On Tuesday, 9,541 Middletown residents and Wesleyan students flocked to polling places to vote in the municipal elections and elected Democrat Dan Drew the new mayor by a margin of approximately 640 votes over incumbent Republican Sebastian Giuliano. Despite controversies over alleged voter intimidation, student political leaders estimated that more University students voted this year than in past mayoral elections. Overall voter turnout increased by approximately 13 percent from the last mayoral election in 2009.
“I really enjoyed my six years here, but I also feel kind of like a weight has been lifted off me,” Giuliano said. “I’m looking forward to being a private citizen, at least for a while. Maybe sometimes things are over when they’re meant to be over. Now, it’s Dan’s turn to make of this what he thinks is best.”
Drew said that he is looking forward to building the relationship between Middletown and the University.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to serve Middletown, and to strengthen the bonds between the city and the University,” he said. “I really don’t even want to separate the two. The University is a huge part of what Middletown is.”
The Wesleyan Republicans helped extensively with Giuliano’s campaign, aiding with phone banking and door-to-door campaigning off campus, among other things.
“I feel the voters of Middletown made a huge mistake,” Wesleyan Republicans President and Treasurer of College Republicans National Committee Alex Levin ’12 said. “I think they elected someone who has no political experience and no backbone. His vision of Middletown is fed into his ear.”
Other Wesleyan students were pleased with the results.
“It was great to see Wesleyan participating, but it was the voice of the whole Middletown community that said it’s time to change direction,” said Wesleyan Democrats (WesDems) President Ben Florsheim ’14. “There is so much more [Middletown] can do to realize its potential as a city, and I think a lot of people recognized that and were willing to give someone new a shot. I’m really excited to see how he does.”
As in past years, the Office of Community Service provided vans for students to take from Usdan and Lawn Avenue to polling centers. According to estimates by both Levin and Florsheim, many more Wesleyan students voted this year than in the past. Some Middletown residents were happy with Wesleyan voter participation.
“We’ve seen quite a few Wesleyan students,” said Executive Director of Middletown’s North End Action Team (NEAT) Izzi Greenberg ’05 who was working to pass out non-partisan information at MacDonough Elementary School on Election Day. “They’ve been very diligent about reading information about the candidates and having an educated vote.”
NEAT Board member Cookie Quinones echoed Greenberg’s views.
“It was nice seeing the Wesleyan students coming down and getting involved in voting,” Quinones said.
This increase in student turnout to polls occurred despite confusion over whether or not students who had registered using their WesBox addresses instead of their residence halls were eligible to vote. Every voter who had registered using their WesBox number as their “dwelling address” received a letter informing them they should come to the Registrar’s Office to change their listed address in order to find out their proper polling location. According to both Levin and Florsheim, no students were turned away from voting on election day.
Florsheim, along with other WesDems, had been helping students register to vote using WesBox numbers, as had been accepted by the Registrar’s Office for years. The clarification, which came after Giuliano requested an investigation into the validity of Wesleyan student voting registration, meant that students could not all vote at the Middletown Senior Center as had been done in the past.
“It was a big mistake on our part, and it was a big mistake on the Registrar’s part,” Florsheim said of registering students with WesBox numbers in the past.
Giuliano came to campus last week to inform students that they needed to confirm their address changes with the Registrar. However, Connecticut’s Secretary of State Denise Merrill confirmed that students need only go to the proper polling location based on their dwelling address to vote.
“I don’t think [Giuliano] was trying to mislead anybody, but he did mislead them,” Florsheim said.
Levin viewed Giuliano’s efforts as entirely good-natured.
“He could have sat quiet and let all the registrations be challenged on Election Day, but instead he notified students to make sure that they were eligible to vote,” he said.
Some Wesleyan students viewed the letters as a political tactic.
“I thought [the letter] was pathetic, especially when I found out it wasn’t the whole truth,” said Sade Jack ’14. “It just shows how much of an impact Wesleyan students can make on this election, and how scared [Middletown’s Republican party] is of that impact.”
Some students may have been misled in other ways as well. Statements published in The Middletown Press, Middletown Patch, and Middletown Eye included quotes from Middletown police officer and Giuliano campaign volunteer Tom Sebold, who said that students need to pay Connecticut taxes and have a Connecticut driver’s license in order to vote.
“We got legal opinions from the Secretary of the State and the Registrars that said that the comments were a misrepresentation or an outright fabrication of the law,” Florsheim said. “There was a clear pattern that there was a demographic that wanted to prevent students from voting.”
However, Levin said that he believes the charges of voter intimidation were fabricated.
“I think that the voter intimidation issue was something that the Democrats made up out of nowhere,” he said. “Giuliano and pretty much the entire Republican slate never did anything to intimidate voters. [WesDems] completely misread everything in Molly [Salafia]’s message. All she was asking was that students make informed decisions. In no way was she saying that students should not vote.”
WesDems put up fliers around the school debunking the alleged claims by Sebold and newly elected member of Middletown’s Planning and Zoning Commission Molly Salafia. The flier linked both Sebold and Salafia to Mayor Giuliano.
“I think that the more explicit comments, like Tom Sebold’s, kind of backfired,” Florsheim said. “Getting college students to vote can be like pushing on thread. If you want to get a college student to care about something—a Wesleyan student in particular—say that they can’t change it.”
Levin was outraged that WesDems fliers linked the comments of Sebold and Salafia to Giuliano.
“That flier was a cheap shot below the belt, and in my four years at Wesleyan I have never been as upset at the Wesleyan Democrats,” Levin said. “Our clubs have always had differences, but we have always gotten along. At this point I would never work with the WesDems again as long as Ben is President and they continue to use despicable tactics, such as lying to students about voter intimidation, to score votes.”
Despite the controversies, Florsheim noted that this was a particularly significant election for Middletown.
“It was an interesting election,” he said. “It was eye-opening in terms of how local politics works.”