Green Party wins leave state, town officials scrambling to accommodate them
Waterford — Nobody expected Waterford's Green Party to win this much.
Members of the party — which only elected its first candidate to a town board two years ago — on Tuesday secured four seats on Waterford's Representative Town Meeting and one seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals, and Democratic candidates cross-endorsed by the Green Party won seats on the school board, the Board of Assessment Appeals and an alternate seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals.
"We weren't really expecting this kind of success, but we didn't know what to expect," said Waterford Green Party Co-chairman Joshua Steele Kelly, who was elected to one of the RTM seats Tuesday with a Democratic cross-endorsement.
And so for most of Tuesday night and all day Wednesday, confusion about the rules for third-party candidates swirled around the Town Clerk's office and the headquarters for all three parties on the ballot.
Late Tuesday, Republicans at their headquarters on Boston Post Road speculated that votes for Green Party candidates had been double-counted because the cross-endorsed candidates were on the ballot twice.
The numbers the Greens were getting seemed impossible, with some previously unknown Green candidates winning hundreds more votes than their competitors.
While the vote totals still were not certified by the Secretary of the State's Office by Wednesday evening, the victories were all legitimate, Town Clerk Dave Campo said.
Cross-endorsed candidates whose supporters incorrectly voted for them on both party lines would get one vote counted for each double-vote. Those votes — a handful in each race — then were divided between the candidate's two endorsing parties according to the ratio of one-party votes the candidate had received, a process that Campo and both the Green Party and Democratic town committee chairs said they were unfamiliar with before yesterday.
Then Wednesday morning, lawyers at the Secretary of the State's Office told Campo and town committee chairpeople that the Green Party candidates who had been cross-endorsed by Democrats would have to officially serve on the RTM as Democrats, because they had received more votes on the Democratic line than the Green Party line.
By Wednesday afternoon, that determination had been reversed. An attorney with the Secretary of the State's Office assured Kelly that Connecticut is one of a handful of states that lets elected officials serve as a member of the party they were nominated by, not the party that garnered them the most votes.
Aside from a couple of recounts for three close RTM races and a Zoning Board of Appeals contest, things seemed to have been settled by Wednesday evening.
The three party chairs are planning a conference call with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill next week to clear up any other questions they may have, Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Beth Sabilia said. But now, Sabilia said, the eight Democrats and four members of the Green Party on the RTM will start developing a strategy to pose a united front on budgeting issues to the 12-member Republican majority.
"It's going to take some time to ferret through those ideas," Sabilia said. "It's something new — the implication of things are being fleshed out."
Sabilia, a former active participant in New London politics, said she sees a rift growing in that city's Democratic Party and called the cooperation between Waterford's Greens and Democrats a hopeful sign that they can keep the peace.
"To me, they belong here," she said. "I'm glad to be part of working together, rather than having those huge divisions. They were on our ticket. We didn't put little asterisks next to them, we didn't say 'Oh, by the way.'"
Kelly — who said he thinks Tuesday's wins make Waterford's RTM the legislative body with the highest proportion of Greens in the country — agreed that there are many places where the Greens and Democrats can agree.
"The two parties working together also helps give people a sense that we can come together as Waterford," he said. "It doesn't have to be about petty politics all the time."