First off, let’s get one thing clear: Riley O’Connell is old enough to be mayor of Wallingford. You may not have thought so, considering the condescending attacks directed at him because of his age. O’Connell is 25. The Democrat has a lot of experience, good experience, for someone his age, and Wallingford should be grateful that a young person who grew up in town wants to get involved and make a difference.
O’Connell, who has shown more maturity than that displayed by some of his detractors, presents a solid challenge to incumbent Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. It is, however, a decidedly uphill battle. For four decades Dickinson has been unbeatable. If he wins re-election, the last year of his term will be his 40th in office.
Why is Dickinson unbeatable? After all these years it’s still hard to say with certainty. In recent years you could consider it a matter of momentum, and that Wallingford voters are comfortable with what they know, and that when it comes to that moment of decision in the ballot box taking a leap of faith is simply too tall an order.
Maybe this time will be different. O’Connell is a fifth-generation town native, having graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall and later from Bowdoin College. He worked for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
O’Connell hits the right campaign notes, emphasizing the need for infrastructure and updated technology. He’s calling attention to the importance of looking toward the future, saying the town is generations behind, not just decades. But he also believes in the town’s great potential.
As for his opponent, “I don’t deny that he’s been fiscally conservative, but I don’t think he’s been fiscally responsible,” said O’Connell.
Dickinson has weathered many of the familiar criticisms, about his being too guarded when it comes to money and that his aversion to technology is hurting the town. Those issues have not been enough to dethrone him.
But the last two years have included situations that may be more damaging. Dickinson kept Town Hall open at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, he’s allowed Community Pool to languish, he keeps overtaxing. His own party is voting against him on the council.
Then there’s the animal shelter. Dickinson showed stubbornness and insensitivity this summer when it came to air conditioning there, even though more than enough money was available. It’s hard not to see how even some of his supporters weren’t turned off by that.
Yet supporters are also likely to remain enamored of his desire to keep Town Hall open, because it stems from a conviction that government provides essential services that have to endure. Some will also admire his position on cannabis dispensaries, and the reasoning that you can’t just pick and choose what federal laws you follow.
Ultimately, it comes down to the comfort level. Voters know what they will get with Dickinson. That is hardly a trivial detail, and we would not be disappointed to see it prevail once again.
The council seats in Wallingford are all at large. We would like to see newcomer Sam Carmody find a spot there. The Democrat has experience as a senior advisor to the lieutenant governor. Also a plus is his emphasis on government transparency and the environment. Fellow Democrat Gina Morgenstein has earned another term on the council, as has, certainly, Vinnie Testa. Both were outspoken on the animal shelter issue.
Republican Joe Marrone has also earned another term – he’s seeking his fourth – and his GOP colleague Christina Tatta deserves to be re-elected following her first term.
We’d like to see Maureen Reed get elected to the Board of Education. The Democrat has a wealth of experience in education that ought to serve her, and Wallingford, well when it comes to ensuring the best for students. The school board will be facing important decisions, and experience is going to be an asset.