New London Democrats drop support for Catala

New London — City Democrats voted to drop their support for school board candidate Jason Catala on Tuesday in response to his arrest Friday on credit card fraud charges.

The vote came during a Democratic Town Committee meeting where about 30 members voted to not only withdraw their party's support of the seven-term incumbent but to recommend to Catala that he remove himself as a candidate in next month's election. Committee members Rich Baez and Nancy Anglin abstained from the vote.

Catala, who was not at the meeting, said Tuesday night he will not withdraw from the race. He is accused of using a niece's personal information to open 16 credit card accounts over a three-year period and accruing $8,000 in debt, according to the affidavit for his arrest.

“I’m prepared to move forward with my candidacy. I put in a lot of years and have a lot of ideas still left,” said Catala, 45, who is seeking his eighth term on the Board of Education.

He declined further comment after the meeting.

Democrat Jay Levin, at Tuesday’s meeting, said, “We’ve all done some things wrong, made mistakes in our life.” And while Catala has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, he said Catala should have come forward to members of the Democratic Town Committee this fall and let them know he was being investigated.

“We now know … that as of September of this year, Jason knew police were investigating a situation,” Levin said. “If not deception, it was an absence of candor not to relate that to the Democratic Town Committee.”

Tuesday’s vote means Catala will not benefit from Democratic fundraising or see his literature or signs distributed or displayed by the party.

Catala, who served five of his seven terms on the school board as a Republican, has never had what might be considered a cozy relationship with his fellow Democrats or even fellow Board of Education members, despite overwhelming support from constituents in the last two elections as a Democrat.

Against the advice of some Democrats, he ran unsuccessfuly as a petitioning candidate against Democrat Anthony Nolan during February's special election for the 39th District state House seat. His candidacy created a four-way race.

Fellow school board members voted 5-2 in 2018 to censure Catala, a public scolding of sorts for what they had called the spread of misinformation and inaccurate social media posts about district finances, and for publicly calling for the resignation of a Harbor Elementary school principal for a school walk by kindergartners that coincided with a national walkout aimed at school gun violence.

As with the censure, Catala appears unfazed by the most recent criticism and rejected attempts by Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Martha Marx to coax him into stepping aside in the upcoming election.

Marx lamented the loss of her favorite election-time saying, “Row A all the way,” a reference to urging voters to vote for all Democrats. One committee member suggested "Row A most of the way" instead. 

Democratic Registrar of Voters Bill Giesing said the deadline to replace Catala on the ballot was Oct. 18 and there was still time to remove his name.

“Personally, I think if he’s on the ballot he’ll win,” said Margaret Mary “Peg” Curtin, former school board president and chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee’s District 2.

Catala, in a phone interview, said he thought Democrats should be working together but that in any case he had his own team of workers “still in my corner.”

“What’s happening is a stronger campaign,” Catala said. “A lot of people have contacted me and said, 'You’re our voice.'”

He also said he has no intention of resigning from the Board of Education, though he has yet to be asked. There are at least three more meetings before the election.

School board President Manny Rivera, who is not seeking re-election, said the board has contacted its attorney for an opinion on the matter but didn’t go so far as to call for Catala’s resignation.

“The whole thing is actually quite sad for Jason,” Rivera said. “We must think about the district and the students and how we are viewed by other communities.”

g.smith@theday.com

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