Letter Back Home: Fairfield, CT

The Fairfield town seal. // Credit: Fairfield Town website.

The Fairfield town seal. // Credit: Fairfield Town website.

Fairfield, Connecticut is a beautiful town about 60 miles outside of Manhattan. On the whole, it is a lovely community. Local politics, however, seems to lend itself to the frenzied deterioration of fellow friendly community members into power-hungry sharks. Right now more than ever, we see this in action.

Here is some background: following a close election in fall 2015, Republicans won a majority on our Board of Selectmen (essentially the “executive” body). Regardless, Democrats held the “chief executive” spot — Michael Tetreau remained our Democratic First Selectman. In fall 2016, Laurie McArdle, one of the two new Republican Selectmen, announced her plans to step down, leaving open three years of her term. The Fairfield Republican Town Committee (RTC) — within its right to do so, according to our town charter — internally selected her replacement: Ed Bateson. Following this action, a bipartisan group of Fairfielders gathered signatures from the local electorate to force a special election to fill that position, instead of simply accepting an RTC appointee. This was also within their right, according to CT state statute (Ch. 146, Sec. 9-222).

Now the Fairfield political arena has devolved into a mess of angry party committees attacking each other in op-eds. The two Republican Selectmen took it a step further, choosing to unilaterally reject the special election at a “special meeting” without First Selectman Tetreau present. When it became clear Democrats would take this fight to court, the Republican selectmen decided to appoint a former RTC chair, James Baldwin, as the legal representative for the town for this case. This is because the original town attorney, Stanton Lesser, did not think there was even a case to be had. The case was initially decided in favor of the special election, but Baldwin has gone forward with multiple appeals on behalf of the “Board of Selectmen” (truly, the two Republican Selectmen). We are all left with questions about their intentions. Why exactly might the Republicans care so much about keeping their “selection” and preventing a special election?

There are a few answers they might give — some of which have already explicitly been given, and all of which dodge the core of the issue. First, they claim that Democrats are simply acting “politically” and only want to hold the election to flip the seat. Second, they claim that the state statute is in contradiction with our town charter, so there should not be a special election.

I am tempted to laugh at the first potential response, because the idea of a political party not acting “politically” is ridiculous. Of course the Democratic Town Committee would love to flip that seat back — especially after such a close election. That said, this claim is bogus because of its own political bias. It stems from the fact that Fairfield Republicans seem to fear that, given the choice, the electorate might not choose another Republican. Lastly, and perhaps most obviously, the effort to collect signatures in order to allow this special election was bipartisan. Members of both parties and independents signed the petition.

Their second claim is easily refutable as well. Why? To start, because a state Superior Court judge has already proved them wrong. Rather than accepting that the town charter and state statutes are compossible, as the judge decided, the Republicans have continued defying logic, and wasting Fairfield taxpayer dollars. Yes, you read that right. For all their complaints of the extra costs of a special election, the attorney they employ, James Baldwin, is indeed paid with taxpayer dollars. As he continues the appeal process, asking the state Supreme Court to review a decision which will probably still stand, he is being compensated (albeit indirectly) by the very same people he is working against — Fairfield voters.

This leads me to the Fairfield Republicans’ ultimate implicit intention: it boils down to voter disenfranchisement. It is a trend — and a trap — into which Republicans across America have continually fallen, whether through gerrymandering, new voter ID laws, or felon voting rights. Here in Fairfield, it takes the form of a politically charged refusal to allow for a special election. It is unbelievably maddening to watch as a very select group of people first attempt to independently determine an entire town’s political representation, and then go on to endorse the usage of people’s tax dollars against their own interests. At best, this game the Fairfield Republicans are playing is illogical, and at worst, it’s a humiliation for the local party. If they cannot respect the most basic tenet of democracy — the power of the people — what values can they respect?

I have always considered voter disenfranchisement to be among the worst crimes a politician could even attempt to commit — I just never thought I would see it in my own backyard. But here I am, 300 miles away, and I see it ever so plainly.

Emma Vahey