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Monday, January 3, 2011

Blogs’ influence a matter of opinion

As printed in the Record Journal Monday, January 3, 2011

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff  
(203) 317-2230

Two new blogs dedicated to Cheshire happenings have launched in the past few months, joining a number of blogs by area officials and residents.

Blogs are seen as an additional communication medium by some elected officials, as well as a way of drawing attention to projects. People such as Wallingford’s Jason Zandri have used blogs to muster support for community events, although not all blogs have been well-received by town officials.

Cheshire Board of Education member Anthony Perugini began his blog, , in November and has written primarily on education topics. Perugini, a Republican, was elected in 2009 and his blog’s name is based on former Town Councilor Tim White’s,

Another blog, CT Curmudgeon,, began in early December. The identity of the “curmudgeon” is unknown, as the site contains anonymous opinions on state and Cheshire politics.

Cheshire Republican Town Vice Chairman Thomas Pinkham said blogs have been a mixed blessing in political campaigns.

“Sometimes they can help the message the party is trying to get out; sometimes it can hurt,” he said. While White’s blog allowed him to have greater contact with his constituents, Pinkham said the blog hasn’t always been successful.

“Has it hurt him at certain times? Sure,” Pinkham said, adding that the blog has been “mostly a positive thing.”

Former Meriden City Council Democrat Stephen T. Zerio began in 2007, in part to indulge his interest in blogging. Zerio said the blog informed residents and provided him with space to talk about town issues not raised during meetings. After resigning from the council in 2007, Zerio continued the blog, although he said his intent isn’t to “backseat drive.”

“I kept it alive because, every now and again, I could make an observation,” he said. Zerio said he got some personal attacks in the comments on his blog, which he deleted.

“I got occasional attacks,” he said. “I controlled the comments, when there were comments.”

Zandri said his Wallingford blog,, generally contains more news about events and town issues than opinion. He hopes to give attention to local issues that might not be covered by other media outlets.

“Sometimes they are not the types of stories that the newspaper might decide to cover,” he said of his blog subjects.

Zandri said his most successful effort was this year’s fundraising drive for the annual Wallingford fireworks show. He and Craig Fishbein, a Republican Town Council member, organized a fundraising drive to gather more than $30,000 to finance the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, which had been cut from the town’s budget.

Zandri also hopes his blog will get residents interested in local issues and voting in local elections.

Former Democratic Town Councilor Matt Altieri, a math teacher at Wallingford’s Sheehan High School, praised Zandri’s blog, which he said was informative and rarely negative.

“Generally, it’s about how to solve problems,” Altieri said.

White started his blog at the beginning of 2006. The Republican said the blog was intended to spark dialogue with constituents, but White has also found it helps hold other public officials accountable and has “brought public pressure to bear” in support of such issues as town pension reform.

Last August, Cheshire stopped offering pension plans to new non-union employees in an attempt to avoid high pension payouts. New employees will be enrolled in a deferred compensation plan in which the town will contribute up to 6 percent of the employees’ salary to a retirement account.

“That would never have happened without the blog,” White said. He estimated that the blog averaged 100 to 150 unique visitors per day in 2010. The blog wasn’t without critics, particularly among Democratic councilors. Altieri said anonymous comments helped perpetuate rumors and the blog focused on criticizing town officials such as Town Manager Michael Milone and Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo.

White said his criticisms of town officials was intended to hold them accountable and the blog served as a record of statements and actions for residents to check. White defended anonymous comments, saying he preferred to “err on the side of letting people loose” rather than closely monitoring comments, although he has deleted offensive comments.

Altieri said White’s blog hasn’t helped discourse in town.

“I don’t think it’s helped in our specific situation,” Altieri said. “It spreads more things that are not true.”

Such blogs can also make officials wary of talking frankly with each other, Altieri said, in fear of private conversations appearing on the web.

“Then I can’t talk to you,” Altieri said.

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