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Opinion: Looking for honest debate in Wallingford mayoral race

By Riley O’Connell

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and Stephen Knight writing another partisan hack piece weeks before an election. As most readers already know, Mr. Knight’s columns are an affront to the truth, a “by whatever means necessary” strategy to shore up support for his friends and political allies. Last week’s column “Looking for honest town leadership,” (R-J,10/19/23) is no exception. So in what is becoming an annual occurrence, I will happily correct the record yet again.

1) “... we have generally failed to attract business over the last decade as our grand list continues to shrink.” 

Mr. Knight took issue with this quote from my website, citing Wallingford’s grand list numbers for 2013 and 2022 as $4,250,582,165 and $4,617,631,719 respectively. While I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not familiar with inflation, I can’t… because I already explained it on the same website he’s quoting from.

Total inflation since 2013 is over 32%, so even a completely stagnant grand list would be worth over $5.6 billion today. $4.6 billion is less than $5.6 billion, hence, our grand list shrunk in value. 

Mr. Knight went on to highlight that 235 new businesses were established in Wallingford between 2017 and 2021. That sounds great, until you realize that stat conveniently leaves out all of the businesses that closed over that same period of time. This is equivalent to measuring population growth by only counting births and not subtracting deaths, which serves as a nice transition to the next basic fact Mr. Knight completely distorted.

2) “... one of the biggest challenges to our economic future: our rapid population decline.”

Mr. Knight pointed out that our 2010 population was 45,135, whereas our 2020 population was 44,396, followed by “Where, pray tell, is this rapid population decline?” If only he had read what was literally the next sentence after the quote he pulled, his prayers would be answered: “With this decline occurring almost entirely within the young professional and young family demographics.” Earlier on that same page, I specified, “Over just the last ten years, our town’s youth population has decreased by a startling 15%.”

It’s as if the original quote was purposefully taken out of context to sow distrust, and speaking of…

3) From the CT Examiner: “O’Connell pointed to the town’s $30 million Rainy Day Fund.”

For this one, I have to give credit where credit is due. I truly thought the strategy of anonymously quoting himself as an independent source in his 2021 election column could not be topped, but Mr. Knight is nothing if not an innovator when it comes to shameless methods of deception.

In this case, he quotes an article about me, but not even anything I said. Better yet, he manages to contort this sentence into suggesting I will spend down the rainy day fund, something that I have never advocated for. Once again, all of this could be cleared up if he simply continued on in the article where I said I disagreed with raising taxes to add millions to this fund over the last several years. Which brings us to the last outrageous assertion.

4. “... 2022 marking the 17th consecutive year of Mayor Dickinson proposing a tax increase. Based on the current median price of a house in Wallingford, this amounts to an average tax increase of over $1,500 per year over that period of time.” 

I’m almost at a loss for words on this one. Mr. Knight somehow extrapolates from this that I’m claiming taxes have risen by a total of $25,500 in 17 years, which is obviously ridiculous. The reality: Stephen is just really bad at math. 

The increase of $1,500 simply refers to what we pay per year (annualized tax bill), and over that period of time means from 2005 to now. In other words, the average Wallingford homeowner pays $1,500 more on their annual taxes now than they would if the mill rate was still what it was in 2005. I really didn’t think anyone could mess this up considering I had already done the math for you, but Mr. Knight found a way. But I do appreciate him reminding me to update this stat now that it’s been 18 straight tax increases.

Now that these false claims have been addressed, let’s look at the bigger picture. Why frame a column on the premise of “honest town leadership” in the first place, especially when you must distort the facts to do so? The answer, unfortunately, is to distract from the high-profile lapses in judgment and integrity from his chosen candidate. 

Mere days before Mr. Knight’s column was published, Vincent Cervoni became embroiled in controversy after exchanging political favors for his largest campaign donors. Specifically, Vincent Cervoni voted to reduce a donor’s tax bill by over $20,000, shortly after receiving more than $2,000 in campaign contributions from them. This clear abuse of power was made all the worse when the campaign tried to cover up this conflict of interest by failing to disclose the donor’s financial relationship with the town.

We cannot have an honest debate over ideas if one side fabricates facts to suit their own narrative. The ends do not justify the means when it comes to local politics. The day Mr. Knight finally hangs up his typewriter and retires from being the personal propagandist of the Wallingford Republican Party will be a great day for Wallingford, and an even better day for the truth. There is one thing we can agree on, however: this race comes down to who voters trust to deliver honest leadership. For anyone paying attention, the choice is clear.

Riley O’Connell is the Democratic candidate for mayor in Wallingford.


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