As published in the Record Journal, Sunday December 18, 2011
By Russell Blair
WALLINGFORD — Since Vincent Avallone was named chairman of the Democratic Town Committee in 2008, municipal elections have not gone in the party’s favor, but Avallone says he’s the man to lead the town’s Democrats for the next two years and is optimistic about the future.
“I think it’s going in the right direction,” he said. “The core is as together as I’ve ever seen it on the town committee.”
Avallone will seek re-election as chairman in March and, so far, nobody has come forward to challenge the local attorney. He had thoughts about stepping down from his time consuming role, noting that his daughter, Joy, recently joined his law practice, but Avallone still he feels there is work that needs to be done.
The Democrats had a 5-4 majority on the Town Council after municipal elections in 2007, but Republicans regained a 6-3 advantage in 2009 and held the same majority in November’s election.
Republican William W. Dickinson Jr. has held the mayor’s seat since 1983.
While people can judge him on the outcomes of the last two municipal elections, Avallone said that there’s more to the role of chairman than simply being a campaign manager. Avallone said that more work needs to be done to get the Democrats out to vote.
In the most recent election, 3,314 Democrats came out to vote, 45.8 percent of the 7,232 registered in town. By comparison, 49.4 percent of registered Republicans came to the polls. Unaffiliated voters, the largest segment of the electorate in town at 13,025, came out at a rate of 32.8 percent. Vincent Testa Jr., the Democratic candidate for mayor, garnered 3,551 votes to Dickinson’s 6,210. Avallone admits that there was a divide in the party in the 1980s and 1990s — following a 1983 primary, in which Democratic then-Mayor Rocco J. Vumbaco lost to Pat DeBaise, who lost handily in the general election to Dickinson — but said that no such rift exists today.
“Since those days, the makeup of the town committee has changed,” he said. “We’ve turned it around. There’s been about 60 or 65 percent turnover.”
Avallone acknowledges that it’s tough to campaign against the longtime mayor, but pointed to the election in 1989, when Democrat Peter Gouveia lost by only 31 votes, as an example of how close the party has come. With the council and school board, Avallone said that having Dickinson at the top of the ticket is a boost.
“The biggest difference in the parties is Bill Dickinson,” he said. “There’s a coat-tail effect running on a ticket with Bill Dickinson.”
But Stephen Alexander, a Democrat who moved to town a couple years ago and is not a member of the Democratic Town Committee, said he thinks the local party needs to do better.
In a letter to the editor published in the Record-Journal on Dec. 11, Alexander contended that “Democrats in Wallingford deserve a new leader who can win elections.” “There are a lot of new people in town,” Alexander said in an interview. “We’re a lot more Hispanic today than we were before. We have more renters in town. These are people that traditionally vote Democratic.” John Sullivan, a Democrat councilor, defended Avallone and said that it’s up to candidates to win elections, and that Avallone, and the town committee, are just there to offer support.
“You can’t judge a person by their record,” he said. “The candidates need to do it; it shouldn’t fall on the chairman’s shoulders.” Sullivan said he knows of nobody on the town committee who has come forward to challenge Avallone, and lauded the chairman’s fundraising efforts.
Avallone says the party is making an effort to reach out to new members while strengthening its base. He used the example of Jason Zandri, who ran as an independent for Town Council in 2007, but was convinced to join the Democrats. He also mentioned Christian DeCarlo, who planned an independent run for mayor this year before folding his campaign and joining the Democrats.
Samuel Carmody, the Democratic registrar of voters and a district leader on the Democratic Town Committee, said he thinks Avallone has helped bring the party together in his years as chairman.
Carmody, 25, has been involved with the party for nine years.
“We are unified, the party internally has become more unified,” he said. “There’s more momentum building within the party. I have hopes for the future as well.”
Carmody said that Avallone has also made efforts to reach out to young Democrats, and used the example of David Leonardo, a 24-year-old who ran in November for Board of Education and is expected to take a seat on the town committee.
The Democrats will caucus next month to elect new committee members. Avallone said he has a good group together that he hopes to build on, and wants the party to be in good position for the day when the mayor’s seat becomes vacant.
“You can’t give up, you have to keep trying,” he said. “You keep pushing. It’s difficult to beat the incumbent.”