By John McNamara
The alderman-at-large vacancy caused by the election of Emmanuel Sanchez to the 24th District House seat is an opportunity for some all too rare bipartisanship on the closely divided City Council of eight Republicans and seven Democrats.
Starting with an endorsement from Rep.-elect Sanchez, a top vote getter in the 2019 municipal election, Veronica DeLandro is the consensus pick by the Democratic Council caucus and Democratic Town Committee to fill the vacancy. The City Charter requires that Sanchez’ successor must be a Democrat for the unexpired term that ends with next November’s municipal election. The full 15-member Council fills the vacancy and may do so Wednesday, December 9th.
DeLandro, a former District Director for U.S. Rep, Jahana Hayes and Council Clerk of Committees, is part of a new generation of Democrats in the city who has “paid her dues” politically and has long been involved in the community on boards and organizations supportive of women and educational opportunity. She ran for a Ward One Council seat in 2017 and has elevated her voice on municipal and education issues in campaigns and testimony to the Council and Legislature.
As Democratic momentum builds for DeLandro, Daniel Salerno, the Republican caucus leader, intervened last week by saying he “welcomes resumes and cover letters of interested candidates” to fill the the Sanchez seat. Salerno, a registered Democrat who runs with the GOP and is confined to the Republican caucus, boasts that he is the “longest serving Democratic Alderman” on the Council, an assertion refuted by Democratic Councillor Chris Anderson who pointed out the departing Sanchez is the longest serving Democrat on the Council now.
Salerno’s announcement implies that he is the hiring authority with his one-vote majority and that candidates are applying for a job at City Hall with “the requisite experience needed” as if the voters who elect council members are not a part of the process at all. This not only upends the City Charter but contradicts a longstanding practice of local boards and councils in Connecticut where the council as the appointing authority defers to the town committee, Democratic or Republican, to choose a replacement from their own ranks. That just occurred in New Britain when the Council unanimously appointed Democrat Joey Listro to the Board of Education for Diane Leja who resigned very early in her four-year term. In many towns deferring to town committees has been formalized and is not just an informal tradition.
In New Britain BOE vacancies, which are four-year terms and based on the minority representation law, have cropped up much more than a rare Council vacancy. But it’s instructive to go back to 2008 when a Democratic Council majority acted badly over a vacancy on the Board of Education. The Republicans’ nomination of former Alderman Jamie Giantonio was tabled and Council Democrats arbitrarily filled the vacancy with Leslie Jacobs, a Republican who was not the choice of her party. At the time former Republican Town Committee Chair Paul Carver justifiably told the Hartford Courant that the Council majority was “ignoring a city tradition of endorsing candidates nominated by the appropriate town committee for such vacancies.”
The pending Council vacancy is an opportunity to set aside a political power play and partisan grudges that would usurp the will of voters. It would end the year on a note of cooperation as the city deals with the pandemic and before the 2021 municipal election cycle begins. Importantly, it would set a precedent for both political parties and current leaders to follow in the future. The GOP caucus would be doing itself a favor by deferring to Democrats and seating the well-credentialed Veronica DeLandro for the remainder of Sanchez’ term.
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