As published in the Record Journal Monday November 21, 2011
By Robert Cyr
WALLINGFORD — One of the most high-profile opponents of a Republican-backed parking lot lease agreement was a Republican town councilor, Craig Fishbein.
Fishbein campaigned against the agreement despite the possibility of upsetting his fellow Republicans. He found himself on the winning side last Monday when residents rejected the deal in decisive fashion.
Elected to his second term on the council this month, Fishbein aspires to higher office.
Asked if he was considering a run for state representative next fall, Fishbein did not rule it out. He lives in the 85th House District and would be running for a seat Democrat Mary M. Mushinsky has held since 1980.
“At some point in my life, if the stars are aligned, I would have to say yes,” he said. “At this exact point, I have my role, as frustrating as it is to act it and stay in, I have my role. Six months from now is when I’ll start to actively think about it; that district is very tough.”
Mushinsky, 60, is a lifelong Wallingford resident who, like Fishbein, voted to repeal the controversial parking agreement.
“I was changing my mind even as I was walking up the driveway to the voting place,” she said. “I think it’s critical to have a lively downtown, and that was weighing in my mind, but so was the apparently one-sided nature of the deal.”
The 30-year arrangement between the town and commercial property owners on North Main Street stipulated that up to half a million dollars from an Electric Division fund for nonrecurring projects would be used to upgrade the privately owned lot with assurances that it would remain available for free public use for the life of the lease.
Fishbein and other lease opponents said it is inappropriate for the town to spend public money on private property. The one-issue referendum drew 28 percent of eligible voters to the polls. In comparison, 39.8 percent of voters turned out for the municipal election just a week earlier.
“I think we need to look at a differently structured deal, and find another way to make the parking happen that’s more acceptable to taxpayers and keep these downtown merchants satisfied,” Mushinsky said. “It would be really tragic if they started charging for parking.”
Bob Stern / Record-Journal
Craig Fishbein, carrying a sign opposing the parking lot lease agreement last Monday, talks with with voter Carole Koty outside the polling place at Lyman Hall High School. Fishbein is a Town Council Republican, but he broke with his party on the lease issue.
She said she had heard that Fishbein might run against her next year.
“No matter; I put my record out and I run on my record,” she said.
Fishbein and Democratic Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos voted against the agreement when it came before the council. Economopoulos announced at a Democratic Town Committee meeting last week that he plans to run for mayor in two years.
Fishbein said his position on the issue was not politically motivated. “I just thought it was the right thing to do,” he said.
“People have to understand that I am not a politician. That’s not my base,” he said. “I don’t usually do things with ulterior motives.
I usually tackle issues as they come to me. I wasn’t even on the Republican Town Committee when I was elected in 2009.”
Fishbein, 46, has been a lawyer since 2001, following in his father’s footsteps after a stint working in retail after college, he said. He became involved in politics in 2007 when he saw what he called the downward spiral of the U.S. economy. But he met resistance from his party at first, he said.
“I found myself yelling at the TV and I knew I had to stop doing that, so I started attending meetings,” he said. “I did have some very high up Republicans tell me I should not run because I had not done enough for the party. I had not been a good soldier.”
Republican Town Chairman Robert Prentice said he was not happy with Fishbein’s campaigning against the agreement. Fishbein handed out flyers and talked to voters outside polling places.
“I think he went a little too far, but that’s not the opinion of the party, it’s my opinion,” he said. “He took it a little too far with some of the things he did. But he’s still a Republican and still on the council, and hopefully he’ll make the right decision next time.”
Fishbein registered as a Republican in June 2003, a switch from his previous registration as a Democrat, according to Samuel Carmody, the Democratic registrar of voters.