The Middletown Republican Town Committee nominated a diverse slate of candidates for November’s elections at Tuesday night’s City Election Nominating Meeting, including eight for the Common Council. Just as notable, however, was who the nominating committee chose not to put forward for a seat on the Council.
Minority Leader Phillip Pessina and Deputy Minority Leader Joseph Bibisi, who have combined to serve nine terms on the Council, were not nominated by the committee in a highly controversial decision. Pessina and Bibisi, who did not attend, were then nominated on the floor, but failed to earn enough votes to make the final cut.
The committee also failed to nominate a candidate for mayor. Republican Town Committee Chairman Ken McClellan said no candidates submitted letters seeking to run for the position.
The meeting kicked off with the nominating committee, headed by McClellan, announcing its eight chosen candidates for Common Council. The party currently holds four seats on the Council. The list of Republicans who were put forward and ultimately confirmed by the committee is as follows:
Linda Salafia (current member), Deborah Kleckowski (current member), Sebastian Giuliano, Ryan Kennedy, David Bauer, Sandra Russo-Driska, Angel Fernandez and Nicholas Fazzino.
Giuliano is very familiar to Middletown residents, having served as mayor for three terms before being defeated by Daniel Drew in 2011. Bauer is a former council member, while Kennedy currently sits on the Board of Education. Fazzino is the city’s Planning and Zoning Commissioner, and Fernandez is Middletown’s Deputy Emergency Management Director. Russo-Driska recently retired from the position of City and Town Clerk.
The nominating committee’s omission of Pessina and Bibisi from its list was not a surprise. It was widely rumored coming into the convention that the pair was absent from the group, and Pessina went as far as to tell the Middletown Press on Monday that he did believe the pair would be endorsed.
Bibisi, who is in his sixth term on the council and is a former deputy mayor, serves on a number of prominent groups, among them the Government Operations Commission and the Economic Development Commission. Pessina, a three-term councilman, is a member of the Finance and Government Operations Commission and Senior Services Committee, among other groups.
Much of the opposition Pessina and Bibisi have encountered comes from city Republicans who believe that the duo was not always fiscally responsible and too supportive of some of Drew’s more controversial initiatives, in particular those proposed by the mayor’s Bipartisan Task Force for Efficiency in Government, of which Bibisi was a member. McClellan and other prominent Republicans heavily criticized the task force’s recommendation to merge the city’s legal and personal departments, which passed 10-2 with Pessina’s and Bibisi’s support in May. Kleckowski and Salafia voted against the merger.
Following the meeting, an animated Pessina said that he was highly disappointed in the nominating committee’s decision and that it would hurt the party come election time and afterwards.
“Joe Bibisi and I have always made it our mission to serve the citizens of Middletown and their best interests first, and have never compromised our principles for party,” Pessina said. “When there was a lot of turmoil on the Council, we helped bring bipartisanship back and made sure that the Council was working to improve Middletown.”
“I don’t think we’re going to have much of a shot at gaining any more council seats. Not enough candidates were nominated based on their past record of achievement,” the former deputy police chief stated. “They have not shown service to the city, and do not understand the work you need to put in on the Council to effectively serve the needs of citizens.”
Pessina directly accused McClellan, Giuliano and Town Committee Vice Chairman William Wilson of coordinating him and Bibisi’s ouster. He declared that he would provide emails and additional information to the Eye and other local news outlets in the coming days that would support this allegation.
Tonight was about them, not about the Republican party in the city or what we have to do in the November election," Pessina said.
Pessina stated that he will consider mounting a primary challenge or running as an independent.
McClellan avoided discussing the specific reasons for why the Republican Town Committee failed to nominate Bibisi and Pessina, but said that the party was looking for new candidates who could bring a fresh perspective to the issues affecting Middletown. He stated that the candidates would be strong advocates for smaller and more rational government, and would serve the best interests of every citizen.
The nominating committee was looking to go in a different direction," McClellan said. "We think the candidates we selected are going to be great candidates and great members of the Common Council. I don't expect them to vote a party line. I expect them to vote a Middletown line."
McClellan declared that the Republican Town Committee would continue the search process for a mayoral candidate in the coming weeks. He said that the party desires to run a candidate that possesses a long track record of success in business and or a management position. McClellan admitted that it is challenging to find someone willing to run because of the pay cut they would be forced to take as mayor.
The Republicans put four candidates forward for the open seats on the Board of Education. Current board Vice Chairwoman Sheila Daniels was nominated alongside Wilson and first time candidates Linda Szynkowicz and Brian Kaskel.
Robert Simpson, Bauer and Jeremy Clark were nominated to run for the Planning and Zoning Commission. Clark will also serve as the alternate candidate for Planning and Zoning.
Finally, David Greaves and Jon Pulino were slated to run for the Board of Assessment Appeals.