Ward fighting on two fronts with Norwich Democrats

Norwich - As politically embattled former City Council candidate Ron Ward challenges an attempt to remove him from the Democratic party rolls, he also faces a similar fight to retain his seat on the Democratic Town Committee.

Ward bucked the party in the fall when he ran unsuccessfully for City Council on the Norwich for Change party after failing to win the Democratic Town Committee endorsement. Democratic Registrar of Voters JoAnn Merolla-Martin in December sent Ward a notice that she would hold a hearing under a little-used state statute that gives her the authority to remove a voter from the party rolls for failure to support party platforms and candidates.

Ward and his attorney, Andrew A. Feinstein, plan to fight the move at the Jan. 26 hearing, and Ward has sought letters of support from other Democrats.

Merolla-Martin said it would be up to the town committee to decide whether to go ahead with the hearing or drop the matter in the wake of media criticism of both the plan to remove Ward and of the state law being cited. She said she did not solely make the decision to seek to remove Ward.

Ward also plans to seek re-election to his seat on the Democratic Town Committee, which will endorse candidates at a caucus on Jan. 12. But Ward was not among the 58 town committee hopefuls who signed up for caucus endorsement by the Dec. 13 deadline.

Ward will have to wait until March, when nominations will be taken from the floor for the 19 expected open seats - if Ward remains a registered Democrat at that time.

Merolla-Martin said Tuesday the town committee had complained about Ward's actions, including lack of participation in discussions of town committee bylaw changes he later criticized vehemently with "personal attacks" on the town committee. She rejected Ward's claims that he is being targeted for his liberal or outspoken positions.

Merolla-Martin said she has received only one email letter supporting Ward - from former city manager and former Democratic alderman Robert Zarnetske, who also unsuccessfully ran for mayor under the Norwich for Change party when he failed to win the party endorsement.

Zarnetske urged Merolla-Martin to drop the hearing and said the party would look "like bullies" if Ward is removed and appeals to court. The party would look "stupid" if Ward wins in court, and the system would be deemed "unfair" if he loses, Zarnetske wrote.

In separate letters addressed to Ward, Democratic Town Committee members Joseph East and Dianne Daniels complained that Ward "self-servingly" chose to buck the party system of seeking a primary to run on the third-party ticket against Democratic candidates.

"Your OWN actions brought about this situation," Daniels wrote. "Time to take responsibility for YOUR actions and suffer the consequences of your ill-advised decision."

c.bessette@theday.com

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