On November 5, voters in Wallingford expressed their preferences. They said that they wanted their government’s policy and practices in 2014 and 2015 to be about the same as they were. Some may have also said that they wanted a calm to settle over the council chambers, at least for the foreseeable future.
Voters picked public officials, therefore, who won’t be divisive, or cause stress or make any policy swerves. They wanted a high comfort level, and with Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., who won his 15th re-election bid, and with the councilors who will be seated in January, they have that.
The turbulence generated by the investigations of Nick Economopoulos will be missing, as he wasn’t re-elected. The eager spirit of Jason Zandri will be gone, too, as he gave up his seat run for mayor. Rosemary Rascati did not seek re-election. In their stead, however, joining the incumbents, are three smooth and steady new councilors, Vinnie Testa, Larry Russo, and Christine Mansfield.
This new council, therefore, is comprised of 8 individuals who are perceived as centrists, and Craig Fishbein, who was also the top vote-getter. (Mr. Fishbein isn’t a centrist, and he might be offended if I said that he was.) Because of that, I predict that we won’t witness as many controversies, nor be treated to many policy choices. I am not expecting sharp differences of opinion, edgy debate, or stirring partisan rhetoric arising out of the new council.
My playful question is, therefore, without the drama of the last two years, what will keep us interested and watching council meetings on government access television? Will apathy reign? Without excitement in Wallingford politics, what will be the subject of news stories? What content will fill this space that I share with Steve Knight? What will we write about?
My answer is that it’s back to basics. And there are some basics to attend to. Former New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia said: “There is no Democratic or Republican way of fixing a sewer.” That’s true in Wallingford, too, now more than ever. And speaking of sewers, from 2008 through 2013, the combined water and sewer rate in Wallingford has jumped more than 38 percent. Is there a way of fixing that? The net grand list has been stagnant for the last 5 years. What can be done to stimulate it? The Board of Education may want to enhance early education. What will that cost? Some analysts predict that the governor and the legislature will have a large deficit to deal with in 2015 and beyond, resulting, perhaps, in cuts to aid for cities and towns. How would we respond? The town’s unfunded pension liability has been growing and is huge. Do we have any good options?
Calm in Wallingford, therefore, doesn’t necessarily mean there are no problems in Wallingford.
The new council will work well together starting in 2014, but will they want to tackle some of these larger, thornier issues? Or will they mostly react to mostly routine measures passed down from the mayor’s office? We’ll know the answer to that question after the budget workshops in April and May of next year.
In the meantime, 4-year veteran Vinny Cervoni may assume the duties of chairman of the council, taking over for Bob Parisi. Parisi has had a difficult job, and he has done it well. If Cervoni takes over, as predicted, he will need time to find his footing, as being chairman of the council is not as easy as it looks. The new councilors will have a steep learning curve, too.
Congratulations to all of them and to the mayor. May they have a productive two years in office.
Mike Brodinsky is a former town councilor, chairman of the School Roof Building Committee and host of public access show “Citizen Mike.”