WALLINGFORD — Fresh off his first re-election to the Town Council, Tom Laffin is considered a frontrunner for council vice chairman, while fellow Republican and top vote-getter Craig Fishbein continued to make his own case for the leadership position, criticizing what he called the “backroom poltitics” of the selection process.
It won’t be official until the swearing in ceremony, scheduled for Jan. 6 in the auditorium of Town Hall at 8 p.m., but three members of the six-councilor majority caucus expressed support for Laffin Wednesday and said they believe he’s fit for the job.
During the ceremony, town councilors, as well as members of the Board of Education and the town clerk, will be sworn in by Judge of Probate Philip A. Wright Jr. The council will also elect a new chairman and vice chairman for the term.
Councilor Vinny Cervoni, the current vice chairman, is expected to be elected the new chairman, while Laffin and Fishbein are vying to take over the vice chairman position.
“It’s humbling to be considered and to be receiving so much support,” Laffin said.
Fishbein said he’s “certainly made it known” that he would like the vice chairman position and that he’s proven his qualifications.
The vice chairman is responsible for reading agenda items, as well as running council meetings if the chairman is unable to attend.
“I’ve earned the consideration through my leadership on the council, standing for my principles and my tenure, as well as my vote total,” Fishbein said.
During the 2013 election, Fishbein received the largest number of votes with 6,615. Laffin had 5,594.
Fishbein added that he’s not “one to back away” from what he believes is right. According to Fishbein, councilors have told him he’s capable of holding the position, but he would have to “change my ways.”
“I’m not willing to sell my soul and my principles for that,” Fishbein said. “I’d rather put my name out there and let it be what it is.”
In a letter to the editor in today’s Record-Journal, Fishbein cited his qualifications but said the selection was being made behind the scenes for political reasons.
“Nonetheless, it is my understanding that, instead of merit selection, it is shadowy backroom politics that will carry the day, intent upon rewarding ordinary accomplishment with extraordinary recognition. Sad, but amazingly true,” he wrote.
Cervoni said Fishbein “doesn’t have the support for one of the officer positions.” While serving on the council, Fishbein has publicly disagreed with Republican councilors and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.
Before the first council meeting in January, Cervoni said the majority party discusses who should hold the leadership positions.
“The majority party tries to work it out in advance,” he said. “And out of respect, we then have a conversation with the minority party to let them know where we’re headed. It’s typically all done, but the voting is done at the first meeting.”
Based on conversations with Republican councilors, Republican Town Chairman Bob Prentice said he’s heard Laffin is the favorite for vice chairman, a sentiment echoed by Republican Councilor John LeTourneau.
“If I was a betting man, I would bet Tom (Laffin) is going to be vice chair,” LeTourneau said.
Councilors had favorable things to say about Laffin, believing his political experience and professionalism would allow him to handle the responsibilities of vice chairman. Prior to being elected to the Town Council, Laffin, 33, served on the Board of Education and the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission.
“Tom is a very professional type of person to begin with. Even though he’s a young guy, he’s really professional when it comes to doing business,” Prentice said. “... He studies all the information and he’s prepared.”
LeTourneau, who sat next to Laffin during Town Council meetings over the last term, agreed with Prentice, adding that his mentality makes him fit for the job.
“He’s a thinker and he doesn’t always jump in on an issue, but he does his homework and he’s well versed in the issues,” LeTourneau said. “When he does contribute, it’s a meaningful contribution. It’s not his style to weigh in on everything, which is refreshing sometimes.”
Christine Mansfield, who is leaving her seat on the Board of Education to serve her first term on the council, said Laffin and Fishbein have “different types of leadership styles,” but they both have the qualities to fulfill the role.
While she believes the councilors are capable of being vice chairman, Mansfield said she would vote for Fishbein because of his experience.
“If it were Craig or Tom, I would be voting for Craig just because he had experience co-chairing the ordinance committee,” Mansfield said. “When stacking up both guys, they’re equally capable of running it.”
She acknowledged, however, that it doesn’t look like Fishbein is “slinging” the majority of the votes
Current council Chairman Robert F. Parisi said he was the one to bring Laffin into the Republican party. Although he declined to say who he was supporting for vice chair, Parisi said he has a lot of respect for Laffin.
“He’s a bright young man and he’s an Eagle Scout,” Parisi said. “I have the deepest respect for Eagle Scouts.”
Cervoni said he hopes the vice chairman is someone he can talk to about “parliamentary procedure,” and he sees that in Laffin.
“He’s demonstrated that at various meetings. He’s got a good demeanor,” Cervoni said. “For some reason, if I need coverage for a meeting, I know he’s more than able to do it.”
Despite their support, Laffin said it’s not official until the votes are cast.
“Of course it’s not final until the vote, and it’s politics so things can change,” Laffin said. “But I like to think my experience building consensus and working out challenges has helped earn the respect of not just councilors, but the public as well.”