Most folks probably already knew around Labor Day whom they’d vote for in Wallingford’s mayoral election. Keeping their options open, and barring any last minute, late-breaking revelations, most voters probably had the mayoral election figured out by then. In the spring and summer, they had their evolving preferences. But by Labor Day, there was no substantial doubt. If I’m right, although the campaigning, political ads, mailings, and lawn sign activity during the last 60 days has been spirited, it has not changed many minds. (The campaign for town council is entirely different.)
An article that appeared in the New York Times on 9-20-12 written by Lynn Vavreck illustrates the point. She reported that in 2011, about 10 months before the presidential election in 2012, research showed 94 percent of voters had made up their minds about an Obama-Romney contest. As the election got nearer, the few remaining undecided voters eventually committed to a candidate. The critical mass of the majority, however, formed months before the voting started. The mayoral contest in Wallingford is probably not much different.
In 2011, William W. Dickinson, Jr. received 6,210 votes, which was 63 percent of the total, and voter turnout was slim at 39.5%. Jason Zandri was also elected to the town council that year with 5,537 votes, a handsome tally for a new councilor. The following year was tumultuous, however, and stories of controversy (disposal of wood cut from trees on town lands) rolled across the pages of the Record-Journal. Mayor Dickinson proposed a budget, which called for a 3.01 percent mill rate increase. Zandri and 7 other councilors voted for it. Later in the year, he said he would run against Dickinson.
In early 2013, residents learned that Zandri was challenging Dickinson. Voters began to measure the familiar Dickinson and his well-known approach, against Zandri, who was more of an unknown quantity. Many could quickly reach a conclusion about the 2013 election based upon their knowledge of both men. Others took more time to compare the two, and they visualized one and then the other as the town’s chief executive. Voters, therefore, began choosing as soon as they got enough information about the two men, their thinking, and their means and methods of governing.
Voters form preferences sooner rather than later, therefore, and they hold on to their choices. The tipping point comes at different times for different people. No one, however, had to wait until October to reach an opinion as to whom would make the better mayor. And most didn’t.
This notion is supported by the nature of the campaigns. Since Labor Day, voters haven’t learned much that they didn’t already know. The rhetoric in Dickinson’s literature is that Wallingford is a garden. He emphasizes the town’s finances by pointing to Wallingford’s lower mill rate and its AAA bond rating. He takes credit for lower electric rates and ignores increases in water and sewer charges. His lawn signs show a star and tell voters to “Keep it Shining.” His message is that he can successfully run the town. But he’s not offering much more.
Zandri’s slogan is “Moving Wallingford Forward.” He claims taxes are too high but he’s vague on why Dickinson is at fault or what, specifically, he’d do to fix it. He says that if elected he’d work hard to “... position the town’s operations and finances positively in order to offer residential tax relief.” Zandri would reverse the mayor’s philosophy which tamps down the use of technology, and that would be well received by many. His idea to expand property tax deferrals for eligible seniors, however, is too an narrow issue.
It’s not surprising that Zandri is trying to make the election a referendum on the mayor’s style. Dickinson probably figures that plays into his strength. The campaigns, however, haven’t moved the needle much. The opinions of voters are probably as fixed now as they were before Labor Day.
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”