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Open and shut?

Why did the Democrats lose so badly in Wallingford this year, not only failing to unseat the Republican mayor but managing to re-elect only one member of the Town Council?

The fault is not with the Republicans, Town Councilor Nick Economopoulos said at a Democratic Town Committee meeting after the election; “Our problem is right within the room” — meaning that he blamed another Democratic councilor, John Sullivan, for his own loss.

Economopoulos might better have blamed himself. “Maybe Mr. E should be looking in the mirror and take responsibility himself,” as a Wallingford reader put it in a letter to the editor (R-J, 11-17).

Economopoulos has been nothing if not controversial in public service. A strong voice on the council, he has not shied away from stirring up dust by raising issues that others might have preferred to overlook. Some call him a watchdog, and in that sense he has at times been a valuable civic leader:

• He initiated an investigation that led to a wholesale change of management at the Wallingford Housing Authority, whose practices and procedures had not been given a close look in a very long time. This step may have been unpopular, but many believe it was long overdue.

• He pushed for a quick resolution of the contaminated drinking wells at homes off South Broad Street (although state Rep. Mary Fritz provided most of the muscle in that case).

• He called attention to the illegal dumping of street sweepings and other waste at a town-owned site on North Turnpike Road. This led to a cleanup that otherwise might not have happened.

But other issues that Economopoulos has championed have smelled more like opportunism than public service:

• He was instrumental in forcing a referendum over the town’s involvement in maintaining the parking lots behind Simpson Court, going so far as to write a letter (joined by councilors Craig Fishbein and Jason Zandri) that many believe cost the town a state grant.

• Then there was “Woodgate,” the episode in which Economopoulos charged that a town employee pilfered firewood from the town after the big snowstorm of October 2011, an accusation that led to a defamation lawsuit.

One way or another, it looked like he was running for something. Little wonder, then, that in November of 2011 he said he would run for mayor this year. But he didn’t follow through.

Reasonable people can be excused for thinking that this is erratic and troubling behavior — just as they can be excused for thinking that Economopoulos was overzealous in pursuing a town employee in “Woodgate” and acted against the town’s best interest when he helped shoot down a state grant for Simpson Court.

Some business is best handled, if not in the traditional smoke-filled room of old-style politics, then at least behind closed doors. Reasonable Democrats can be excused for thinking that Economopoulos should not have aired the party’s laundry in public. “I don’t know how constructive that was overall,” Zandri said.

“I just believe in helping people,” Economopoulos said after the election. Is that to suggest that the rest of the party doesn’t?

As for his future in Wallingford politics, “I can never shut a door,” he said.

Perhaps not, but the party certainly can.

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