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Dickinson, Zandri split on additional mayoral debate

WALLINGFORD — Two forums hosted by the Wallingford Community Women scheduled for next week will give a majority of residents the opportunity to hear candidates weigh in on issues concerning the town. While time is set aside specifically for mayoral candidates William W. Dickinson Jr., the Republican incumbent, and Jason Zandri, the Democratic challenger, some in town feel a separate, open debate between the two would allow for residents to make a more informed decision on Election Day.

While Zandri said he is “open to any public debate,” Dickinson stated, “I don’t know how many debates are necessary.”

Traditionally, a forum is put on by the Wallingford Community Women during election years. The tradition continues this year, when on Tuesday a forum is scheduled for Town Council and mayoral candidates. The same organization will host a forum for Board of Education candidates on Thursday. Both events will be held in the auditorium at Town Hall. The Town Council session will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and will last until 9 p.m., when the mayoral forum begins. The Board of Education forum will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday. The forums will be televised by WPAA. The Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce will also hold a mayoral forum next Friday.

Two local residents, inspired by a conversation on Facebook, are trying to organize a separate debate between Dickinson and Zandri. Larry Morgenstein said he and his wife, Gina, noticed in a discussion thread on the Facebook page “Wallingford Political Discussion” that while the Wallingford Community Women host a forum, “It doesn’t allow for a lot of exchanges between candidates.”

The forum includes a moderator, reporters from the Record-Journal and New Haven Register newspapers, and high school students. Members of the press and students take turns asking questions, with each candidate given two minutes to answer.

This format provides no opportunity for public input, Morgenstein said. Morgenstein, a Democrat, said a request has been sent to both mayoral candidates to take part in a separate, more open debate that allows for questions from the public. The goal, said Morgenstein, is to get more residents involved in this year’s election, to be held on Nov. 5.

On Thursday, Dickinson didn’t shut the door to a possible additional debate, but was cautious about partaking in an event not sponsored by an organization.

“Usually events such as debates are sponsored by outside parties,” Dickinson said.

“I’m not sure what the details are on another proposal,” the mayor added, regarding the Morgenstein’s request for an open debate.

Zandri, on the other hand, said he would agree to the debate.

“I’d be more than happy to debate (Dickinson) for hours on end,” Zandri said, “but he won’t do it because he knows he’s in hot water.”

Dickinson said he’d prefer to take part in a debate hosted by an outside party because “that helps assure there is an unbiased and level playing field.”

The forum on Tuesday will also thoroughly cover any and all issues, the mayor said. If an open debate is held, “it’s going to be difficult not to have overlap.”

“The mayor is well within his rights to point out he is already doing the Wallingford Community Women’s forum,” Morgenstein said. But, he added, by not participating the mayor is taking away an opportunity for residents to “judge and decide for themselves.”

The Wallingford Community Women’s forum provides that opportunity though, Dickinson said. “I think it’s very helpful to people if they want to be well informed and have an idea of what the issues are,” he said.

The mayoral forum hosted by the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce will be held next Friday at Masonicare, from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Seating is limited, and attendees must RSVP with the chamber by calling 203-269-9891. (203) 317-2224 Twitter: @Andyragz

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