MERIDEN — When veteran City Councilor Walter Shamock dropped his bid for re-election, he asked his friend and fellow Councilor Bob Williams Jr. to replace him as an at-large candidate.
Williams is currently serving a four-year term on the council representing Area 4. Both he and Shamock are members of We the People, a party with only 32 registered members citywide, but with outsized influence on the City Council. Williams, Shamock and Joseph Carabetta III occupy three of the council’s 12 seats. Democrats hold the majority with eight seats and a Republican holds the remaining seat.
If Williams wins one of the two at-large seats in play this election cycle and resigns from his Area 4 seat, the City Charter stipulates that a replacement be appointed from the same party. We the People party chair Lois DeMayo said Thursday she “has a couple of people in mind,” but wouldn’t be more specific.
“I haven’t told them yet and I don’t want to jinx it,” she said. “I’m concentrating now on getting Bob elected. We had to find somebody who could fill (Shamock’s) seat.”
If Williams loses his at-large bid, he would still be able to finish his Area 4 term, meaning the party has nothing to lose by running Williams at large and could potentially retain two seats if he prevails.
But Williams’ candidacy has drawn criticism from not only Democrats, but voters who want to know who will be seated on the council should Williams be victorious.
“It’s politics, but it’s not illegal,” Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn said of a sitting councilor’s candidacy for a seat on the same body. “He certainly can’t hold two seats. I don’t think they have an illusion that he can.”
According to the City Charter: “Any vacancy in any elective City office from whatever cause arising shall be filled by appointment by the City Council for the unexpired portion of the term or until the next biennial election, whichever shall be sooner, provided that when the person vacating in the office shall have been elected as a member of a political party such vacancy shall be filled by the appointment of a member of the same political party.”
The language “have been elected as a member of a political party” can be confusing, however, since in 2017 the vast majority of Williams’ votes in the Area 4 race were cast on the Republican ballot line. In 2017, Williams garnered 1,177 votes on the Republican line, as opposed to 145 votes on We the People’s line, according to information from the City Clerk’s office.
Does this mean Republicans effectively won the seat and should be the ones nominating to fill an Area 4 vacancy?
Quinn acknowledged the question could be raised, but interprets the charter to mean that a candidate’s party is the determining factor, not on which ballot line the votes were cast.
If victorious, Williams’ replacement would have to come from the We the People party and from Area 4, Quinn said.
According to the registrars’ office, We The People has just 12 members registered in Area 4 including DeMayo, Williams and Larry Kibner, who served on the City Council from 1989 to 1993 and lost a three way race in Area 4 to Democratic Councilor Cathy Battista.
Williams, who could not be reached for comment, previously said he was proud to assume Shamock’s seat when he asked him to run. Democrats, particularly at-large candidate Michael Rohde, accused the party of bamboozling voters into believing Williams is up again for re-election. Rohde entered the at-large race because of Williams’ run, he said. But Williams responded last month “it would be OK if Rohde did it.”
"I'm doing it as a personal favor for Walt," Williams said last month. “My constituents know when they reach out to me, I'm there for them or I wouldn't be on the council."
Michael Carabetta, a Republican running in the Area 4 race, defended Williams’ run for the at-large seat on social media Thursday. Carabetta is cross-endorsed by We the People.
Democrats “knew about this rule and have used it similarly in the past,” Carabetta wrote on the Meriden Taxpayers United Facebook page. “So when they say it’s not fair because we may get someone not elected on the council, maybe just remind them that the rule has been around forever and they have used it.”
Carabetta pointed specifically to the appointment of Democratic Councilor Miguel Castro who was named to the council in 2012 to replace state Rep. Hilda Santiago. Democratic Councilor Larue Graham was appointed the same year to replace former Democratic state Sen. Dante Bartolomeo. And Bartolomeo herself was appointed to the City Council in 2008 to replace Rohde when he was elected mayor.
A seated councilor running for another seat before his term is up is “not an everyday kind of occurrence, but it’s not unusual,” said Republican Town Chairman Guy Beeman. “The at-large seat that (Williams) is running for is (Shamock’s) seat.”
The council’s sole Republican Daniel Brunet leads the minority caucus even though Republicans are outnumbered by We the People. Beeman said he is not concerned We the People may try to usurp power.
“We’re kind of back to the status quo,” Beeman said. “The process is proceeding as it needs to. We’ve been supportive of them along the way.”
But DeMayo wants a We the People representative serving in the leadership role.
“(Williams) didn’t want it and neither did (Shamock),” DeMayo said. “I’m going to really try to get one of them to be minority leader. It’s not fair now because we have the majority (over the Republicans).”
DeMayo said her party is also open to appointing a Republican interested in switching to We the People. Asked specifically about the Area 4 Republican Carabetta, DeMayo didn’t rule it out.
“I would consider it if I knew of someone who would switch,” DeMayo said. “But they would have to register as We The People.”
Carabetta has stated on social media that he is not interested in accepting the seat if it’s offered.
If all the We The People candidates running this cycle win their races, the tiny party would hold five seats on the council.
“This is turning the corner,” DeMayo said.
The at-large race has six candidates, Democratic incumbent Michael Cardona, Rohde, Williams, Republican Dan Zaborowski, Art Petrucelli, of A Meriden Party, and petitioning candidate Ernestine Holloway, a Republican who did not secure her party’s nomination.