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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Technology: Can it topple Dickinson? (203) 317-2213
Jeffery Kurz –

As published in the Record Journal Saturday December 1, 2012

Many have tried. Many have failed.

I’m talking about unseating Wallingford’s Republican mayor, William W. Dickinson Jr., who is the longest serving mayor in the state, if you don’t count Prospect’s mayor, Robert Chatfield.

I may have socks older than my children, who are now in their early 20s, but I’m pretty certain I haven’t had any for longer than Dickinson has been Walling-ford’s mayor, which is now 31 years.

Jason Zandri is the latest to throw his hat into the Dickinson-challenging ring. The Democrat, in his first term as a town councilor, announced Wednesday his candidacy. Dickinson has not announced whether he will run again, and said he will wait until after the town’s budget is passed in the spring, but it will come as a shock if he decides not to seek re-election.

In March, the Record-Journal ran a story about how technologically savvy town councilors were increasingly willing to challenge the mayor on issues concerning the internet and other high-tech stuff. Dickinson had departed from his typical stance on technology by allowing the town’s operating budget to be posted on its website — something you wouldn’t think would be all that earth-shattering, but this is Wallingford under Dickinson’s guidance.

Town government remains behind the times generally. Internet access is limited to a few departments at Town Hall in favor of quaint antiquities like telephones and fax machines.

Zandri, who works as a systems analyst at Bloomberg in New York, is among those tech-savvy councilors who have been challenging the mayor, and is poised now to make technology an issue in the campaign.

He’s already demonstrated a flair for campaigning. While announcing his candidacy, he presented a stack of about 60 letters, the correspondence he’d received in four months as a councilor, as an example of the waste that can ensue from avoiding the opportunities of technology. “This stuff can all be done online,” he said. Yep.

In 2005, I penned a piece in this space under the headline “The Luddite in all of us,” about Dickinson’s aversion to town office use of the internet and email. Luddites were workers in 19th century England who smashed textile machinery in response to unemployment and low wages, and the term has come to refer to any person opposed in principle to technological change. I sympathized, to a degree, with the mayor’s position, basically because there have been times when I have wanted to smash my computer.

But we are now seven years farther into a new century and people walk around with computers in their pockets that are far more powerful than what it took to get human beings to the moon. School systems are increasingly allowing students to bring their own devices into the classroom, recognizing the importance of technology in preparing young people for the future. Against this backdrop, technology aversion at Town Hall appears increasingly myopic.

So Zandri appears to have a good issue. He’s already pointing to ways in which technology can help town government operate more efficiently and is pushing for direct deposit for town employees.

He will likely need more. Dickinson may be old fashioned, but there is a powerful comfort level with his leadership — and that is hard to beat.

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