Correction, 11:46 p.m.: David Watts lives in state Rep. Larry Cafero’s district.
NORWALK, Conn. – An incendiary charge followed the peaceful voting by Democrats Thursday night in Norwalk District A: Common Councilman David Watts accused state Rep. Chris Perone and Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells of colluding to change the dynamics of the district’s representation on the Democratic Town Committee (DTC).
Perone tried to prevent Watts, the district chairman, from getting re-elected to the DTC, Watts said. He tried to prevent Eloisa Melendez from winning as well, he said.
“I was notified that Chris Perone worked with several members of the district to try to purge us out,” said Watts. “We beat back his little coup that he tried to pull in the ward.”
Both Watts and Melendez won election easily.
Watts has formed an exploratory committee, David Watts 2014, and said he is considering a run for state representative. Although he lives in the legislative district currently represented by state Rep. Larry Cafero (R-142), sources say Watts is gunning for Perone’s seat. Watts has not confirmed or denied that.
The mood was upbeat and friendly earlier in the hallways of Kendall Elementary School as the latest Norwalk election drew to a close. Watts’s wife and mother-in-law checked voters in; two people made it in just before the 9 p.m. closing time, but one voter who arrived minutes later was turned away.
Then things began to sour.
Former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel grew frustrated as Watts, who has been District A chairman since Garfunkel resigned the post in the run-up to the Democratic mayoral primary, read off ballots too fast for Garfunkel and the three other Democrats tallying the results to keep up. The result was a recount, as the tallies did not match. It was obvious who had won, but the vote numbers were widely disparate.
The second tally resulted in a much better result, but the voting numbers for two of the winning candidates did not match. It was 9:45 p.m. Garfunkel wanted to count again. Watts refused.
“It’s my birthday and I really worked hard to produce this but I want to go home because it’s my birthday,” he said.
After Garfunkel and others left, Watts voiced his feelings about Perone.
Perone had showed up to vote in District A, he said. Wells had changed the district lines, he said; although Perone lives on East Rocks Road and was a District D councilman for years “Stuart took it upon himself as the registrar of voters to move the line and make him a part of District A,” he said.
Changing a municipal district line requires a charter revision, Watts said.
“I honestly think this was some dirty politics and the voters of District A rejected it,” said Watts. “I just feel that, as the chairman, we have always been autonomous and we always work together. But to give him an advantage in a potential primary. … Stuart Wells did this to give him an advantage. I am overwhelmed because we weren’t prepared to take this on and we had to organize in one day’s notice.”
Unsuccessful DTC candidates Elsa Peterson Obuchowski, David Jaeger and Garfunkel worked with Perone, he said, declining to give details.
“I am going to formally request what was the decision to move Chris Perone into a district that he has never lived in,” he said. “… I wanted to support all the incumbents. That was my goal, to try to get all the incumbents to work it out. Some person wanted to change the dynamics of the district and we had to go through this.”
Neither Perone nor Wells responded to late-night attempts to contact them. Wells has previously told NancyOnNorwalk that it had been widely believed for years that Perone lived in District D. Recently it was discovered, upon closer examination of the district lines, that he is in District A, he said.
Obuchowski expressed surprised that she had been accused.
“I decided to run for DTC because I would like to help voters be better informed about why we have a DTC, when DTC meetings take place, what issues the DTC deals with, why voters should support Democratic candidates, etc. I can state unequivocally that I am not aware of any sort of ‘coup’ engineered by anyone,” she wrote in an email.
Garfunkel confirmed Perone had come to Kendall.
“I didn’t know if he was in the district. I was wondering why he was there myself,” he said.
Garfunkel said he supports Perone, but, “I have never been involved in any sort of organizational thing. I don’t know of any kind of organized coup.”
He did see organization of a different type, he said.
“It was obvious that people were told how to vote. The ballots were in a particular order, I noticed that as we were counting them,” he said.
He went on to slam Watts in a followup email.
“I have always been of the opinion and very vocal that when there are an abundance of prospective candidates for the district committee, that the already-elected officials should yield to other active members of the party, thus allowing for larger voice of membership,” he wrote. “The elected Dems already have a recognized voice within the ranks. It also helps in growth and development of future candidates. It appears that Mr. Watts disagrees. By his statements it is apparent that Mr. Watts is only looking out for his own self-interests and overlooking the long-term goals of the party.”
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