Public attention needed as parties make choices
Over the next week, the city’s two political parties will begin the process of determining who will be sitting in the various seats of power in City Hall. Both the Democratic and Republican town committees will caucus and put up slates for November. In both cases, the chance of a primary is real, if not inevitable.
The city’s ruling party, the Democrats, have controlled city politics for almost 30 years. The party has been factionalized for decades. Where once there was the Johnson, Allen and Roper factions, there are now the Picard, Morrissey and Borer factions. Usually, two of the three coalesce against the third in order to seize power by means of putting up a challenge candidate.
This year, the party will boast three candidates. Mayor Nancy Rossi is virtually assured of the party’s nomination as her faction controls the 60-menber town committee. It would be a political coup if this does not happen, and will really throw the party into a tailspin.
Following the caucus, announced challengers Deborah Collins, backed by at least the Morrissey faction, will begin petitioning to get on the ballot for a September primary. We expect the same will happen with former Mayor Edward M. O’Brien, who first announced he will run independently, and has chosen, instead, to go the party route.
This will result in a three-way primary for the Democratic nomination, which really puts the result into question. Traditionally, about 5,000-6,000 voters cast ballots, or about 30 percent. Spitting that pie could be a tricky bit of electoral surgery for any or all of the candidates.
The last Republican to hold the mayoralty was Clemente Evangeliste. That was just prior to the city going under state control for the first time after running up a $17 million deficit. The GOP, once on par with the Democrats in having a shot at governing, was blamed for the situation, and soon fell into irrelevance. That may be changing.
Two candidates have emerged on the GOP side: Michele Gregorio and Steven Mullins. Early indications are Gregorio might have the backing of the party’s leadership, while Mullins, who has been the party’s standard-bearer before, is seen as old hat.
Party leaders are somewhat hoping a candidate with full backing of the party can come out of next week’s caucus. The principle reason, of course, is funds. The party can point to only 3,000-plus voters as members, and has been working on a shoestring for years.
Putting together a primary and a general election – even in a small city – is an expensive task. It is felt if a united front can be mounted, voters in West Haven might be willing and ready to look in a direction other than the Democrats. This would allow the party to push forward its platform while the opposition infights, and then save its precious coffers for the general election. It remains to be seen if this will happen as Mullins has always had his eye on higher office.
Either way, the GOP showed some signs of a re-emergence two years ago, and we are hopeful that it can continue an upward move. The city would be much better off with two strong parties.
Voters, meanwhile, should begin paying attention to the process. It is difficult in the summer, but West Haven is in a somewhat unique point in its history, and the voters and taxpayers must be informed and aware well before next November’s election.