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This is a very well written and rounded article by the Record Journal’s Andrew Ragali and Jeff Gebeau - it is a must read.
It’s your town – get informed and get involved. – VOTE Tuesday November 5, 2013.
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Contrast in candidates and campaigns: Dickinson-Zandri
Sunday July 28, 2013
By Andrew Ragali and Jeff Gebeau
WALLINGFORD — Candidates from both parties have been endorsed for Town Council and Board of Education seats this month. Newcomers and veterans are vying for political relevance. Republicans will look to defend their majorities on the council and school board, while Democrats attempt to reclaim dominance in Wallingford.
But setting the stage for an intriguing fall is the mayoral race, in which incumbent Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and Town Councilor Jason Zandri face off, campaigning with contrasting styles. The town committee caucuses on July 17 illustrated the differences between Zandri, a first-term councilor, and Dickinson, who is seeking his 16th term as mayor.
The Democratic Caucus was held in a small room above Cafe Ra on Center Street. Party members squeezed into the humid room, without air conditioning. Zandri spoke of his pledge to modernize town government while decreasing taxes.
The Republican Caucus was held in the spacious, air conditioned auditorium of Dag Hammarskjold Middle School. Candidates and party members were spread throughout the auditorium, as there was plenty of seating available. Dickinson decided to forgo a campaign speech, instead opting to spread his message by adapting a song originally sung by rock band Dropkick Murphys. His message was simple. His campaign will be simple, said Republican Town Committee Chairman Bob Prentice.
"What unites us is the great community we live in," Dickinson said that night.
While Zandri has been enthusiastically fundraising since January, Dickinson had yet to begin his efforts as of mid-July. At the time, he said he would begin the process in the coming weeks.
"It's putting the plans together," he said on July 11.
Dickinson said Thursday that a fundraiser is being planned for the near future. Prentice characterized Dickinson's campaign efforts as "normal fundraising," adding that the mayor is "very organized."
Most of his campaign contributions, said Dickinson, go to work done behind the scenes, putting together literature and mailings. Since January, Zandri reported campaign contributions of just over $21,100. Zandri has hired two political consulting firms; one to organize a walking route through neighborhoods to engage active voters face-to-face, the other to organize fundraisers.
Zandri said he has already begun his door-to-door campaigning, adding that support has been positive so far. It's an important phase of the campaign, he said. At the other end of the spectrum is Dickinson.
"I can't do a lot of door-to-door," he said, "but I try to do some."
Since January, Zandri has held three formal fundraisers; the most recent on Wednesday at his uncle's banquet hall, Zandri's Stillwood Inn.
On Friday, Zandri said he'd be surprised if Dickinson even held one fundraiser. "But if he does, he'll probably raise $10,000 in one night," Zandri said. "It is what it is."
That's the challenge of facing a 30-year incumbent, said Zandri. The mayor doesn't need to campaign heavily, because when he makes public appearances as the town's chief executive, "you're campaigning when you're not campaigning," Zandri said.
About 120 people attended Zandri's fundraiser on Wednesday, including Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo. The fundraiser brought in $3,210, Zandri said.
While Zandri hosted the fundraiser, support for other party candidates was also sought vigorously. Flat screen monitors throughout the banquet hall urged attendees to vote for Democratic Town Council and Board of Education candidates.
The event was more grandiose then the Democratic caucus, with an overflow crowd dining at tables sheathed with red, white and blue tablecloths. A stage at the far end of the room held an American flag and featured fluorescent tube lights-one blue and one red-that resembled columns on the stage's opposite ends.
While guests ate and enjoyed the atmosphere, Democratic Town Committee Chairman Vinnie Avallone interrupted to introduce Wyman, billed as the fundraisers special guest. Also in attendance were state Reps. Mary Mushinsky and Mary Fritz.
Wyman drew a contrast between the youthful energy projected by Zandri's candidacy and the entrenched, set-in-their- ways governance of Wallingford's Republican establishment.
"It's time for young leadership," she said. Wyman added that this was the year for change in Wallingford and stated, "I really believe Jason is that change."
Lembo told the audience that Zandri has "the right head and the right heart to run this town and do the right thing."
Echoing Wyman's appeal for change, Lembo encouraged local Democrats that Wallingford is "not stuck and not locked in time," but is "ready to take the next step," under Zandri's direction.
There's no need to take a next step, said Prentice on Thursday. Every election year, Prentice said residents back Dickinson because they don't feel change is necessary.
"Most people in town are happy," Prentice said.
It's Dickinson's experience that makes him so valuable, Prentice added.
"Age is what age is," said Dickinson. "If people are persuaded that that's a factor, then they vote accordingly."
Zandri prefaced his comments Wednesday night by stating that he felt heartened by the number of the people who attended the fundraiser, "on a Wednesday night in July." Zandri called the turnout a "testament of support," not only for his own candidacy, but that of other local Democrats seeking election.
As Zandri continued his speech, he remarked on the united purpose of state Democrats on all levels.
"This is a we-thing," he said.
Zandri invoked words from the nomination acceptance speech of Republican Councilman John LeTourneau, who called Wallingford an "oasis of stability." Zandri sought to turn the phrase around, saying the "oasis of stability is becoming a mirage."
The town's fading status as a haven of tranquility has arisen from a mentality among the Republican majority of "doing things how they always have been done," Zandri said. He cited the town's recent problems with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection as examples where this deeply-rooted mindset became harmful to the town.
"It is an oasis," LeTourneau reiterated on Thursday, in response to Zandri's comments. "I used that term when I did because look at the towns around us ... we're in better shape than all of them."
LeTourneau said Wallingford's low electric costs and tax rates "are not something to make light of."
Campaigning as a team is nothing new, said Prentice and LeTourneau. Republicans employ the same practice, they said.
"We were the first ones to do that," LeTourneau said. Years ago, the "R-Team" was established by Republicans. Recently, the movement was revived, said LeTourneau, and helped Republicans gain the political majority currently held on the Town Council and Board of Education.
Zandri also reiterated his recurrent complaint about residents' over-taxation during the fundraiser. He said the majority of the municipal tax burden in Wallingford has moved away from the commercial and industrial sectors and has been shifted to residents.
"I think if you compare Wallingford with the surrounding area, we're comparable," Dickinson said. "We provide a full range of services. I don't believe taxes have gone up beyond what they've gone up in many surrounding communities.
"The question is do you find the quality of life in Wallingford good?" asked Dickinson.
Zandri candidate concluded his speech Wednesday night by expressing the desire to "keep people in Wallingford" and "bring in new businesses," which he said would also "bring in a new vitality and a new tax base."
Avallone said all of the campaigning Democrats burst out of the starting blocks in the week since the caucus. He said his candidates were hearing "nothing but encouraging words."
"If they're bursting off the starting blocks, then they have to go around the track a couple times to catch us," LeTourneau said.