MERIDEN — November’s at-large City Council candidates come from positions of experience in the hopes of continuing progress, or in search of change and new ideas.
Voters throughout the city will choose two of four candidates on the ballot for spots on the City Council, while four other seats are determined by council area. The at-large candidates are Republicans Elain Cariati and Sean McDonald and Democrats Chad Cardillo and Michael Rohde.
Cariati, who is also endorsed by the We The People Party, is no stranger to local campaigns after running for mayor in 2021. She has served on the city’s Planning Commission for three years and is head of the Republican Town Committee.
At age 58, Cariati sees political office as an extension of public service. Her top priorities for change are reduced city spending, blight and the tax rate.
“Public service is important to me because it provides me with an opportunity to give back to a community that has always been good to me,” Cariati said in an email. “It is an opportunity for everyone to actively participate in shaping our community while fostering a sense of belonging. This enhances the quality of life for all its citizens.”
Cariati said her strong communication skills, collaborative approach and passion for communication form “a strong foundation” that is essential for an efficient and diplomatic council member.
She said she feels the city has gone astray for several reasons and points to what she sees as a lack of accountability in how services are delivered, lack of transparency and communication between the city and its citizens. She criticized city officials for foot-dragging before finally disciplining Tax Assessor Melinda Fonda, who had received numerous complaints over the past several years. Meriden moved to terminate Fonda’s employment in early September.
“Meriden is being done a great injustice by the current administration,” Cariati said. “With all that said, we are not beyond repair. We can be guided toward a positive path.”
The self-employed business owner said the city needs to address its infrastructure, economic development, community engagement and good governance.
Cariati criticized the Democratic majority, arguing they are not fiscally responsible.
“They have attempted to correlate the fact mill rates weren’t increased for two consecutive years with being fiscally responsible,” she said. “But what the Democrat majority fails to mention is the two reasons why. During those two years Meriden received millions in COVID relief funds and a $3.5 million reimbursement from Eversource that was used to offset any increases in spending. During the years that the mill rate did not increase, spending by the Democrats continued to increase by more than 3 to 5% annually, which now the taxpayers are fully paying for.”
Cardillo looks to build economic development
Democrat Chad Cardillo is also a member of the Planning Commission. He served seven months on the City Council but lost his bid for a full term in 2021.
Cardillo, 35, is a social studies teacher at Maloney High School, president of the Girls Inc. Board of Directors and a fourth generation city resident.
“I’ve been involved in community services for 20 years,” Cardillo said. “We love Meriden as a place to live and we want to continue the momentum.”
A key priority for Cardillo is building on economic development. He said the city has laid a foundation downtown by creating the transit-oriented district. It’s also worked to improve vacant storefronts through the Meriden BIG program that helps landlords and new businesses fix up their buildings to open and bring to code. The program has allocated $6.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for economic development and is now processing several dozen requests.
“Granted, it’s not finished yet, but it’s made a difference,” Cardillo said. “We are working with different businesses to fill those commercial spaces. We’ve been waiting for things to happen.”
While serving on the council, Cardillo said he helped carve out a commercial cannabis policy that fit state law while preventing market saturation with caps. He said he helped fellow councilors recognize that the city was in a good position to capture market share because surrounding towns had imposed manufacturing and retail prohibitions.
He believes the city is on an upswing since the pandemic when businesses were closing and wants to see the seed programs take hold.
“To bring vitality into downtown, we need more variety,” he said. “It’s a chicken and egg thing. We’re using those funds for economic development and the plans so far look promising.”
Cardillo said he also wants to ensure police have all the resources they need to combat different types of crime that are plaguing cities and towns across the state. He would like to see more community policing and attention paid on mental health initiatives.
McDonald says he’ll make himself available to all constituents
Republican Sean McDonald is a familiar face in the community and in politics, except this year he is stepping out from behind the scenes to run in his own right. McDonald has worked on campaigns for former Mayor Manny Santos and six other Republican candidates as well as served as chairman of the Republican Town Committee.
McDonald, 54, is a climate specialist for Meriden Public Schools, and is endorsed by the We The People Party. Like Cariati, he believes in better communication between city officials and residents and will make himself available to all constituents.
“I’m going to be very transparent,” McDonald said. “My number will be available and I’m not a hard person to approach. I’ll be holding active town hall meetings every month. People elect people to represent a visible face at large. Throughout the town. I will be available to them when they are ready to reach out to me, I will find answers for people. Following up is very important.”
McDonald criticized economic development efforts that he said focus only on affordable housing “that won’t attract investors and businesses.”
“We need to market (Meriden) better,” he said. “And enforce blight laws. Residents need to be accountable for returning garbage bins. We have to start clearing up the city and controlling panhandling and loitering. I understand the First Amendment pretty well, but to desecrate the (Broad Street monument) area is a disgrace. People avoid it. Or turn their heads to it. And it’s a disgrace.”
As a public schools employee, McDonald sees firsthand the “positive effect the school resource officers have with the students.”
“People love police officers in school,” he said. “Having them removed is beyond comprehension.”
He is also a strong proponent of giving police the tools they need to address adult and juvenile crimes. He’s opposed to the Civilian Review Board.
McDonald said he believes that a way to keep taxes down is to stop allowing more affordable housing development.
He said officials need to start marketing the city as a place people want to come to. Investors don’t want to build Dave & Busters because the city’s median income can’t support it, he said.
“We’re centrally located,” McDonald said. “And nobody wants to come here. How many years has it been? We have to do something to help the taxpayer.”
McDonald sits on the Neighborhood Rehabilitation Advisory Board and addressed city officials on matters related to blight and development. He also assisted City Councilor Michael Carabetta’s petition campaign to reopen the budget, which eventually led to Carabetta’s election to the council. As campaign chairman, he’s helped six out of 10 candidates get elected.
Rohde stresses his bipartisan ability
Democrat Michael Rohde is an incumbent councilor and former mayor who has served in public office for 26 years. At 78 years old, he is the director of community relations at the Community Health Center Inc.
Rohde is the founder of the city’s award-winning Flood Control Project, chairman of the first Linear Trail Committee, co-founder of the Relay for Life, co-founder of Meriden Farmers Market, and supporter of the new library expansion project.
He points to his ability to work on bipartisan accomplishments as a reason he should be elected. However, the lack of GOP support on the recent library expansion and a proposal for a new storage and bathroom facility on the Meriden Green is troublesome, he said.
“This is the first time we didn’t have full support,” Rohde said. “They voted against the library expansion where the technology is unbelievable. The GOP talks about vision and then votes against it.”
“After five terms on City Council and two and a half terms as mayor, I know how to work with people.”