As published in the Record Journal Tuesday October 9, 2012
By Laurie Rich Salerno
WALLINGFORD — Many visitors to Celebrate Wallingford this weekend witnessed the debut of a new town political group. It’s called “Wallingford Empowered,” and organizers say it’s devoted to getting out the vote, promoting transparency, strong ethics, and the use of technology in local government.
Over the weekend, volunteers from Wallingford Empowered handed out voter registration forms and flyers at the festival urging residents to “Spark the Conversation.” The group has been a registered Political Action Committee for about six weeks, and this was its first formal event, according to organizers.
“The whole goal is to try to encourage people who haven’t voted to try to come out and vote,” said Geno Zandri, a member and former towncouncilor, and Democratic candidate for mayor in 1999.
Zandri is one of the wellknown local Democrats in the group, which was started by local resident Richard Caplan. Caplan said the group has two functions: spurring more residents to vote and increasing discourse between the two parties that he feels has evaporated through the years.
“It’s just a group of people who’d like to re-establish ... the political conversation betweenparties that seems to have completely dissolved,” Caplan said, and “simultaneously increase the voter turnout.”
Though the members skew Democratic, Democratic Town Chairman Vincent Avallone said it is separate from the town committee.
“We’re entirely separate — although there are a lot of the same ideas and thoughts and goals,” Avallone said. He said that he is not part of the new group.
Caplan acknowledged that some of the group’s 20-plus members are Democrats, but he did not say whether the group had a political preference. He said the group advocates for better government.
“Certainly the flavor of this group is advocating significantly more transparency in government than is currently being displayed in town,” Caplan said.
Avallone, who said he had spoken with group members,said he could not say whether the overall group is Democratic.
“I don’t think they’re a pro-Dickinson group,” Avallone said, referencing Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. Dickinson was unavailable for comment, as Town Hall was closed Monday for Columbus Day. The mayor has been frequently criticized by members of both political parties for not embracing technology.
The big push right now for members is to help people register to vote or encourage those already registered to vote — but though the national election is just a month away, members say they’re actually focusing on municipal elections a year from now.
“Our goal is the local election, however we did already register people that will qualify for the presidential election,”Zandri said. Zandri is in charge of the voting effort, Caplan said. Zandri said he and other volunteers would be knocking on doors and calling registered voters who didn’t vote in the last election, and non-registered voters, to encourage them to vote. Most efforts will begin after the Nov. 6 election. The idea is to improve voting rates in solely municipal elections; in 2011, voter turnout was just 39.4 percent.
“To help people understandthat local elections are as important, if not more important, than national ones that seem to attract a higher turnout,” Caplan said.
Though for now the group’s intent is to get out the vote, Caplan said that could change, intimating larger aspirations for Wallingford Empowered.
“I think the group will evolve,” Caplan said. “Two months from now, three months from now it may have a different focus.”
The group has a website and a Facebook page. Reached Monday, Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said he hadn’t heard much about the group, but after looking at its website said he welcomed its stated goals.
“Transparency and openness are always good for better government — I welcome whoever to our process,” Fishbein said.