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Berrigan should fight for ballot spot in New London

The Green Party and Frida Berrigan should either scrape together the cash to hire a lawyer, find one willing to offer their services pro bono in the interest of democratic principles, or perhaps even take a stab at representing themselves (always a poor third choice). But what they should not do is accept her name not appearing on the ballot in the New London mayoral race due to a technical error.

History suggests that if the Greens and Berrigan push this, she will get her name on the ballot. State judges don’t like disqualifying candidates on technicalities. But the Greens can’t wait.

Berrigan needed a two-step process to qualify for the ballot; collect about three dozen signatures and have the party file a letter of endorsement. The signatures were provided and verified. But Gabe Rosenberg, communications director for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, said there is no endorsement letter in the file. Green Party Chairwoman Ronna Stuller, a City Council candidate, said the letter was sent a month before the Sept. 4 deadline.

Blame all around?

There appears to be some blame all around. If the letter was sent, received and misplaced, shame on the Secretary of the State’s office. On the other hand, given the importance of the endorsement letter, could it not have been sent certified mail or hand delivered, in either case assuring a record of its receipt?

The confusion provides another example of how the state needs to join the 21st century and move from all this paperwork to the digital realm. The Secretary of the State's office proposed bills in the past session to allow more electronic filings and to give it greater latitude to address technical errors, but the legislature did not act on them.

But back to the legal recourse. If the Greens can get before a judge soon, I’d be shocked if they don’t get Berrigan back on the ballot. They can produce the letter of endorsement and there is already verification of the signatures. With that kind of demonstration of proof, judges have erred toward democracy.

Just look back to the last election. State Rep. Vickie Nardello was planning to run in the Democratic state Senate primary in the 16th District. But Nardello failed to write “16” in the space for Senatorial District, a disqualifying error, Merrill’s office ruled. Merrill is also a Democrat. The candidate appealed and Superior Court Judge Salvatore Agati decided in Nardello’s favor, with Merrill announcing she would not appeal. Nardello won the primary but lost to Republican Sen. Rob Sampson in the general election.

As of Friday, Berrigan and the Greens had announced no plans to appeal, instead moving to a write-in candidacy. Berrigan pointed to the cost of a court challenge.

Quality of life concerns

In an interview last week, before the surprising news that she would not be on the ballot, Berrigan told me she was running for mayor because she wanted to give voice to people she feels are not well represented by the major party candidates — Democratic Mayor Michael Passero and Republican City Councilor Martin T. Olsen Jr.

From the perspective of her home on Connecticut Avenue, in the heart of the city’s urban center and its streets lined with side-by-side homes and tenements, many filled with renters, Berrigan said the concerns are not so much high taxes, but the lack of quality of life the taxes are providing those residents.

“They are alienated from their local democracy,” she said of some of her neighbors.

Their concerns, she said, include the trash on the streets, the firetrucks blazing up and down through neighborhoods, the young people with nothing to do in summer and after school, and the continuing struggle of city schools and what many see as a lack of fiscal support for them from the incumbent council and mayor.

“I am running for mayor because I want to have more people turnout,” Berrigan said. “And I was thinking about Marty Olsen versus Mike Passero, and they both come from the same part of the city, the same generation, the same color.

“I want to inject the race with some new ideas. I’m also white, but I think I am about 20 years younger than the two of them. And from my vantage point on Connecticut Avenue, I’ve seen a very different New London than the two of them see,” Berrigan said.

Voters deserve the choice

Hers is a welcomed voice, but it will be paid less attention to without her name on the ballot and the greater ability to siphon off votes. I don’t see Berrigan as having a realistic chance for victory on or off the ballot. And, frankly, I don’t think she does either. But voters deserve the choice she offers without the cumbersome challenge of having to write in her name.

I found particularly interesting her idea that if significant payments can be wrung from the developers of the proposed offshore wind-power staging work planned for State Pier, an effort in which she supports the mayor, it should be directed to specific uses, not sucked into the general fund.

“We show what that money can do, and we try, every way possible, to spend that money locally and encourage the people, whose pockets we put it into, to spend it locally too,” she said.

Keeping money circulating locally is a major goal of the Greens.

She tossed out such ideas as using any money that blows in from the wind-power project to build a community center, provide rent supports for start-up businesses or perhaps forgiveness loans for renovation and development of downtown retail space.

“We’re a young city and we want to harness that youthful enthusiasm for the benefit of New London,” she said.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.



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