We the People City Councilor Bob Williams Jr.’s decision to seek an at-large seat two years before his current term in Area 4 expires has raised a number of questions among voters.
Here’s an explainer.
Q: What happens if Williams wins an at-large seat?
Williams would have the choice of finishing out his Area 4 term, set to expire in 2021, or beginning a new four-year term as an at-large candidate. He would not be permitted to hold both seats, according to city Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn.
Q: What happens to Williams’ Area 4 seat if he becomes an at-large councilor?
The City Charter would allow the We the People Party to appoint someone to finish out Williams’ two-year term. Similarly, if Williams wins an at-large seat but elects to remain in Area 4, the party would appoint someone to the four-year, at-large term; Williams has said he plans to serve as an at-large councilor if elected.
Q: Who would We the People appoint to finish Williams’ Area 4 term?
Party Chairwoman Lois DeMayo said this week she has a couple of party members in mind to succeed Williams, but declined to name them. According to voter registration records, Area 4 has 12 registered We the People members, which include DeMayo and Williams. The We the People party, which currently holds three of the council’s 12 seats, only has 32 registered members in the city, which has just over 29,000 registered voters, according to the records.
Meriden’s We the People party was formed in 2007 as an alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties. The party, however, generally shares a platform with the Republican Party. The two parties traditionally don’t run candidates against each other and cross-endorse each others’ candidates. DeMayo said she and Republican Chairman Guy Beeman have a deal in which the two parties each nominate three council candidates each election — one at-large and two area candidates.
It’s possible a member of a different party could join We the People to finish Williams’ term. Republican Michael Carabetta, who is running for the council’s other Area 4 seat against Democratic incumbent Cathy Battista and Libertarian Ellen Misbach, said he would not look to fill Williams’ seat in the event that Carabetta loses in Area 4 and Williams earns an at-large seat.
Q: And what if Williams loses the at-large race?
He would be allowed to finish his Area 4 term, meaning he and the We the People Partly essentially have nothing to lose with the at-large bid. When Williams’ term expires in two years, he would be allowed to seek re-election in Area 4 or run again for an at-large seat.
Q: Why is Williams running for another seat mid-term?
Williams and DeMayo have acknowledged that Williams’ at-large bid is attractive because it gives the party an opportunity to secure two council seats without the risk of losing Williams’ current Area 4 seat.
Williams decided to run for an at-large seat after longtime We the People Councilor Walter Shamock announced he would not seek re-election to his at-large seat earlier this year. Shamock, 89, was first elected to the council in 1989. Williams, who considers Shamock a friend, said Shamock called him earlier this year and asked him to run for the at-large seat in his place.
"I'm doing it as a personal favor for Walt," Williams said last month.
Q: How often do elected officials run for another office mid-term?
It’s “not uncommon at all” for elected officials to run for other legislative bodies at various levels of government, said Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for the Secretary of the State. Rosenberg said there are some examples of people simultaneously holding local and state offices. State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, is also a Wallingford town councilor, for example.
It’s rarer, though, for an elected official to run for a different seat on the same legislative body, Rosenberg added, because there are not many situations in which that’s possible.
Q: How often does a local party appoint someone to a council seat?
There are some recent examples of parties appointing members to fill open council seats. In 2012, Democrats appointed Miguel Castro to replace Hilda Santiago after Santiago was elected as a state representative in the 84th District. That same year, Democrats also appointed Larue Graham to serve out the remainder of Dante Bartolomeo's term representing Area 2 after Bartolomeo was elected to the 13th state Senate district seat. Both Castro and Graham went on to be elected to the seats and still serve on the council today.
Q: Is there a big difference between holding an area and at-large seat?
All 12 members of the council are allowed to vote on all matters and resolutions, whether they pertain to a councilor’s area or not.
The council is made up of eight area seats — two seats for Areas 1 through 4 — and four at-large seats.
While area councilors are elected by and answer directly to residents of their area, councilors often deal with residents and issues outside of their area. Williams said he doesn’t anticipate much changing if he becomes an at-large councilor.
Q: What allows a councilor to run for another seat mid-term in Meriden?
Two components of Meriden’s political setup generally allow a councilor to run for another council seat in the middle of their term — staggered terms and area representation.
Many towns, including Wallingford and Southington, do not have council area representation, meaning all the council seats are effectively at-large and there is a difference between the seats. Other towns, like Cheshire, have a mixture of area and at-large council seats, however, all councilors are elected to two-year terms, meaning a councilor wouldn’t be able to hold one seat while running for another.
Meriden, on the other hand, has staggered four-year terms, meaning in each biannual election, six of the 12 council seats are up for election, while the other six won’t be up for election for another two years.
While nothing in Connecticut’s state statute nor the City Charter prohibits a councilor from seeking another seat mid-term, five states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Texas — have “resign to run” laws that require elected officials to resign from their current office to run for another.
Q: Who is Williams running against?
A total of six candidates are vying for two at-large seats — Democratic incumbent Michael Cardona, Democrat Michael Rohde, Republican Dan Zaborowski, Williams, A Meriden Party’s Art Petrucelli, and petitioning candidate Ernestine Holloway.
The two top vote-getters will win the seats.