By Jared Liu
Many of you may remember Andy Noel, who was the director of financial aid at Choate. He valued education, coached and cheered on his kids with the Wallingford Hawks, and generally was among the most optimistic, intrinsically motivated, good, hard-working people I’ve ever met.
He maintained high standards of ethics and service for himself and held others to the same. He was a mentor, an inspiration, and my friend.
In 2010, Andy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer of the appendix. In a surprising coincidence, the pre-eminent surgeon for Andy’s cancer graduated from Bowdoin College, the same school as Andy did. They were years apart and hadn’t known each other previously, but, when the college magazine heard, they ran a short story titled, “A Community of Care.”
As a postscript, the story mentioned that six other Bowdoin graduates worked at Choate with Andy. It was a neat account about the power of community. Well, darn, if another school didn’t see the article and say, “Hey, we’ve got more Bowdoin graduates working at our school,” and write an editorial to highlight this.
The situation was a reminder of how easy it is to get redirected, make a story about a person instead of the ideals that person stands for, and entirely miss the point because you’re so focused on trying to get the last word.
So it seems that our positive, forward-looking plans for Wallingford have struck a nerve, and proxies have been called on to discredit us. Although I started this campaign knowing the slander was coming, the personal attacks are still unfortunate. I’ll neither respond with similar negativity nor apologize for having bold plans. However, that also means I cannot correct the record on everything, because that would simply be to follow them down the path of finger-pointing.
I have instead chosen to put my faith in you, the residents of Wallingford. You deserve better than sensationalism and performance, but the only way you’ll get that is by engaging in a conversation that goes beyond reading the editorial page (or even this column). Just as one cannot fight intolerance with intolerance, we will go high. When they hide from transparency, we will be open and inclusive. When they lack a plan, we will be detailed and thoughtful. And, when they attack to shut down voices and have the last word, we will be supportive of broad discourse. We do this because the core of our philosophy is that we believe in building community, not tearing it down. And I’m running for mayor because I believe you do, too.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You cannot be a great leader unless the people are great.”
This campaign is first and foremost about the town I love. I want the same opportunities for our children that I had growing up here. And that’s worth fighting for, but I need your help to keep this about the issues and continually bring the conversation back around to what we want for our future. Just as I’ve put out comprehensive plans for the future of Wallingford, I’m asking you to hold others accountable for the same. Being informed includes knowing that no single camp has the market on wisdom and virtue.
By Nov. 5, we will have knocked on 15,000 doors, had conversations with over 10,000 voters, walked all 231 miles in town, and shared and commented on thousands of posts online. On top of that, I will have written as many opinion columns as the Record-Journal will allow me (once a month, for which I am extremely appreciative to have the space to encourage a broader audience to engage in a conversation). The commonality in all of this is that we’re promoting conversations that include diverse voices.
Compromise is the oxygen of democracy. My platform is stronger because it was assembled by teams that drew on ideas from Democrats and Republicans, teachers, real estate agents, developers, business owners, and more, and because we continue to discuss these ideas in public. Oscar Wilde said, “I hope I’m not perfect. It would leave me no room for development.” In fact, I specifically reach out to talk with residents who disagree with me. Some of them decline to meet in person, but I’ll keep trying, because it yields some of the best conversations. Just as democracy is not about trying to get the last word, we’re not going to agree on everything, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Founding Fathers cautioned that political parties could lead to divisiveness, but kept them because parties can also lead to honest disagreements. Progress happens through inquiry, argument, agitation, and, ultimately, reform. Those who are dismissive simply want you to vote with the status quo on the premise that nothing can be better.
However, I believe our town is one of unlimited potential. Although the growth that surrounding towns in Connecticut and the nation have seen in recent years has not reached Wallingford in the same degree, we can take ownership to change that. We don’t have to agree on the path forward, but we only move towards our potential when we start with conversation.
To that end, I have said to the mayor and will state publicly here, too, that I will participate in as many debates as he’s willing to take part in. Rather than try to score points by having the last word or discredit someone in an editorial, let’s talk publicly.Last election, there were only two debates, and only one of these was open to the public and permitted to be recorded. You can find it by going to YouTube and searching, “Wallingford Government TV Mayoral Debate.” If nothing else, you’ll be proud to see two well-informed high school students engaging civically! Here is the link for the debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrccnzQh9og
Write to the mayor and ask him to participate in more debates. Invite the candidates to speak with your organization or neighborhood meeting, and I promise to be there. As always, I finish every article encouraging you to read my full plans so you can see for yourself that we’re offering a positive vision for the future of Wallingford.
Jared Liu is a 2019 Wallingford mayoral candidate.