Wilton election most competitive in years
In 2011 and 2013 there were no contested races in the municipal elections.
This year, there are 13 races, seven of which are contested:
Board of Selectmen.
Board of Finance.
Board of Education.
Planning and Zoning — four-year-term.
Planning and Zoning — two-year-term.
Zoning Board of Appeals — four-year term.
Uncontested races include Zoning Board of Appeals (two-year term), ZBA alternate (full term and two-year term), Board of Finance (two-year term) and Board of Assessment Appeals.
There was no race for first selectman in 2017 since it was the middle of incumbent Lynne Vanderslice’s four-year term, but there were contested races for Board of Selectmen, Board of Education, Planning and Zoning, and constables.
In 2015, the contested races were for first selectman, Board of Selectmen and constables.
Competition breeds turnout. In 2011, there were 29 open seats but only constable positions were contested. The turnout was 25 percent and probably would have been much lower but for the question on the ballot asking whether beer should be sold in supermarkets.
In 2013, when there were 26 names on the ballot, turnout was light at 11.5 percent.
With the first contested race for first selectman in years — Lynne Vanderslice vs. Deborah McFadden — turnout was higher in 2015 at 38.7 percent.
And again, in the first post-Trump election and with a robust contest for Board of Selectmen and another for Board of Education, turnout was 32.8 percent.
Back in the day when races were lightly contested, Democrats, who were outnumbered by Republicans, considered contesting races, said Ross Tartell, chair of the Wilton Democratic Town Committee’s nominating committee.
“We were happy with minority representation,” he said, adding the candidates running were more than competent.
Minority representation limits the maximum number of members (generally two-thirds of the total) who may belong to the same political party on most state and local boards, commissions, legislative bodies, committees, and similar bodies, whether elected or appointed, according to the Office of Legislative Research.
But things have changed with Wilton’s evolving electorate.
In 2011, Wilton had 11,028 active registered voters. There were:
4,178 Republicans (37.8%).
3,898 Unaffiliated (34.9%).
2,932 Democrats (26.5%).
20 registered to minor parties.
The split among Republicans and Democrats is now much closer.
As of May, there were 12,068 registered voters:
4,569 unaffiliated (38%).
3,837 Republicans (32%)
3,549 Democrats (29%).
113 registered to minor parties.
This year, Democrats are running a full slate for six races, meaning they have nominated the maximum number of candidates allowed. Those races are:
Board of Selectmen
Board of Finance (full term)
Board of Finance (two-year term)
Planning and Zoning (two-year term)
Among their candidates is one unaffiliated, Chris Stroup, running for Board of Finance.
The Republicans are running a full slate in five races:
Planning and Zoning (four-year term)
Zoning Board of Appeals (full term)
Zoning Board of Appeals alternate
The Republicans have endorsed two unaffiliated candidates — Melissa-Jean Rotini and Jake Bittner — both running for Planning and Zoning Commission.
In all, there will be 38 names on the ballot — 18 Democrats and 19 Republicans. A 20th Republican, Michael Powers, will appear as a petitioning candidate.
When asked why the Republican Town Committee did not choose the maximum number of candidates for certain races, like Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance, Chairman Bill Lalor said “across the board, we endorsed candidates where it makes sense.”
Dave Clune is running as an unaffiliated candidate for Board of Selectmen and Lalor said, “we think highly of Dave and we’re not going to oppose Dave just for the sake of opposing Dave.”
Lalor said that since moving to Wilton in 2013, his view is that elections “have always been contested. We’re happy to see that in Wilton … it’s what the voters expect.”
Ross Tartell said the uptick in the number of registered Democrats means “the number of people we can draw from is deeper,” thus giving the party more choices for nominees.
The election of Donald Trump as president energized the country, he said, on both sides. “People looked at that as a call to action,” he said.
Trump’s election, he said, was aided by the fact that Democrats “stopped paying attention to the grassroots. No seat should go uncontested.”
Finally, he said, “Democrats believe the Republican vision is off. It’s driven by containing cost, not putting strategies in to build the future.”