Voting is one of the most important things we all do in a democracy, and yet so few of us actually do it.
During the last election, Middletown had a very high turnout for a Connecticut municipality, but chances are the turnout this November 5 will not be as large.
This is the biennial election which is solely a municipal election. That means only city offices are at stake. There are no state or federal contests. As a result, we have not been bombarded with endless election ads, advocacy and broadcast and cablecast discussions of issues and candidates.
On top of that, the top position of mayor is unchallenged between the major parties. Mayor Dan Drew is running again, but the Republicans have not run a candidate. Drew has a drawn a list of accomplishments, a large campaign war chest (which remains largely untapped), and he's got the bully pulpit. The Republicans have trotted out a few weak reasons for their lack of mayoral candidate. Drew is being challenged by third-party candidate John Killian, who is running under the Realistic Balance banner, and while he would like as many votes as he can get, he is pragmatic in his expectations.
So, given the lack of a marquee contest, the prediction is for a low turnout. If it rains, or god forbid, snows, tumbleweeds could be blowing through polling places. Still, you could prove the prognosticators wrong.
The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. The entire Common Council is in contention, and the mayor can’t do anything without them. The Board of Education has four seats at stake. Planning and Zoning has three seats up for grabs. And there are deserving third-party and petitioning candidates. The ballots are loaded with names and referenda, and it should be an interesting election.
Here are some things to consider that may help you decide to get to the polls and to vote thoughtfully.
1. Know who you’re voting for? I’m always surprised when smart, informed, involved friends ask me who they should vote for. I could tell them who I’m voting for, but I usually answer a question with other questions. Do you know who the candidates are? What are your major concerns for the city in the next few years? Is there a candidate you have a question about? You should know what you want from a candidate. You should have some idea about what the most important issues are to you. Don’t vote for anyone you don’t know anything about. You may be surprised a month or two down the road to learn that they don’t represent you at all. The Middletown Patch has done an excellent job providing candidate profiles. I suggest you check them out.
2. Don’t let party affiliation be your absolute guide. I’m a Democrat, and have been since I began voting. But in this municipal election I plan to vote for Democrats, Republicans and independents. In fact, in most elections I have not voted strictly along the party line. In Middletown there are a lot of reasons to spread your vote around. Most importantly, there are good candidates from all parties. Secondly, our town charter demands minority party representation on all boards. That means as a Democrat I may want to vote for a minority party candidates who I think will work best on that particular board. For example, it’s likely in the Board of Education race that I’ll vote for two Democrats and two Republicans because it’s important to find the right candidates who will create the right balance. The same goes for the Planning and Zoning ballot. Only one Democrat is scheduled to be seated. So, you're better off putting your second vote for a minority party candidate. My choice for that vote is Stephen Smith. Anyone who suggests you should vote for "a team" or "a row" on the ballot doesn't respect your intelligence as a thinking voter.
3. You don’t need to select as many candidates as the ballot suggests. On close examination you’ll see that the for each office there is a specific number of candidates you could vote for, however this does not mean you have to vote for that number. You may vote for less than that number. Or you may select none of the candidates. As long as you don’t vote for too many in any section, your ballot is legal. For example, the Board of Education section allows you to vote for four candidates, but you may decide to vote only for one, two or three of the candidates. Why should you vote for less than you are allowed to? Because if you vote for candidates other than the ones you want elected, you may in fact be voting against your candidate.
Here’s an example: in the Planning and Zoning Commission contest, there are three Democratic candidates. There is only one seat available to the majority (in this case Democratic) party. Say, for example, you want Democratic candidate Stephen Devoto to win (as I do). He must win the cumulative highest amount of votes among Democrats to be seated. So if you vote for his colleagues/opponents with your additional votes, you are actually increasing their totals along with his. However, if you vote for Devoto alone among Democrats, you increase his total without increasing theirs. It’s called bullet voting among insiders, and is practiced often. If you decide to use your additional votes for minority party members, you will not necessarily hurt the chances of the majority party candidate, and vice versa. For example, if I vote for Devoto, and also vote for Stephan Smith (as I intend to do), the Realistic Party candidate, you would not hurt Devoto’s chances, and you might get Smith elected. In the case of this election, I would not use my third vote for P&Z.
4. Consider the alternatives. There are a lot of familiar names on the ballot. If you’re happy with the job they’ve done, vote them in. But there are new names and alternative choices. Here are some of the outlying names and notions I’m considering:
Council Candidates Phil Pessina and Joe Bibisi – tossed from the Republican slate because they dared to attempt compromise and cooperation (and not capitulation, as suggested by their former party). They refused to vote lockstep with what their caucus demands. As a result, these popular formerly-Republican vote getters (Pessina and Bibisi were #1 - 3978 votes, and #3 - 3948 votes) in the 2012 election, are running under different banners. So, the Republicans have ejected two of their top vote getters. This could mean that Pessina and Bibisi are spoilers, perhaps displacing a Democratic Council member, or more likely, as minority representatives, displacing one or more of their former Republican colleagues. Pessina is running under a Working Families Party endorsement. Bibisi is running as a Petitioning Candidate.
Sandra Russo-Driska – a popular, and knowledgeable Republican candidate for Common Council, former Town Clerk Russo-Driska is another possible spoiler and could receive more votes than many of the candidates Republican and Democratic.
The Three Stephens (Stevens) Stephen Smith – Realistic Balance Party candidate for Planning and Zoning, Smith is a newcomer to Middletown politics, but was a cogent and vocal opponent to the fight against development in a historic district on Washington Street. His successful fight with city hall to get a place on the ballot gives him name recognition that some other minority party candidates don’t have. He's smart, thoughtful and discerning. Stephen Devoto – Democratic candidate for Planning and Zoning should be the candidate elected to the open seat on the commission for a Democratic member. There are a lot of reasons that he’s the most deserving candidate, and to repeat briefly, he is the most knowledgeable, most dedicated, most independent thinking of the group of Democratic candidates. His fight to be on the ballot as an official Democratic candidate garnered him more votes, by a wide margin, than his Democratic colleagues. And his continued fight for ballot access, which resulted in a court victory which allowed him to be cross-endorsed by the Realistic Balance Party demonstrates his diligence, and his willingness to fight for what’s right. Don't vote for Devoto twice by mistake, as that will disqualify the vote. Steven Kovach is a new face in Middletown politics. But he grew up here, and he's seen the school system recently from the inside. If you vote for all of the Stephens (Stevens) on the ballot, you can't go wrong.
Board of Ed dilemma – There are four Democratic candidates who appear qualified and I would be happy to call all colleagues – Franca Biales, a current board member, an educator and a concerned parent; Steven Kovach, (see above) a young, energetic Middletown native who is a product of Middletown Public Schools, Wesleyan University, and currently represents residents of the North End as President of NEAT; Vinnie Loffredo, a knowledgeable and experienced education advocate who works for the state teacher’s union, CEA; Richard Kagan, a lifelong educator who has experience at the all levels of education, from elementary to university, who moved to town recently with his wife who is the President of Middlesex Community College. However, I will likely only vote for two Democrats, because there will be two minority party candidates represented on the board. Republican Sheila Daniels deserves to be re-elected. She is a tireless advocate of education in Middletown, and an educator herself. She has been an example of cooperation and dedication on the board. And she has served admirably as the cross-party co-chair of the body for the past two years. Republican Brian Kaskel also deserves attention. He has demonstrated his commitment in his own school community (Bielfield), and has attended many BOE meetings, providing commentary on relevant issues.
- But vote. Some contests in this election will be decided by a handful of votes. One of them could be yours, but only if you make the effort to vote.
Ed McKeon is a founder of the Middletown Eye, and a Democrat serving on the Board of Education winning the seat under the brand Ed4Ed. He is a public supporter of fellow Middletown Eye founder, and Planning and Zoning candidate Stephen Devoto, and also a supporter of his neighbor, friend, and Blue House Group co-member, Planning and Zoning candidate Stephen Smith.