Last Friday, Professor Devoto wrote a letter to Wesleyan students, giving us advice and suggestions for the upcoming November 2011 Middletown elections. While his desire to educate us on the candidates and the nuances of voting in Middletown is laudable, I must respectfully disagree with two of his recommendations and some of his comments. In particular, I disagree with his suggestions that we vote for Sebastian Giuliano for Mayor and Molly Salafia for Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z). As Wesleyan students and residents of Middletown, I believe it is in our best interest to vote for Daniel Drew as Mayor, and for candidates other than Molly Salafia for P&Z.
In the race for Commissioner of Planning and Zoning:
While Professor Devoto has pointed out that Ms. Salafia is a young and dynamic architect, this is not, and should not be, the sole criteria for this job. Molly Salafia has urged Wesleyan students not to vote in Middletown elections. She seems to suggest that we should not involve ourselves in our own community, and that our concerns are of lesser value than those of other Middletown residents who live here longer than most Wesleyan students. However, most of us will live in this community for at least four years, others longer. Some of us may choose to stay on and work, teach, raise our families here. In order to better the relationship between Wesleyan and Middletown, it is imperative that we elect candidates that encourage and foster dialog and cooperation among all segments of the Middletown community, not discourage it.
In the race for Mayor:
Here again, I must respectfully disagree with Professor Devoto. Daniel Drew’s platform is not contradictory, and I believe that he is the more progressive of the candidates running for Mayor. As an elected council member, he has remained consistent in his support of the arts, education, and sustainable environmental policies – all of which are issues that are of importance to Wesleyan students. He helped reduce income taxes for Middletown residents by going against current Mayor Giuliano’s efforts to raise them, and has also been vocal and proactive in his desire to better the Wesleyan-Middletown relationship.
Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, Mayor Giuliano has been inconsistent on many of the issues. He has successfully courted socially conservative and fiscally regressive Republicans, including endorsements from anti-choice activist State Sen. Len Suzio. His campaign manager, Chris Healy, is the former Republican State Party chairman and a national supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential candidacy. Mayor Giuiano has tried repeatedly to reduce funding for public education in Middletown while increasing taxes for residents. And, while he likes to take credit for restoring and supporting funding for local arts programs, it was the Democratic-controlled Council, not incumbent Mayor Giuliano, who kept arts funding intact when the Mayor’s budget proposed cutting it.
What is perhaps most important to Wesleyan students is how Mayor Giuliano has engaged (or not) with our University. Contrary to what some have implied, the Mayor is not a prominent part of Wesleyan life: most students don’t even know who he is. The fact that he showed up early and stayed late at campaign debates does not equate to being engaged with the University and its students or “readily accessible” to students. Giuliano has failed to encourage students to be proactive in the political process and has been silent when supporters have spoken and acted in ways that seem to discourage students from exercising their constitutional right to vote in Middletown. In short, he has been neglectful of Wesleyan students or worse. For example, in May 2008, students claimed that police officers used pepper spray, Tasers and attack dogs on them when they were celebrating the end of finals on Fountain Avenue. Many felt that Mayor Giuliano failed to act in a timely or appropriate manner to address what many Wesleyan students felt was a clear case of excessive force by the police.
Consistent with efforts of some of his supporters to discourage or make it difficult for Wesleyan students to vote, Giuliano stated at a meeting in 2006 with the Center for Community Partnerships that Middletown is a dangerous place, and that we, as Wesleyan students, should not involve ourselves too much with other Middletown residents (see Zach Strassburger’s Wespeak from February 2006). It disturbs me that our Mayor would say this, and yet not take the steps needed to turn this supposedly dangerous environment into a safer place for students, so that we can safely involve ourselves in the community in which we live. Certainly, allowing police officers to use pepper spray and attack dogs on students, is hardly the route to a safer community.
It also appears that the Mayor has failed to properly address intimidating statements made by one of his campaign volunteers and a current Middletown police officer, Tom Sebold. This officer has posted threatening and intimidating comments on Middletown and Wesleyan news outlets that there will be legal consequences for Wesleyan students who register and vote in Middletown: “You all stated on a legal document that you are residents of Middletown, CT. There are also legal penalties for falsely claiming your residence here if you are not and just attend school here. Don’t forget to vote!” (October 26, 2011, MiddletownPatch) However, according to the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research, college students may be considered residents of their college town for voting purposes, regardless of where these same students pay taxes and register their car. In yet another post, Officer Sebold posted this comment in reference to a potential challenge by a supposed-Wesleyan student to the upcoming re-election of Joe Serra: “The issue of Wesleyan student voter registration will take on a new dimension if Joe Serra is challenged. (…) The Hartford Courant has called Middletown politics a "blood sport". STAY TUNED!” (October 27, 2011, Middletown Patch). These posts strike me as outright voter intimidation and an attempt at discourage us from exerting our constitutional right to vote in our college town. From what I understand, the Mayor has not made any public statements to denounce Tom Sebold’s comments, despite students having directly addressed their concerns about them to him.
We, as Wesleyan students, are residents of Middletown for at least four years: this represents about 20% of our lives thus far, and for many of us it represents 100% of our lives as eligible voters. We greatly affect the Middletown community by being a major economic and cultural engine for the town. Conversely, the politics of Middletown greatly affect how we interact with the very community in which we reside. In my own personal view, Mayor Giuliano has done little to encourage Wesleyan students to involve ourselves with the Middletown community, and gives the impression that he doesn’t want us to vote here, even though we have a legal right to do so.
With all of this in mind, I urge all registered students to vote on November 8, 2011 for Daniel Drew for Mayor of Middletown. He has engaged with student numerous times throughout this semester alone, such as at a Democracy Matters event, the mayoral debate, and through multiple get-out-the-vote efforts. He has remained consistent and progressive in his views, and has promised to better the Wesleyan-Middletown relationship.
With kindest regards,
Gabriela De Golia,
A concerned Wesleyan student, and Vice President of the Wesleyan Democrats