By Stephen Knight
Last Tuesday night, the six Republicans on the Wallingford Town Council unanimously ignored the recommendation of Wallingford’s Democratic Town Committee. The DTC had recommended that Alexa Tomassi be chosen by the council to replace Gina Morgenstein, who had resigned for personal reasons. Alexa was chosen because, in last November’s election, she came in 10th in the voting after receiving over 5,800 votes. Choosing her certainly seemed a logical decision, and that logic dominated decisions by both Democrat and Republican town committees in the past.
Instead, Jason Zandri was nominated by and voted in as a town councilor by the Republicans. Jason had served several terms, but was not endorsed by the DTC. Because of a serious illness with which he had to cope, he did not put himself up as a candidate in 2021.
I was aghast when I read the news in the Record-Journal. First of all, that all six Republican councilors actually agreed to anything, which has not often been the case in the past two years. But more to the point, that they took such a political stance at the very beginning of the two-year Town Council term.
I have only read one explanation, this one by Joe Marrone. In a January 20th R-J article on the subject, he made some rambling, incoherent argument about the election being about who won or lost, not about how they ranked. He conveniently ignored that Mr. Zandri didn’t win or lose. He didn’t even run, while Ms. Tomassi did run and garnered support from 5,854 voters.
He also decided his vote was OK because we don’t have runoff elections or something. My reading between the lines tells me he was desperately seeking a rationale for his vote. He and the other Republican councilors had better polish up those explanations to use for the next two years. So far, only confusion seems to be forthcoming.
Except for Craig Fishbein, the councilor who actually nominated Zandri. He certainly had no problem with his vote. No surprise there. Some years back, Town Councilors Fishbein, Zandri and Nick Economopoulos had been defeated in their effort to vote down approval for the mayor to apply for a state grant to renovate the rear Simpson Court parking lot. In a snub to the will of the majority, those three wrote a letter — as Wallingford town councilors — to the State of Connecticut, urging the state to turn down the grant request made by the Mayor of Wallingford.
The state no doubt was alarmed by this peculiar, low-rent stunt by these Wallingford politicos and did indeed refuse to award the $500,000 in funds. Fishbein and Zandri must have been so proud of such an accomplishment. It took years for that parking lot to eventually be renovated, and the Town of Wallingford lost an opportunity to have the state pay for it.
The Republicans seemed to hang their hat on a similar vote that took place in 1980 — 42 years ago. The Republican Town Committee had recommended an individual in a similar situation, and the then Democrat-majority council chose someone else.
What these six conveniently left out of the discussion was the last time such a decision had to be made. In 1997, Town Councilor Dave Doherty tragically passed away. The DTC recommended Peter Gouveia as his replacement. The vote was unanimous to accede to the Democratic Town Committee request.
I was a member of the council at the time, and it was the easiest vote I ever had to make. Back in what now seems like ancient history, all the councilors had respect for the process and both the parties. I might never have agreed with a single position that the DTC endorsed, but I certainly felt honor-bound to support their decision as to who should represent the voters and the party’s platform.
There’s also a politically practical reason to have gone along with the DTC’s choice. It has to do with the expression “what goes around, comes around.” In 2013, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was frustrated that Republicans were blocking some of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominations. So he used a parliamentary trick called the nuclear option to eliminate the Senate rule requiring presidential nominees to receive a minimum of 60 votes for confirmation, and made it just a majority of the Senate. They’ve lived to regret that short-sighted act over and over again since that time.
The current political atmosphere in the Washington “swamp” has resulted in a House of Representatives and Senate that accomplish little. That’s because even the most insignificant decision has become a battleground that no one wants to lose. The six Republicans may have won the day, and we can expect Jason Zandri to continue serving well. But the bad taste will remain, to the detriment of municipal government in our town.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.