EDITORIAL: Republicans engender bitterness with council move in Wallingford

Actions involving the Wallingford Town Council recently have been upsetting to people and led to bitter feelings. Perhaps most disconcerting is how the situation has prompted some to connect what has been going on to the political divisiveness that characterizes politics at the national level. If people thought local government was immune to petty and partisan squabbles they’re thinking about it differently now.

The election was fair enough, no one is disputing votes or calling things rigged, but the confidence people had in how the process played out was disturbed after Gina Morgenstein declared she could no longer continue as a town councilor because of the strains presented by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A Democrat on the Republican-controlled council, Morgenstein felt the next highest Democratic vote getter, Alexa Tomassi, deserved to be the one to fill her seat. The Democratic Town Committee felt the same way.

The Town Charter says such a vacancy can be filled by appointing someone of the same party affiliation. There was unease in 1980 when Democrats, who held the majority at the time, did not follow the wishes of Republicans in filling a seat. This time around, the roles of the political parties were reversed, but the same lack of accord prevailed.

The Republicans installed Jason Zandri, a Democrat and veteran councilor whose bid for re-election was stymied by serious illness that left him unable to collect enough signatures to earn a place on the ballot. Zandri had feuded with fellow Democrats on the town committee over the approach to the election and had decided to go it alone. 

That disagreement is at the heart of all the difficulty. In choosing Zandri, Republicans acted against the expressed wishes of the opposing party. Political rivals, certainly, but also people they’re going to have to get along with in order to move things forward and act in the best interests of Wallingford.

No explanation can satisfy the criticism that the Republican action was defiant, and the vote also invited the perception of arrogance. The party in power chose what it could do because there was nothing to stop it. 

That’s all within the rules, of course, but there are many for whom it doesn’t sit well. The respect and courtesy from across the political aisle is something that has now been discarded. It’s not unreasonable for people to be upset about that. Having learned from this experience, the town should make changes to how elected officials are replaced.

Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein made the nomination for Zandri. He said Zandri was “unreasonably denied the ability to run for the seat that he would have won.” That is a most risky assumption in a democracy. If people in power can decide what would have happened there’s no reason to hold elections at all.


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