Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon Democrats put Schaefer at top of slate

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011 11:53 AM EDT

VERNON — Democrats affirmed Pauline Schaefer as their mayoral candidate and endorsed 12 others for Town Council and Board of Education during the party’s caucus Wednesday.

Town Chairman Steve Taylor said he hopes the party can regain a balance of power on the council and board after four years of overwhelming Republican dominance.

Republican elected officials now outnumber Democrats 2-1 as the council has eight Republicans, three Democrats, and one unaffiliated member, while the Board of Education has six Republicans and three Democrats.

Republicans on the board and council rarely have broken party lines, rendering Democrats unwitting observers, they say, unable to do much more than comment.

“It just seems to me like the Republicans don’t care what the Democrats have to say even if it’s a good idea,” Taylor said. The attitude of the majority is “we’ve got the votes and whatever you say doesn’t make any difference.”

In Republican Mayor Jason L. McCoy’s first term in office, members of his party sometimes strayed from the bloc and voted with Democrats, but that hasn’t happened in the last two years, Taylor said.

While Democrats may not be able to cast meaningful votes, “you can’t stop freedom of speech, they still have the right to speak, but about all you can really do is hope that maybe some of the public will wake up and say, ‘This isn’t right,’” Taylor said. “I’m hoping in November that’ll turn into votes.”

Incumbents Michael Winkler and Marie Herbst will run for re-election to the council, while Edie Chernack, Thomas DiDio, Virginia Gingras, Terilynn Rogers, Thomasina Russell, and Ronald Scussel fill out the slate of candidates.

School board incumbent Paul Stansel and Terri Goldich, who was appointed mid-term to fill the vacancy left by Susan Norlie-Hesnan, will seek to keep their seats. Armajit Buttar and Michele Arn also are running for the board on the Democratic slate.

Stansel and Buttar are seeking four-year terms on the board and Goldich and Arn are running for two-year terms.

Several Democratic leaders expressed their support for Schaefer on Wednesday, including state Rep. Claire Janowski D-Vernon, who listed a litany of volunteer efforts Schaefer has been involved with over the years, praising her longtime commitment to public service and community involvement.

“She cares deeply about our town and its residents,” Janowski said. “I believe that she will work very hard to keep a watchful eye on spending. … She will also work with people to get things done, which I don’t think is happening now.”

Audrey Courtney read a letter from her husband U.S. Rep. Joseph D. Courtney, D-2nd District, detailing his close relationship with the Schaefer family.

But that friendship is not why he’s supporting Schaefer for mayor, Courtney said, calling her a “pragmatic leader” who is “ready to lead our town based on her intimate knowledge of its strengths and needs … with one overriding priority to move the town forward.”

Several speakers said a particularly rancorous tone has dominated town politics during McCoy’s four years at the helm.

“Perhaps the worst aspect of the current mayor is his psychological abuse of staff” and elected officials, Winkler said. “Polly Schaefer is honest and ethical … and she knows this town.”

Former state Rep. Thomasina Clemons said that when she sees people from surrounding towns, “they talk about how uncivil we are to each other. ... I think that gives us the kind of reputation that scares people and that makes us the butt of their comments.”

Schaefer, meanwhile, is humble and respectful and, “Polly actually does have a feeling for Vernon and she has a feeling for people here,” Clemons said. “She’s busy, but she doesn’t go around blowing her own horn very often.”

Former school board member and returning candidate Amarjit Buttar said he has known Schaefer and her husband Carl — who joined the Democratic Town Committee on Wednesday — since he moved to town in 1977.

“They are so involved,” Buttar said, describing Schaefer as, “quiet, a go-getter. I think that’s what we need and that’s what we’ll get in November.”

Taylor said he hopes the significant turnout at the caucus is a signal that residents are ready for change after years of intimidation and doublespeak from Republicans.

“I think we’ve got a good cross-section of experience,” Taylor said of the candidates. “We’re serious about taking back our town and doing what’s best for Vernon.”

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