Meriden and its government are at a crossroad. The political dynamics have shifted. After the last municipal election, Democrats lost what had been commanding control. As recently as 2005, that party held all 12 council seats. Before polls closed on Nov. 5, 2013, Democrats had still maintained an 8-4 edge, enough to pull together the two-thirds majority needed to overturn mayoral vetoes. But that dominant leverage is gone. Republicans gained a council spot and now seat five against seven, blocking Democrats’ ability to rebuff mayoral vetoes with party-line votes.
And with longtime incumbent Mayor Michael Rohde, a Democrat, losing to Republican challenger Manny Santos, Meriden politics has evolved into a system of checks and balances unlike anything in recent time. Democrats still boast sufficient numbers to pass items in council, but lack voting strength to override a Santos veto. Thus, on matters that evoke ideological disagreements among councilors of different political stripes, it will now take compromise and accord to achieve majority approval.
This should prove beneficial. Better, more-well-reasoned laws result from genuine debate and willingness to explore means of give-and-take. That is, however, if the political environment allows for amicable relations across party lines.
Having been without such extent of governmental influence for quite some time, Republicans and We the People may now be tempted to throw their political weight around. Who could blame them? Voters seemingly sent a clear message that they want increased input in Meriden politics from the minority parties.
But to seek significant changes too quickly would be a short-sighted, tactical mistake. The future of Meriden — especially as currently taking shape in form of high-school renovations and downtown revitalization — depends on city leaders getting along and working together. Employing newly gained power for power’s sake, or as repayment for old grudges, would set an early partisan tone that could alienate Democrats and engender gridlock for years to come.
Meriden, of course, doesn’t have years to wait for political rancor to dissipate. The city needs to continue progress. The city needs all councilors to proceed with deliberation and prudence in regard to utilizing political seats won in the last election. The city needs to continue the ambitious, large-scale, constructive projects begun under the old administration.
And, above all else, Meriden requires its political parties to avoid getting bogged down in the bitter muck of partisanship, and instead grow together as a council capable of civil deliberation and compromise — a government body stronger, not stymied, for its diverse philosophical complexion.