What happened? That’s what people ask whenever there’s an electoral upset, and Meriden Mayor Michael Rohde’s Nov. 5 loss to political newcomer Manny Santos certainly has city Democrats asking themselves that question. Are people simply “fed up with the political system,” as former City Council Majority Leader Stephen T. Zerio suggested last week?
Well, it’s probably more than that:
• Some people have cited the grindingly slow progress of downtown development as a factor, and Santos prominently noted during the campaign that whatever limited progress can be seen so far has been entirely the result of government spending, remarking that there has been no sign yet of private investment taking off.
• Meriden’s relatively high property taxes — and Rohde’s key role in pushing through a project labor agreement for the Platt High School renovation — certainly spotlighted him as someone seemingly disinclined to curb city spending. The PLA may have secured the labor vote, but it didn’t win him another term.
• Others have mentioned the long, drawn-out and painful exposure of serious problems within the Police Department — and the bad light that has cast upon the city, and the failure of city leaders, including and especially the mayor, to step out in front and make sure an anti-nepotism policy is crafted — as factors that led voters to turn away from what many see as a “good ole boys” power elite.
• And it couldn’t have helped Rohde when the ruins of the former Meriden-Wallingford Hospital were auctioned off, just before the election, with the city as the only bidder.
But an upset victory is also a time for the winners to reflect — to consider how they should handle their victory, how they can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and how they can work with the party they defeated at the polls.
Can Republicans, Democrats and We the People work together for the greater good of Meriden? It’s a good question — now that the Democrats have lost a council seat and thus lack the votes to override a mayoral veto — and it’s a good question especially in light of the recent fiasco in the nation’s capital, where party warfare in Congress led to a costly shutdown of the federal government.
There’s nothing wrong with the clash of ideas; that’s what politics is all about. But perhaps the folks at City Hall can teach Capitol Hill a thing or two about conducting the people’s business in a civil manner; about taking a position without pitching a fit; about action without acrimony.
Santos won as a Republican, cross-endorsed by We the People. That should go a long way to change the impression of one-party rule in Meriden. What remains to be seen is whether the three parties can now work together for the people of Meriden.
What’s needed right now in Meriden is “collaboration and consensus,” as Zerio put it; “I don’t think people want to see the gridlock that you see down in Washington in Meriden’s Council Chambers.”
Can Meriden do better than Washington? We’d like to think it can.