Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Race for mayor gets nasty as Election Day draws near

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
November 2, 2007

VERNON - With near constant political sparring over the Town Council table, few were surprised that the race for mayor this year got nasty, resorting to name calling and claims of deception and misinformation on both sides.

At stake also is control of the council, which historically tends to shift between majority rule every two years.

Since 2005 Democrat Mayor Ellen L. Marmer, 68, has wielded the gavel presiding over a Republican-led council. Her challenger, Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy, 36, a council member since 1998, sits close by, caucusing votes with every recess.

Anyone who has attended the Town Council meetings or watched the videos on the cable access channel knows that acrimony rules. Outside the meetings, the ill-will ratchets up to a new level.

Republicans call Marmer an "empress" or "dictator" in nearly every conversation. They constantly complain that their issues are not placed on the agenda, that they're never consulted, and that vital details are not released until it's too late to make an informed decision.

Democrats, meanwhile, say Republicans throw up roadblocks and vote down every idea they have, are "bitter" over losing the last mayoral elections, and their campaign fliers are filled with untruths and "slanderous" material.

Petitioning candidate for mayor, James Webb Wilson, says "both sides are hiding their heads in the sand" with the sniping and are not discussing the real issues.

"We have some serious problems in our town," Wilson said. "Some of the campaigning hasn't been too nice. You look at these people and they're suppose to be civil servants. But there are some things I've seen that have just rubbed me the wrong way."

In this type of campaign a debate between the candidates is more than warranted - it's downright necessary. But that's not going to happen this year.

All candidates in September said they would gladly debate. The high school Social Studies Department even offered to host the event.

But days and weeks marched by and a misunderstanding on the Republican side over who was suppose to contact who left no time to schedule anything. "We went to them back in September - we wanted this debate.

Usually it's the challenger who requests it, not the incumbent," Marmer said. Republican campaign chairman John Anderson actually agreed, sort of.

"When we wanted to debate Marmer two years ago, we challenged her, but this was not a campaign where we gave it a lot of thought. It was not high on my priority list this time around," Anderson said.

By the time the two sides connected late last week it was too late, Anderson said, as McCoy, a lawyer by trade, just began jury selection for a trial and was no longer available.

What did raise the hackles of Republicans was a three-minute Web cast of McCoy that was posted on the Internet two weeks ago by someone in the opposing camp.

Republicans contend that the video titled "3 Minutes with Jason McCoy" was posted to embarrass him.

The site, which as of Wednesday had 373 hits, plugs McCoy as a candidate for mayor of Vernon who has "promised he'll bring a sense of decorum and class to the meetings, and listen to everyone. Enjoy as he attacks a helpless town person at a meeting."

McCoy said last week he had no problems with the Web cast of him questioning Town Assessor David Wheeler as it shows his passion and commitment for keeping taxes down. Republican Town Chairman Hal Cummings echoed that sentiment.

"What's wrong with that - three minutes of beating up on the tax guy - didn't we fight a revolution for that?" Cummings asked.

Democrats, meanwhile, take great exception to McCoy's three-page flier that went out as an insert to a local advertising publication.

Tom Didio, Democratic Town Chairman, says the insert is "deceptive" and defamatory, claiming that the mayor likes to punish people who don't fall in step.

The flier highlights McCoy's list of accomplishments, most of which Didio says should be attributed to Marmer, and goes on to promote his service on the Public Safety Committee. Records show that in the last 26 meetings McCoy has missed 24, Didio points out.

Anderson acknowledges McCoy did miss those meetings, but only because a Democrat was named chair and the group took a different direction.

"Jason saw the hand writing on the wall and saw his input would not be valued, that's why he disengaged himself," Anderson said.

The worst is credit McCoy takes for passage of a tax exemption for owners of a hybrid vehicle, Didio says. The vote occurred after the flier had been distributed. The measure passed along party lines in a 6-5 vote but was ruled invalid as, according to the town charter, at least seven votes are needed to enact an ordinance.

What's missing from the hyperbole is McCoy's vision for the future, Didio says.

"They're hitting us with all this slanderous mudslinging - do we really want these people leading us? Where are their forward-thinking ideas?" Didio said.

"Marmer has a record for success," Didio added. "She has brought in businesses to alleviate taxes and we're going in the right direction with the intermodel transportation center, the public safety building, and the tax break for seniors."

Anderson says that the Republican vision is for better cooperation and communication between the mayor's office, the Town Council, and the school board so that when budgets are put together, it's a cooperative effort.

"We've been frustrated in the last couple of years," Anderson said. "We're painted as ogres for making cuts to her double digit proposals. But if you strip away everything the council and mayor do, it comes down to one thing: the budget."

Wilson, 65, a retired teacher and data processing manager, says he wants to see more social services on the grassroots level and in the neighborhoods.

In addition to the mayor's seat, voters will choose Tuesday among 16 candidates vying to sit on the Town Council. In all, 12 candidates will be elected to the council, but legally, no one party can hold more than eight seats.

Right now, Republicans hold an 8-4 majority on the Town Council.

Democrats have nominated incumbents Pauline A. Schaefer, Marie A. Herbst, Bill Fox, Mary A. Oliver, and Connie Simon. David H. Herrmann and Inland Wetlands Commission Chairman Steve Taylor, who both ran for council seats in 2005, and long time party member Michael A. Winkler are also vying for council seats.

Republicans, meanwhile, have nominated incumbents Brian R. Motola, Bill Campbell, Daniel A. Champagne, Mark S. Etre, and Daniel E. Anderson. Former mayor Diane Wheelock is joining the Republican ticket along with newcomers Nancy E. Herold, administrative assistant to more than six former mayors, and former longtime school board member Peggy A. Jackle.

Both sides believe that their party should take the mayor's seat and also control of the council to foster better cooperation.

"Having a group of people willing to work with you is beneficial to the town. You can't be in opposition to everything," Didio said.

"I don't see a whole bunch of negativity out there," countered Anderson. "Our job on our side of the aisle is to make a case that it's time for a change. It's up to the voters."

©Journal Inquirer 2007