By Stephen Knight
In an announcement at the March 8 Wallingford Republican Town Committee meeting, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. stated that he was not running for re-election. Those that follow politics in town reacted with shock, disappointment, dismay, relief and delight. Regardless of how one views his management of our town government, his absence in the mayor’s office after 40 years ends the comfortable continuity that generations of voters have opted for in all the elections in which he has been a candidate.
There’ll be plenty of time to examine — in hindsight — his impact, and this space will be one of many that does so. But, in the meantime, it’s important that we voters immediately begin to contemplate both who his successor should be and, possibly even more important, the enormity of the change with which his successor will be presented. There are few, if any, town employees who have worked in municipal government while someone other than Dickinson was mayor. Whether they admit it or not, he has had a large impact on the culture of this municipal government, and they will be looking to see if his replacement is equipped with the requisite qualifications and experience to take over in January of 2024. All of us in town will, as well.
Fortunately, on the same evening as Mayor Dickinson announced that this was his last term, a person eminently qualified to be that successor announced his candidacy for mayor. That being Republican Vinny Cervoni, the present Town Council chair. Yes, two others have also thrown their hats in the ring, but there are reasons that this man is and will be the ideal candidate to fill the large void created by Mayor Dickinson’s departure. He has three particular qualities that will be important to anyone put in this unusual position: municipal government experience, educational qualifications, and demeanor.
Municipal government experience: Cervoni has a tremendous background in municipal governance. He is serving his 12th year as a town councilor. That includes two years as vice chairman and almost 10 years as chairman. His leadership experience in this body is invaluable preparation for being the chief executive of a government. A legislator is one voice of many (in Wallingford’s case, nine). The chairperson has a much more pivotal role to play. Vinny has been the referee, trying to “herd cats” these past 15 months with this particular group of councilors. This has given him a unique experience that will serve him well as mayor, as there are many constituencies clamoring for attention to their particular interests and the dollars to satisfy them. Besides elective experience, he served a five-year stint as East Haven’s assistant town attorney in which he no doubt was involved in all manner of that town’s business. Who else that intends to run can match that track record?
Educational qualifications: As much as it pains me to admit it, having a legal background is certainly a benefit when dealing with municipal government. Yes, the town is very, very ably served by Corporation Counsel Janis Small, Town Attorney Jerry Farrell, Sr. and Asst. Town Attorney Geoff Einhorn, Jr., which would enable people with other backgrounds to avoid the numerous legal minefields that seem so prevalent in government. But having such a background — and especially having served as an assistant town attorney in another Connecticut town — means that Attorney Cervoni brings a law degree and almost 30 years of “on the job” training to the mayor’s office. Mayor Dickinson himself having been an attorney attests to that advantage.
Demeanor: I have known Vinny Cervoni since he first ran for elected office in 2007. Besides the municipal government experience and the educational background, his demeanor convinces me that he should be our next mayor. I have always admired our current mayor for his ability to weather the constant barrage of criticism that comes with that office. Vincent Cervoni has the same long vision that enables him to listen to what’s being said, strip away the snark and the personal criticism, and remain composed.
Another quality all too rare in those holding leadership positions in public office is the honesty to own your mistakes. It is all too true that the axiom “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” can find abundant proof of its wisdom in our governments. Never, ever have I seen Vinny Cervoni not stand up and own any decision he has made.
The next seven months will have some of the most interesting political theater that this town has had in four decades. As every voter weighs the qualifications of who should lead Town of Wallingford municipal government, the three qualifications outlined in the paragraphs above should be part of the decision process we use to make that determination in every election.
Come next January, our new mayor must have these qualities in abundance if our town is to have a smooth transition, a transition we have not had to experience since January of 1984. The choice we make is critical. It truly is.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.