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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Zandri vs. Dickinson: ‘Unstoppable’ taking on the ‘immovable’?

As published in the Record Journal Monday December 3, 2012

By Laurie Rich Salerno
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2235

WALLINGFORD — Many have tried, and a few have even come close. But since 1984, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has been the unbeatable man — or in Democrat Jason Zandri’s terms, “an immovable object” in the mayor’s office.

Zandri is the latest in a long line of Democrats—including his own father, Geno Zandri — in three decades to announce he would take on Dickinson, a Republican. As the 43-year-old town councilor declared his intentions at a Democratic Town Committee meeting Wednesday, he posited himself as the “unstoppable force,” referring to the classic physics paradox, to take on the 64 year-old mayor in 2013.

Local Democratic officials believe he’s the first candidate in a while to have the goods to do so, but Republicans think Zandri is banging an old drum with his focus on bringing the Internet to Town Hall. Democrats counter that his ideas go well beyond just technology, and his energy is unflagging.

“I am so excited about Jason’s campaign and candidacy for mayor that for the first time since I left the council in the 1990s the thought has occurred to me to run for that position again,” Peter Gouveia, the Democratic Town Committee vice chairman, said Friday. Gouveia is a former town councilman and was narrowly defeated in two runs for mayor against Dickinson, in 1987 and 1991.

Gouveia said he was impressed by Zandri’s dedication and drive, as did Democratic Town Chairman Vincent Avallone, using the example of Zandri’s push to raise tens of thousands of dollars each year to put on the town fireworks after Dickinson cut them from the town’s Fourth of July celebration.

“I think a perfect example is the fireworks. Nobody thought that anybody could raise $30,000 — and he did it,” Avallone said.

Avallone said that same drive is what has been pushing Zandri to question town department practices in replacing ornamental streetlights in town. Zandri has said he doesn’t believe town protocol was followed when the Electric Division sent 39 streetlights to a scrap metal contractor. The town could have refurbished and kept the lights or recouped much more from selling them, but officials didn’t check to see what all their options were, he said.

Zandri did that check and presented a PowerPoint and video presentation at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting that juxtaposed statements utilities officials had made at a prior meeting about there not being replacement parts for the lights with those of a staff member from Penn Globe, a company in North Branford that manufactures and refurbishes lights, who said there indeed were parts available.

“It wasn’t to embarrass anybody. The reason was to show that the town could be run more efficiently,” Avallone said. “He’s not comfortable with the status quo.”

Republican Town Chairman Bob Prentice echoed other town Republicans in characterizing Zandri’s interest as micro-managing the town departments.

“I’m not sure where Jason’s coming from with this electric pole thing, whether he’s trying to be an expert with everything that happens in town. That’s why we hire people to do the job. It’d be like the governor coming to run the projects that I do,” said Prentice, who is a project manager with the state.

Though it was not his sole focus, Zandri did address technology in his announcement Wednesday, saying he’d bring the Internet, email and affiliated services to all departments in Town Hall for less than $20,000 a year and institute direct deposit for employee paychecks.

Though prior Democratic candidates, like Vincent Testa, who lost to Dickinson for the second time in 2011, have talked about bringing Internet access to Town Hall— the difference this time is that Zandri, a systems analyst at Bloomberg in New York City, is an information technology professional, Avallone said.

“What Jason’s going to concentrate on is giving specific examples of what technology’s going to do,” Avallone said Friday.

Prentice said the focus by Democrats on technology in Town Hall is old news.

“For at least 10 or 15 years everybody’s talked about new technology — and guess what, we’ve gotten by without added technology,” Prentice said.

Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau, a Republican, agreed that Dickinson is often painted as less computer friendly than he really is, and he said the mayor’s lean approach to technology is often a cost-saving measure.

“It’s not like there’s no technology. There is. Can there be more? Yes, I agree with that, but not every employee needs a screen on their desk,” said LeTourneau. “The mayor — it’s not like he just shuts it down completely, it’s where he thinks it should be.”

As for Zandri’s prospects, the fellow councilor said he thought Dickinson — though he hasn’t yet announced his own bid for the seat — would likely stay in Town Hall after the 2013 election.

“I’m just pretty confident that the mayor will be mayor again. Jason’s a nice guy, he’s a good councilor, but I think he’s more of a fit for the council,” LeTourneau said.

Avallone believes Zandri has a real shot.

“Everybody knows it’s not an easy task, quite frankly,” Avallone said. “This is not a battle against the mayor to defeat Mayor Dickinson. This is not like a personal thing. Jason feels that he’s got better ideas — and I concur — that will make this town better.”

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