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After 24 years of serving as North Haven fire commissioner, Peter Criscuolo faces opposition from endorsed Democratic nominee Jennifer Caldwell.
At a Democratic Town Committee meeting held Tuesday, July 16, Caldwell received the Democratic endorsement for fire commissioner with 26 out of 41 votes. Criscuolo received 12.
While Caldwell was endorsed to be the Democrats’ candidate in November, Criscuolo isn’t counting himself out, saying he intends to start his campaign as soon as possible.
“They voted for inexperience,” said Criscuolo, after the DTC meeting adjourned. “I’m running my primary starting tomorrow.”
In addition to his years of experience as a commissioner, Criscuolo also is the longest sitting president of the New Haven County fire commissioners, is the only union endorsed fire commissioner and has been endorsed by three volunteer fire departments in North Haven.
However, Kathy Grant, chair of the DTC, believes that Caldwell might be a better fit.
“She can offer a different perspective,” said Grant. “She has an extensive background in healthcare.”
Caldwell’s background includes an undergraduate degree in occupational therapy and a masters in special education. She also is pursuing a second masters degree in healthcare. Caldwell said she has been watching the North Haven fire department for years and is concerned it is understaffed.
“In my 20s my apartment caught on fire,” Caldwell said. “The fire department came in two to three minutes and saved my life. I don’t know if that’s the case anymore.”
Theresa Ranciato-Viele, a DTC member who spoke on behalf of Caldwell’s nomination, said that Caldwell being a woman would help her campaign.
“We have no professional female firefighters,” said Ranciato-Viele. “She can offer new insights which might bring more women into this town to be firefighters. If somebody serves too long, they become short-sighted. New blood is critical to keeping commissions alive.”
Criscuolo contends that the DTC is “trying to select on gender instead of qualifications.”
“I think that it’s reverse discrimination,” said Criscuolo. "We are all equal provided our qualifications are equal.”
Despite running against a long standing fire commissioner, Caldwell’s spirit isn’t dampened.
“It’ll be a challenge,” Caldwell said. “I think we need to look where our fire department is and make changes.”