One-party dominance is an anchor halting New London progress
I was pleased to read your editorial “Bringing Balance to New London politics,” which made good points starting with support and praise for a strong mayor form of government and nicely tied into the need for a “…more politically balanced council” that would foster a vibrant system of checks and balances.
Was it an oversight that you omitted the Board of Education from your observation? The school board is alarmingly insulated due to Democratic political dominance.
You credit our strong mayor form of government with making New London more visible to Hartford and the marketplace. I’d argue that we are more visible to Hartford not because of the office, but because of the power of the personalities involved: Mayor Passero, Chief Administrative Officer Steve Fields, former state representative Chris Soto (now a member of Governor Lamont’s administration) and Human Services Director Jeannie Milstein.
The marketplace, however, responds to effective governance. Judging by our high taxes, the almost-stagnant property values, our sad and troubled school system, a growing blight problem, and a vacant Fort Trumbull, New London falls short in providing a positive vision for the marketplace. If the city is visible, it is for the wrong reasons, reasons that do not translate into dollars for the city coffers.
A primary driver of ineffective governance is the monolithic, one-sided party apparatus that has — as you point out in your editorial — been dominated by “longtime city dwellers organized around some key political families and their allies.”
If the city were thriving, no one would care which party was dominant. But the city is not thriving, and we should all be concerned that we are still talking about the potential of our fabulous city.
Any observer, regardless of party affiliation, who looks at the past two or three decades must ask: "What is wrong with our hip little city? Why has it failed to flourish?"
The lack of political balance in the city is a major contributor to this failure to flourish. It has effectively stifled opinion and dissent, excluded voices that are not coming from within a certain bubble and maintained a status quo that leaves many New Londoners hanging helpless between periods of great hope and greater disappointment.
One cure is to examine the state Minority Party Representation statute, from which New London has been exempted for about 35 years, just one of three such communities.
I can already hear the cries of outrage. The statute is undemocratic. The statute dilutes the power of your vote.
Take a deep breath.
When the exemption for New London was crafted decades ago, politics were different. Most voters were either Democrats or Republicans. Today, we have the Green Party, the Working Families Party, Independents, and many registered as unaffiliated. Republicans are a distinct minority.
I am not suggesting that the arguments about diluting the power of a person’s vote are without merit, but our Founding Fathers recognized the potential for the tyranny of the majority and to some extent, that is what has happened in New London. We would have a more inclusive, more balanced political climate if we were subject to the Minority Party Representation statute and its requirement for minority representation on the council and school board.
When your governing bodies are made up of predominately one political party, there is no need to define, debate or explain any policy decision to your constituents.
Yes, the public rose up to question the wisdom of some recent decisions, challenging the trash bag program and the idea of moving municipal offices out of the downtown. But having genuine minority representation would have generated debate before these unpopular proposals moved forward and gained approval.
And consider the problems battering our schools, most recently the mind-boggling behavior of educators at the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. Would this situation have gone on as long as it did if it were not for the school board’s monolithic, largely one-party governance?
Jason Catala, a former Republican who turned Democrat for political expedience, has been pilloried for years because he insisted on more openness and accountability. He is criticized as selfish, not being a team player, vying for the spotlight — all because he challenges authority and refuses to go along with things.
We have a school board president who was our last superintendent, a man who claimed he was too busy to go to the public hearings on the newly revealed sexual misconduct charges streaming from our middle school. How long would that indifference be condoned if the board members were not dominated by one political party − the Democrats? Not long.
For the good of the city, the mayor and council should form a politically diverse group to study minority party representation. It can’t hurt and the collaborative process itself may be helpful.
Connecticut also promotes minority party representation by capping the number of seats a party can win in an election, a practice called “limited nominations.” On a six-person board, for example, one party cannot win more than four seats. This serves to prevent one voting bloc (a political party, in this case) from gaining total control of an elected body at the expense of minority groups. The purpose behind this law is to include minority perspectives and ideas in local decision-making.
Knowing they had a genuine chance of gaining seats would encourage Republicans, and other minority parties, to run in New London’s elections. That would generate more debate in the campaign and, more importantly, in the governing that follows the election.
The citizens of New London should demand that their elected leaders begin the process of ending the city’s exemption from the minority representation laws. They, and the city they call home, will be the beneficiaries.
Nancy J. Cole is a longtime member of the New London Republican Town Committe and a former Republican State Central committeewoman from the 20th District.