WALLINGFORD — Local Democratic Town Committee members unanimously selected Alexa Tomassi as their nominee to replace Gina Morgenstein on the Town Council.
The committee held an emergency meeting Wednesday after Morgenstein, a Democrat who was elected to a third term in November’s municipal election, told party leadership she plans to step down before the council swearing-in ceremony Monday.
As of Thursday afternoon, Morgenstein had not tendered a resignation letter to the Town Clerk, who is also the clerk of the council.
According to the Wallingford Town Charter, the Town Council fills vacancies in elected town offices by appointing a person of the same party affiliation.
Although Tomassi is the DTC’s choice to replace Morgenstein, the council has the final say — but, in this case, must appoint a Democrat.
Morgenstein’s resignation is coming before the new term begins, but the charter’s procedure on filling vacancies doesn’t clearly address this situation.
Alida Cella, Democratic Town Committee chairperson, said Wednesday that she reached out to the Secretary of the State’s office for guidance on interpreting the town charter.
She said the state didn’t issue any guidance, other than advising that the procedure would be covered by the Town Charter.
Wallingford Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small said Tuesday that the timing of Morgenstein’s resignation won’t make a difference — it’s an appointment made by the council.
Wallingford has a nine-member Town Council, elected at-large, currently made up of six Republicans and three Democrats. The November election did not change the council make-up.
Tomassi, 30, ran for Town Council in the November election. She came in ninth overall — Morgenstein tied with Republican newcomer Autumn Allinson for eighth place — making her the next highest vote-getter.
Cella said that selecting Tomassi as the committee’s nominee for council approval is the best way to reflect the will of the voters in the most recent election.
Democratic Town Councilor Vincent Testa said that the council won’t vote on appointing a new council member at the swearing-in ceremony Monday, during which they are slated to select a chairman and vice chairman, but that the council likely will take up the issue at its Jan. 18 meeting.
Tomassi said near the end of the Wednesday DTC meeting that she’s prepared to serve Wallingford just as she was in November, should the Town Council appoint her.
“I really look forward to upholding our party's values, priorities and principles as part of the council,” she said. “I just do want to also say thank you to Gina (Morgenstein) for her mentorship and leadership throughout the campaign that we all worked on together as a slate.”Other possiblenominees
Several people spoke in favor of selecting Tomassi at the DTC meeting, including Jared Liu, who ran for mayor in 2017 and 2019.
Liu said Tomassi campaigned with him.
“She showed that she had the temperament to do the job,” Liu said. “She had done the work to bring herself up to speed on the issues. She showed that she was listening to people, and I just think that she really showed that she would have made such a great councilor.”
Others said that the DTC should act strategically.
Aili McKeen said that the appointed person would gain greater name recognition, which could help set them up for possible future runs challenging Republican incumbents like Dickinson or state Rep. Craig Fishbein, who is up for re-election in 2022.
Lorraine Connelly suggested nominating Riley O’Connell, who challenged Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. in the November election. O’Connell was unsuccessful, but came within 374 votes of beating Dickinson — the closest a challenger has come in 30 years to unseating the 38-year incumbent.
O’Connell said that he supported Tomassi and that the vacancy should go to the person with the next highest number of votes.
Another name raised was Nicole Barillaro, who ran for Town Council this year and landed one vote behind Tomassi in the vote totals.
Barillaro said she supported Tomassi’s nomination, and that if she were the person ahead by a single vote, she would hope to be supported by the committee.
Tara Gorvine said that she believes it is being strategic to go with the next highest vote-getter.
“It would be very bad optics for the Town Council to not go with that recommendation,” she said. “I think it's also bad optics to ignore the will of the voters.”
Gorvine also highlighted Tomassi’s experience behind the scenes helping to run local campaigns, including communications and social media work.
“She has a lot of knowledge that, frankly, no other candidate has,” Gorvine said. “I think that makes her extremely savvy and strategic, and someone that I think our committee would be very smart to groom, and support, and consider as a future candidate in higher office.”