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It’s a landslide for ‘balanced’ slate in unprecedented Norwalk District E Democratic primary

District E Democrats check in Tuesday at Fox Run Elementary School.

Benita Raleigh, left, and Patricia Tinto sit outside Fox Run Elementary School waiting for voters Tuesday. Raleigh received the most votes in the primary and will be new to the Democratic Town Committee. Tinto got her involved, as their sons played lacrosse together years ago, she said.

NORWALK, Conn. — More than 800 Democrats voted in a District E primary Tuesday and while opinions varied, the results couldn’t be more pronounced.

The “balanced” slate completely overturned the victory won by “the original eight” in January’s caucus. No one on the Rowayton-based surprise slate won, not even would-be Board of Education member Jodi Sattler.

While everyone working the polls for the primary called the stream of voters a “trickle,” they also agreed that for a primary to determine who’d represent District E on the Democratic Town Committee, there was a lot of interest. In all, 832 of 4,771 eligible District E Democrats came out to vote, or nearly 17.5% of the available electorate. It’s more than twice the number of people who voted in the Jan. 10 caucus. Two years ago, 90 people voted in the District E caucus, according to Norwalk Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez.Former DTC member Bill Krummel, who’s been involved for decades, said he’d never seen so many people vote for DTC candidates. He called it “puzzling.”

It all stemmed from a December District E meeting where supporters of the late Mike Barbis expected to be able to vote for Jody Sattler to replace him on the Board of Education. They were told that under DTC rules, they had to have been present for three District E meetings to be able to vote, a bylaw established to prevent the equivalent of ballot stuffing.

“The way Jody was treated at that meeting was just plain appalling,” wrote Annie Allen, alleging that the DTC chose Mary Ellen Flaherty-Ludwig, a retired teacher, for the post “so that they did NOT have to pick Jody Sattler and this was one of the more blatant displays of pettiness, spite, and poor judgment I have ever seen.”

Jody Sattler talks to a voter, Tuesday at Fox Run Elementary School.

Allen was part of Sattler’s 11 candidates, who came forward the night before the caucus, according to the 11 candidates who had been announced by the DTC well in advance. Eight members of the new group won the caucus only to learn that the losers had the right to force a primary.

They did. Now they’ll be on the DTC for two years.

Most of them are veteran DTC members, continuing in that volunteer role, discussing issues monthly and endorsing candidates when the time comes. (Candidates who themselves might face a primary.)

Many people voting Tuesday said they’d never come out for a DTC election before.

  • Kimberly Greenman came to Brookside to vote because of her concerns about the school system and the tough times kids are having during covid. She voted strictly for one slate because “there are some people that we’re voting for that are going to be helping us.” She didn’t say which slate.
  • “Everybody called us,” said Chris Hussey at Rowayton Elementary School, explaining why he was there with his wife, Anne, although they’d never voted for a DTC seat before. She spoke of a social media blitz and people coming to the house to urge them to vote. “It was one of the most well publicized primaries I’ve ever been,” he said, adding that he’d taken his 96-year-old father to the Brookside poll earlier. “He wanted to vote, too.”
  • Jodi Przybisiki said she voted for DTC offices once previously but “I didn’t know much about this before.” She had come to support people she knew on both slates but really felt Sattler should have been on the Board of Education, she said.
  • Nancy Schlater said she’s lived in Rowayton for 37 years but didn’t think she’d ever voted for a DTC candidate before. She come out to support names she recognized and voted for people on both slates, and knew a Republican who asked if he could vote in the primary.

 

The group of candidates populated with veteran DTC members called itself “The Democrats for a Balanced District E,” because its slate had members from all areas of the district. The other said they were the “Original Eight” because they were the eight new voices who had won the caucus.

The Original Eight “are from the same neighborhood.  They are all from Rowayton, they are all white, most are in the same age group and are women with children in Rowayton elementary, Roton or BMHS.  They all share the same point of view,” said DTC member Galen Wells.

A number of Republicans reportedly came out to vote in Rowayton.

David Ross and Melissa Mills, poll workers at Rowayton Elementary.

“There has been a lot of frustration because we have closed primaries in Connecticut, and a lot of people tried to affiliate and were shut out just because they waited too long,” said Laura Smits, who was working the Rowayton poll. “And when you change from a party, like Republican to Democrat, obviously, there’s a three-month waiting period. So there’s lots of frustration, because they have been told to come down without all of the information. That’s been frustrating for all of us.”

Voters going to Rowayton faced a surprising challenge. Instead of going in the usual door, they had to walk around the end of a building to a door on the other side, a bit of a hike.

Some felt it was a trick to keep people from voting. “They couldn’t have made it any tougher,” one man said, calling it “like a game show challenge.”

Norwalk Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said it was because the gym is a long way from the parking lot and school is in session, and “they don’t want us walking through the school.” More ordinary primaries are held in August, “so less of a problem then and there is no school on Election Day in November, so we should be able to go in through the building.”

Screengrab from a website posted by “Democrats for a Balanced District E.” Town Committee members also appoint replacements when an elected official doesn’t complete their term.

Still, the Rowaytonites said they’d been complaining all day and didn’t understand why people still had to circle the building late in the day.

The primary also saw “unofficial checkers” at all three polls. Fox Run moderator Bob Sodaro said usually this is done in presidential elections, to increase turnout. This time, the Sattler slate had organized it.

A volunteer sat behind the people paid to check voters in, keeping track of who had come in so that calls could be made to get the no-shows to the polls, according to Sodaro. Patrick Steele, performing the chore at Fox Run, called it “interesting” though not surprising.

Elisabeth Stonehill was one of the experienced voters coming to Fox Run. “I voted because I want to see a more balanced slate,” she said.

Paul Fernandez, a Fox Run voter, said he’d come out because “I heard there’s some party switching was going on.” Primaries are overlooked, “but the party switching thing’s a little underhanded and I don’t want to see that happen.”

Three members of “The Original Eight” were registered unaffiliated before becoming Democrats, according to Wells. Sattler switched in 2019 while Sarah Wayland and Allen did it in early December, after the District E meeting that offended them.

Allen said she’s been unaffiliated because she was a journalist.

Stickers available for Fox Run voters included ones featuring suffragettes.

“Since the election, we have been accused of being interlopers, insurgents and Republicans. These criticisms are categorically false. None of the eight endorsed candidates have ever been registered Republicans,” Sara Ingrassia wrote in a “letter to parents.”

Three of the 11 people who reportedly came forward just before the January caucus had been registered Republican in the past. They did not win the caucus and therefore weren’t “endorsed.”

Among the voters coming out without much knowledge of who was on the ballot was a man at Fox Run, who queried candidates on both sides before going into the polls. He told NancyOnNorwalk that he’d read a print paper article and didn’t really understand what the issue was, but had the impression that it was “sort of a behind the scenes thing.”

He felt “fresh, new thoughts are always good” so he was going to vote for the group who had told him they were the “new voice,” although he knew his wife was “going to go half and half” and some of their votes would cancel each other. But, “Eleven can’t do anything in a group of 55 except interject new thoughts,” he said.

The results were:

  • Benita A. (Watford) Raleigh 536 (winner)
  • Ed Camacho 519(winner)
  • Stuart W. Wells III 504 (winner)
  • Colin A. Hosten​ 477 (winner)
  • Mary Ellen Flaherty-Ludwig 471 (winner)
  • Tina L. Duryea 471 (winner)
  • Kevin M. Tepas​ 470 (winner)
  • Paul B. Barringer II 456 (winner)
  • Esther Murillo​ 456 (winner)
  • Lucia C. Rilling​ 451 (winner)
  • Priscilla Feral 430 (winner)
  • Jody A. Sattler 352
  • Aimee Malloy Ableman 342
  • Alyson W. Smith 341
  • Sarah S. Wayland 326
  • Anne Allen 324
  • Sara J. Ingrassia 323
  • Todd R. Deklyn 311
  • Camille Josephine Legnani 301

 

Items on a table Tuesday outside Fox Run Elementary School.

Raleigh and Feral will be new to the DTC.

Legnani is a Brien McMahon High School senior who is part of a group advising Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella on equity issues, she said. Politics isn’t new, as she has interned for U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich).

“I wanted to make an impact on our town,” she said, as she stood Tuesday evening outside Fox Run, waiting to greet voters. “…Regardless if I win or lose, my work isn’t going to stop. I’m just here to make a difference.” It was going well, as, “It seems like a lot of people are becoming more involved. I think that was definitely one of my goals coming into this…. It’s just nice to spread awareness on voting, which is something that’s obviously so important and timely.”

Camille Josephine Legnani, left, a Brien McMahon High School student, helps set up a table, Tuesday outside Fox Run Elementary School.

18 comments

John O'Neill March 2, 2022 at 6:22 am

The “balanced” ticket is anything but balanced. The voters of District E have been suckered by the Political machine. Revaluation is coming, DC fun money will run out. Norwalk Taxpayers in District E will wonder what happened. But it will be too late. The “big” tent is really an illusion.
Maybe Satler & Co have finally realized the Democratic Party is really not Democratic at all.

Tina Duryea March 2, 2022 at 7:43 am

I am so proud of the hard work our slate put in to talk to voters, inform them of the election and earn their support. I am also impressed by the commitment and work put in by the other side. We all win when more people are involved and educated on local politics.

Frank Izzo March 2, 2022 at 11:05 am

Congratulations to all. Win or lose, it’s the vote that makes democracy work! Just as there’s always another bus, there’s always another election.

Meggan Douglas March 2, 2022 at 11:08 am

Hello, I admit that I should probably know this, but I cannot recall- Do any of the elected people have children in the NPS system currently? I love Benita and think she may have gone through the schools with her children (though I’m not sure about that?) but I would love to know if anyone can clarify for me please? Thank you!

Piberman March 2, 2022 at 12:16 pm

We now have further confidence Norwalk will continue to have failing public schools where most grads fail to meet CT Edu standards. Not a single candidate pledged to sharply improve our well known failed public school management.How embarrassing.

Patrick Cooper March 2, 2022 at 2:40 pm

The results at first shocked him – as they were sudden and unexpected. His cabal of loyalists were taken by surprise by a group that wanted to have more independence – new, fresh ideas added to the debate. (to join NATO?). But – this could not stand. Paranoid but powerful, he rolled out his army – and used his considerable advantages (robo-calls) to spread propaganda that on the surface – created fear, division, and a call to arms. But beneath the surface – the messaging revealed they are not what they profess to be: Democrats = big tent. “Balanced” was a diversion away from “loyalist & insider” – in other words – controllable puppets. . Original 8 was done with a Scarlett letter. The upshot was – can’t trust to have white, affluent, women, from a certain zip code, and parents of children in the abysmal system, with even a tiny crumb of influence. As one of the enablers remarked today on a NPFE thread – “we’ll still be in power”. What a slip. Power – there’s the truth. That’s the whole biscuit.

You might think I’m talking about Putin – but no – I’m talking about Harry.

How extreme are Norwalk Dems? March 2, 2022 at 2:43 pm

If any evidence is needed to bear witness of how extreme Norwalk Dems are, just look through the results of this ‘vote.’

The Harry regime worked to acquire significant funding from outside Norwalk to make this happen.

District E voters you’d think would ask themselves, why are District E representatives so important that over $10k be spent, that Opinion letters be written to the The Hour containing incredible lies and indictments. If these district reps are so inclusive, why the extreme efforts to invalidate?

Why is this ‘insider club’ acting in such an exclusive ‘stay away’ manner? Funny, the Norwalk DTC website homepage, under the banner of Eloise begs people to get involved. After this disaster, why would anyone want to get involved!?

Funny, these people who fought to invalidate the original vote just want to rubber stamp the Dem. narrative and playbook – regardless of any local impact. Evidence is the blanket approval of Bob Duff High School without the scant debate on the topic or the effects on the desperate need for a school in SONO.

Gone are the days where Mike Lyons and Mike Barbis worked together on really difficult challenges. Remember when they had a SONO school ready to go and Harry and team yanked out the carpet from the plan? Tell me, what was ‘balanced’ about that, ‘balanced slate.’

Really sad day for Norwalk. Really sad.

Pamela Parkington March 2, 2022 at 2:53 pm

John O’Neil, the “Balanced Ticket” included Dems from every neighborhood within District E, the other slate did not. The were made up entirely by Rowayton residents. Not very balanced.

Voters are smarter than you think they are and to say they were “suckered” insults every person who showed up to vote.

The Balanced Slate were made up by some of the most seasoned campaign volunteers the NDTC has. Many that have been the boots on the ground for Dem candidates not only locally, but statewide and some for national campaigns in other states. They have years of experience and knowledge on how to get out the vote.

Our job as DTC and Dem District volunteers is to elect Democrats, if that offends you, then oh, well. But that’s what we do, we get Dems elected. There’s no big nefarious plot going on like you think there is. We are your neighbors,fellow Norwalkers that just happen to volunteer for the Dem party. No more, no less.

As for a Big Tent, yes we are. We have one of the most diverse DTC’s in the State and have helped elect the most diverse Council ever in Norwalk’s history.

It sounds like you’re just upset that our “Big Tent” isn’t made up with people like you. All I can say is, join the Republican party then.

Congratulations to the Balanced Slate, I look forward to working with you on the DTC and the various upcoming campaigns.

To the Original Eight slate, great job and please continue stay involved. We welcome new volunteers.

If others would like to join us Norwalk Dems, please reach out to the NDTC. They will guide you to your District committees.

Pamela Parkington March 2, 2022 at 3:06 pm

Oh, and John, the DTC doesn’t legislate, nor do we set mill rates or have a say in revaluation. The duly elected members of the Council do that.

Members that were elected by the voters in Norwalk.

If you would like me to send you our bylaws, I can also throw in the State election laws toofor reference, I’d be happy to. 😊

Disappointing Result March 2, 2022 at 3:12 pm

Disappointing that District E went for the status quo when change is desperately needed in this city. The amount of money spent, lies spread, and effort put in by the mayor and his supporters makes me wonder why they were so afraid of having a few new members in the DTC….

I hope this is a wake up call to the DTC that they need to listen to the parents of Norwalk AND welcome new people to the table. We can’t have the same people either holding multiple positions or being married to those that are currently holding positions in government. That is certainly not “balanced”….

I hope this group doesn’t give up and keeps on pushing!

Signed, A Norwalk Democrat

Seriously? March 2, 2022 at 3:44 pm

Meggan Douglas – Yes, Benita’s son and daughters went through Norwalk Public Schools, and Benita was an involved parent. I haven’t seen her in a long time, but she left the most favorable impression upon me over the years.

On another note, I’m sorely disappointed that none of the challengers won the primary, and I hope they will make their voices heard. The DTC would do well to welcome them into the fold.

Benita Watford Raleigh March 2, 2022 at 4:06 pm

Hi Meggan, in answer to your question about my children. They were at Rowayton elementary, Side by Side Charter School, 2 of them attended Roton Middle School, and all 3 attended Brien McMahon. As a parent who had been a School Social Worker after receiving my MSW, I knew the importance of parental involvement and I was very very involved at both Rowayton Elementary and at Roton and particularly Brien McMahon. I was active early on trying to get more teachers of color in the schools, helped get after school busing for Rowayton school so all the kids there could attend after school activities. I was a parent on the first Governance Committee, I volunteered with the PTA’s and became the parent liaison with the BMHS Alumni Association because I was in the school so much, even though I am not an Alumni of BMHS. I still am a member of the Alumni association helping them earn money for scholarships and to give to the BMHS clubs who don’t have booster organizations. I think I have a fairly broad experience with the schools both as someone who used to work in the schools and as someone whose children attended Norwalk Public Schools. Hope this is helpful in understanding more of at least some of my background. Benita Watford Raleigh

John O'Neill March 2, 2022 at 11:21 pm

@Pamela: First, thank you for your volunteerism and your passion. Although, I can’t disagree with you more. First, you claim Dems are a Big Tent that welcomes all. Great sounds bite, at the same time you cite this “other” slate. Aren’t some of those others long time Democrats with children in our struggling school system? This balanced slate you talk about – How balanced is a slate set up to keep “those others” out? Seasoned candidates? What does seasoned mean?
What about “fresh” ideas? Not welcome? It sure seems that way to a novice who doesn’t know much about politics in town. The slate of eight are welcome? It sure doesn’t seem that way to me. I’m guessing that “slate” doesn’t feel very welcome. Again, I’m new to this stuff. Maybe I’m missing something?
As far as my line using the term “suckers” maybe that was a stretch.
Someone once told me that expecting a different outcome using the same plan is Insanity. Maybe District E voters are not suckers, but in my opinion they might be insane.

Confused March 3, 2022 at 6:18 am

What was wrong with the original vote? What was the legal basis or reason for having this primary?

Resident March 3, 2022 at 6:45 am

Sad day for Norwalk indeed. For a “balanced” slate/group who promotes inclusivity, I certainly detect some bias and discrimination in the description of the newcomers. Back to the status quo, which is what we seem to do best.

Ben G March 3, 2022 at 10:48 am

@Pamela,

Spoken like a true politician. If everyone was in fact welcome and you didn’t just want the so-called “original eight” re elected for your own highly partisan and political reasons you would have just accepted the results from a month ago. Instead you didn’t and you spend thousands of dollars to ensure the original results were overturned and the people the DTC wanted elected were elected. To me that says it all. It’s very black and white. No gray area whatsoever.

You can spin it anyway you want but the fact of the matter is the DTC did everything could to negate what was done just a month or so ago.

A Joke? March 3, 2022 at 12:01 pm

@Pamela – Genuine question – was your throwaway line about welcoming new volunteers supposed to be a joke?
I really respect and admire your volunteerism and your work for the local Democratic party but to describe the NDTC as “welcoming” is just not true. I actually find it really hard to believe that the members of the committee truly think of themselves as a welcoming organization, based on actions not words. Perhaps you’ve been so closely involved in it for such a long time that you do not realize that from the outside, it really comes across as an exclusive club, with arcane rules designed to dissuade people from getting involved, and a few gatekeepers who ensure that admitted members meet their purity tests.
I’m actually not sure that’s a bad thing (and it’s been successful for our party), but I don’t think you should fool yourselves that you are welcoming or inclusive. It’s always seemed easier to volunteer and do election phone banking through other Democratic Party organizations than to try to work with the NDTC.

Tartuffo March 3, 2022 at 4:52 pm

I couldn’t disagree more with you Pamela, and thank you Patrick and John for your intelligent analysis. And, please don’t let the covert of “big Democratic tent” be the illusion for a promised land. It isn’t! I think this is unfortunately just the illustration of the polarization that Trump has created, and the belief that there is no hope for this land of the braves to come together under any other tent but the Democrats’. Please people, think again, do not vote for something you do not believe in and refrain from the “vote against” because this is exactly what led us to this chaos.
If you have not been a “life long Democrat”, you have no voice in their tent. The same goes for the Republicans. So, I say, how will you change that? “Go vote” is a trick statement. I don’t know about you, but I know that if I don’t like the candidate, I don’t vote for the opposition. I just stay home. Or better yet, all the youngsters out there, how about you creating a third player? Maybe that will rid us of the “life long politician” concept. Think about it for the next time.

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