In recent weeks, we’ve seen a series of op-eds and letters focusing on this fall’s municipal election in Wallingford. Jared Liu, Stephen Knight, Patricia Kohl, and Councilor Vinnie Testa have all weighed in, and each has raised interesting points, some of which I’m going to react to in this editorial.
Democracy is better when we have two candidates battling in the ideological arena. I especially sympathize with anyone embarking on a mayoral campaign with a young family, as Mr. Liu has. He and his family all deserve credit for being part of the process and trying to make a difference. Far from simply just showing up, Mr. Liu took the time to put together a detailed, comprehensive platform in 2017. In 2019, he is largely running on that same platform, albeit with some updates.
Whether you agree with him or not, there is no ambiguity about where he stands. There are some things in his platform (as expressed on his website, and in the recent editorials) that I agree with, including keeping two high schools and supporting the Community Pool project. I have some serious reservations about other things he proposes. For example, on education, he talks about being the “collaborator in chief in leading educational conversations,” including “partnering with the superintendent” on “forums to present on the status of recent initiatives.” For me, this blurs the line between the duties of the mayor and of the superintendent and Board of Education. As a parent with children in the system, I don’t want the mayor leading educational conversations or attempting to manage details best left in the very capable hands of our superintendent and Board of Education.
Elsewhere, the Liu platform is loaded with more government, including hiring a grant writer, a staff of three economic development specialists, several more police officers (even though we’ve already added four in the last two budgets, and Chief Wright himself has said we need to wait before increasing that number). The Liu administration even wants to make it easier for neighborhoods to plan block parties. I’m all for block parties, but with all due respect, I don’t think we need local government to help plan them. And for all of this, somehow, your taxes will go down.
But perhaps the most bizarre claim in his platform is in the section of his website dedicated to the environment. Liu claims that Community Lake has been “a blight on this town since the mayor let the dam break.” The dam at Community Lake broke a half a decade before Mayor Dickinson was elected, during the Vumbaco administration, in 1979.
And this ties back to the recent op-eds from Stephen Knight and Councilor Testa, as well as Pat Kohl’s letter. Testa warns readers of “The Dickinson Brigade,” basically dismissing any criticism of Liu as opposition propaganda. Yet Knight and Kohl dismantled Liu’s editorials not with empty rhetoric, but with facts. A candidate loses credibility when he can’t get basic info correct, like how Wallingford’s mill rate compares to other towns, or who the mayor was when the Community Lake dam broke.
An incumbent has to stand on his record, and I think Mayor Dickinson’s is excellent. His steady leadership has resulted in Wallingford having low taxes, a rainy day fund that’s the envy of the state (literally—see how they keep trying to take it away), a generously funded school system, great public utilities, and numerous diverse community groups backed with town support. That rainy day fund is significant when you consider that about $20 million of town and school services are provided by federal, state, or grant funding. If that dries up, our taxes go up 20 percent, or services are cut, or some combination of both. This is a sobering possibility that hangs over the mayor like the sword of Damocles. The anti-Dickinson brigade will dismiss as “gloom and doom,” but they aren’t the ones who would have to make the tough decisions should it come to pass.
So, I echo Councilor Testa’s sentiment that voters should keep an open mind. I would also add, “Trust but verify,” as Ronald Reagan famously said.
The writer is a Wallingford