Last Tuesday, Derby experienced what could only be called an upset: Anita Dugatto challenged a strong, incumbent mayor in Anthony Staffieri, and won. It wasn’t the only upset of the night – Ansonia put David Casetti in over James Della Volpe – but Derby’s election wasn’t just a repudiation on the mayor; it was a Democratic blowout. As of this moment, pending a few recounts1, Democrats comfortably hold the Board of Aldermen (7–2), Board of Education (6-3; all six Dems that ran, won), and Board of Appropriations and Taxation (6-4; all six Dems won again). Laura Wabno was also taken out by former mayor Marc Garofalo. Republican-endorsed Keith McLiverty held onto his Treasurer position, but only by 32 votes.
In short, it was a slaughter.
Normally, I would have a high amount of trepidation about 100% single party rule, and in some areas, I do. But for a few reasons, I actually feel good about the political situation in Derby for the first time since I moved there in 2008. A large reason for that is due to the calming effect Anita Dugatto’s campaign has had.
It should be noted just how small and unassuming Anita when you see her for the first time. I have a vague recollection of her from her time on the BoAT, and she was not someone people notice at first. Meeting her face to face for the first time at Democratic headquarters after it became clear that she had beaten Staffieri, I towered over her, at 5’9″.
And yet, she recognized me, someone she had never met, immediately. She asked if I was indeed Chris, and when I confirmed I was, she held my arm up and yelled “Chris Bowen is here!”. It was a bit mortifying, but it reflected the attention that Anita pays to everything in the City, something I remember from her time as a very inquisitive member of the BoAT. She would ask intelligent, probing questions, and develop a solution from there. Beneath that unassuming appearance lies a sharp, inquisitive intellect that takes in all details.
She also possesses mounds of charm. She visited my mother during her rounds when she was working to gain notice for the Mayorship, and my mother couldn’t stop raving about her, causing occasional consternation. At the time, I was still highly skeptical of a woman who had some weird views on local property rights, a sore subject with us trying to revitalize downtown. Since then, I have been able to look past this honest disagreement on the role of government in local property rights.
Derby has long been run, not just by men, but Men, Men with big egos and bigger mouths, who have fought with each other for decades, waging proxy wars on behalf of their friends and families. Police commissioners have been fired because of spats between the principal parties’ children regarding businesses. A mayor ran for, and won, an election largely because of a personal insult. At a time when economic stimulus is needed, the only stimulant we’ve received is testosterone. In plain English, the Men have fucked things up royally, engaging in their own pissing contest for their own personal gain, and Derby’s citizens don’t have a big enough umbrella to keep from getting wet.
Anita doesn’t impress me because of her genitalia. She impresses me because I believe she’s going to make an honest effort to undo of the damage that the past two administrations – at least – have caused with their interpersonal bickering. 2
Before I go any further in talking about how I expect the next two years to go better than the last four or so, allow me to say some words in defence of Anthony Staffieri.
I like Tony. He’s a good man. And I don’t think his actions that I disagreed with were the result of some kind of political conspiracy; simply put, I don’t think he’s savvy enough to be that cynical. Some of his people are – Joseph Coppola comes to mind, but that’s also his job – Tony is the kind of person who, if you say something he doesn’t like, will go right to your face and tell you to go fuck yourself.
Unlike a lot of people, I like that. One of the reasons I voted for him in 2011 was that he ran an up-front campaign. A little loose with the facts, but I’ve started to view that as status quo in running for a political office; it’s simply my job as a voter and commentator to separate the fact from the BS. It was far better than that which Democrats ran, which involved banning citizens from their Facebook page for asking questions and then denying it, outright lying about things in the Mayor’s record, and in the end, having a sockpuppet account attack a man who was known to be a Staffieri supporter by bringing up a years-old road rage allegation. Tony campaigned like he governed: in your face, here’s my position, and to hell with those that don’t like it. I’m fine with that; it makes me a lot more comfortable to deal with someone coming at me from the front, than someone sneaking in from behind.
The last two years, I must admit, have been a dumpster fire. He did favours for political allies like Joseph Bomba. He vetoed an alderman’s vote to have an investigation done into the Katherine Kulhawik case3. Downtown went nowhere, again. Under no circumstances should Anthony Staffieri have been reelected.
A lot of the reason for the decline in performance, I believe, was that when you’re in a position of power, that means being attacked – for reasons large and small – by people who want to take that power from you and give it to themselves. Fending off those people takes energy, which is in finite supply. Eventually, the effort to ward off political attacks becomes so great that it takes away from the things a politician sets out to do in the first place. It’s a rare politician who can govern while not letting such complaints hamper him one iota – love him or hate him, Shelton’s Mark Lauretti is definitely in this category – and eventually, I think Tony just wore down. He became so preoccupied with protecting his turf from outsiders that he didn’t notice that parts of it were on fire.
I was personally done with Anthony Staffieri as my mayor, but I have no problem with him as a person. Here’s hoping he finds some time to relax now that his time in office is over.
From the standpoint of what I feel needs to be done to Derby, the election could not have gone any better. As I’ve stated in the past, my economic beliefs tend to be Keynesian in nature, so with a depressed local economy, investment is the answer. I’ve been particularly interested in buttressing what is known to be one of the lowest performing school systems in the state of Connecticut with more than just token money that doesn’t stave off cuts. Beyond that, the most damaging thing to happen to Derby politics has been the politicians, or more specifically, the pervasive party politics that have hampered even small moves, with everyone angling to get ahead and screw the other side. What better way to end a two party stand-off than making one of those parties completely irrelevant?
However, single-party rule – and that’s what we have, since the Board of Aldermen now has a supermajority – only works for a little bit of time before problems prop up. This is regardless of political affiliation, as both excessive deregulation and complete ignorance of female and minority rights in the South, and the insidious influence of workers unions and corruption in the Northeast and large cities have made clear. In some places, that majority can’t be broken; the South will always be a GOP because they believe Jesus is a Republican, and big cities will always be Democratic strongholds simply because
I do believe that Dr. Anita is not only sincere about reaching out, but has proven in the past that she will do it. However, also consider what I wrote about the person she is replacing just one section up. She will be attacked by people who want her power, by people bitter about this past election, and by people who just don’t like Democrats because something something socialism. And though it was voter disdain for Staffieri’s leadership that put her into office, the first tax increase of any kind will be met with stiff opposition, particularly on the east end of the city. Staffieri’s reaction to opposition was to bully his way through it; in short, he could be a raging dick. Anita strikes me as more of a thinker, but that will only get her so far in the face of dedicated opposition and opportunism. Will she be able to weather those first few storms? Can she become a hard-nosed bitch when that’s warranted?
All of that is down the road. There’s still transitional work to be done, new boards to swear in, and time for Dr. Anita, who owns her business virtually next door to Staffieri’s old restaurant, to get comfortable in her chair before her political opponents start to put fire under it. Derby voters, including myself, gave her and her team a mandate to do what is necessary, knowing the cost in increased taxes, to make Derby right again. Here’s hoping they have the wherewithal to pull it off, and the discipline to not go to the other extreme.
1 – As of right now, one Democratic alderman has a two vote advantage over a Republican rival. If that holds, the advantage will be 7-2 Democrats
2 – It’s a lot of this that kept me from voting for Ron Sill as my Ward’s alderman. I like Ron, I think he’s a good guy, but being the longest serving alderman in Derby history is not something I’d put in the win column at this point.
3 – It should be noted that the Aldermen eventually saw the report in private, and voted 7-1 to withhold the report from the public. This vote was simply inexcusable on all counts, and credit to Art Gerckens for being the lone dissenting vote.
EDIT: In an earlier version of this article, I incorrectly stated that the count that the Valley Indy had was not accurate. At the time I wrote it – almost a week ago – the state’s numbers weren’t out yet, which is what the site ended up using. I apologize for the error.