As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday December 21, 2011
By Russell Blair
WALLINGFORD — When Thomas Laffin interviewed Town Council Chairman Robert Parisi for a college assignment about local politics, he never thought that nine years later he’d be serving on the council alongside him.
Photo by Dave Zajac – courtesy of the Record Journal
Laffin, 31, will be sworn in and join the council next month. Active in the Republican Party since he graduated from college, Laffin said he never had grand political aspirations.
At my very first Republican Town Committee meetings I sat with the town councilors, but I had no desire at all to join them,” he said. “It wasn’t until years later that people approached me and suggested that I run.”
At the age of 22, Laffin was appointed to the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, and three years later was elected to the Board of Education in his first try. After four years on the school board, Laffin was endorsed by the party for a council run. He was unsuccessful in 2009, but earned a seat in November.
Laffin said that the most important lesson from his first council campaign was to knock on as many doors as possible and increase fundraising.
"The first time, I spent about $1,000, and I fell short," he said. "I was outspent by the next Republican by several thousand. This time I had a goal of raising, and spending, between $4,000 and $5,000, and I probably spent a little over $4,000."
Laffin said he spent every weekend from Labor Day to Election Day going door to door.
A political science major at Siena College, Laffin was president of the Student Senate. He is between jobs, but most recently worked for Edible Arrangements as a new store coordinator. He has two children, Jack, 5, and Abby, 3, with his wife, Heather, who is a former Board of Education member.
Laffin said that as a school board member he learned a lot about the school budget, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the town's entire annual spending. When it comes time for the council to hear the school board's proposal, Laffin said, the experience will help.
"I know there are great people on the Board of Education and a great administrative team that will get it done," he said. "I'm not worried. You have to be cautious, but at the end of the day we'll be fine."
Laffin credited Town Clerk Barbara Thompson, a former Republican town chairwoman, for keeping him involved with the party, despite his youth. At 31, Laffin is the youngest person to join the council since Jerry Farrell Jr. was sworn in 16 years ago at 28. Parisi said he can't recall a councilor younger than Farrell since he joined the panel in 1970.
"I was a believer of youth," Thompson said. "It's an important aspect to build the young people as part of the party."
Thompson said that Laffin is "a quiet, thoughtful person" and that she hopes he'll "bring a lot to the table."
"I've known him since he was 22," she said. "I respect him; he's a hard worker."
Laffin said that he sees his youth as an obstacle, but one he thinks he can overcome.
"It's an extra hurdle to go over, but I was a hurdler in high school; I'm used to it," he said.
Republican Town Chairman Robert Prentice said he was happy when Laffin joined the slate of council candidates and sees his election as a way for the party to continue reaching out to young people.
"As a group, we're looking to get the younger group involved," Prentice said. "We're looking for young people to get involved and put the effort in to help the town."
Prentice said that Laffin "moved up the ranks," and hoped he would bring some new ideas to the council.
"There are always better ways to do things, and I hope he'll help with that," Prentice said.
Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democratic councilor who served on the Board of Education with Laffin, said he was "a pleasure to serve with."
"He's a gentleman all the way," Economopoulos said. "He's very open-minded. Never did he seem to have a personal agenda; he was always for the kids."
Through his time in politics, Laffin said he has grown to appreciate serving, a desire to give back he traces to his early days as a Boy Scout. Laffin said the town is going in the right direction, and he wants to be part of the conversation to make sure that continues. To that end, he's willing to make sacrifices, including spending time away from his young children.
"I would come home from work, throw on a tie and be off to a meeting," Laffin said. "It's hard to hear the kids when they want you to stay and play. But I think someday they'll understand the sacrifices you have to make."