Story By John Murray
The impact of the historic alderman by district vote continues to ripple through the political power structure in Waterbury. During its first meeting since the November 4th election, the Democrat Town Committee met at the Portuguese Sports Club in the South End of Waterbury and during the 45-minute meeting there were more questions than answers.
The city needs to be carved up into five separate districts and nobody knows where the lines will be drawn yet. Alderman Tony Piccochi said a law firm that specializes in setting district boundaries, and that the firm will be picked today would draw the lines.
“I have no idea what they are going to do,” Piccochi told the town committee, “but from my understanding it has to be evenly divided by population, not by voters.”
Working with the firm will be an eight-person District Commission that will provide input to the firm, and then vote to adopt or reject their proposal. If the District Commission approves the firm’s proposal, the districts will then go before the Board of Aldermen for final approval.
All this needs to happen in a very short time frame, and Piccochi said he hopes the lines will be drawn by February. “Everything needs to be in place by May when the political parties begin the nomination process for the November election,” Piccochi said.
Tony Piccochi, left, talking with Board of Alderman President Paul Pernerewski at a recent meeting in Aldermanic Chambers inside Waterbury City Hall.
As the majority leader on the Board of Alderman Piccochi was tasked with naming four individuals to the District Commission, and Minority Leader Paul Ciochetti selected the other four. Piccochi selected;
• Charles Pagano from Bucks Hill (Pagano is the Executive Vice President of Technology and Chief Technology Officer of ESPN)
• Noberto “B.J.” Rodriguez from the South End. Rodriguez is a public defender attorney, a member of the Charter Revision Commission, and a strong supporter of aldermen by district
• Michael Salvio from the Overlook neighborhood. Salvio is the president of the Historic Overlook Community Club, a member of the Waterbury Neighborhood Council, and a tireless advocate for the renovation of Fulton Park.
• Sundae Black from the Bucks Hill neighborhood. She is African American and ran for the Board of Education as a Republican in 2011.
Piccochi said he received thirty e-mails from individuals volunteering to serve on the District Commission. “I went through every one and tried to be inclusive, and also pick individuals from the Neighborhood Association and the Charter Revision Commission,” Piccochi said. “It was not an easy task.”
The Board of Alderman votes whether of not to accept Piccochi’s choices at its next meeting, Monday, November 24th at 7 pm. “If the board doesn’t like my choices they can vote no,” Piccochi said. “We either agree or don’t agree on all eight.”
The Republicans nominated by Ciochetti are:
• Joyce Templeton – an African American, and according to an article in the Rep-Am newspaper, a former secretary of the Greater Waterbury African-American Republican Club
• William Pizzuto from the Robinwood neighborhood. Pizzuto is a former alderman and currently the president of the UConn Waterbury campus
• Geoffrey Green lives in the Brooklyn neighborhood and was a member of the Charter Revision Commission. Green works at the Waterbury Development Corporation.
• William Kolo lives in the Bucks Hill neighborhood and was a member of the Charter Revision Commission. (no photograph available)
The eight-member commission has three nominees from the Bucks Hill neighborhood. How or why that is significant remains unclear.
Some of the questions that emerged during the Town Committee meeting Tuesday night were; How does the committee decide which candidates to run in the district? Are they chosen by the Town Committee members from the district? Or from by the Town Committee as a whole?
Democrat Town Committee Chairman Ned Cullinan said there are, “No by-laws in place for a how to make nominations for a district election.”
During the meeting Sarah Geary asked if more than two Democrats could run from the same district? Piccochi said it was his understanding that only two candidates per party were allowed, and the top three are elected.
Geary then took the hypothetical into the next realm. “What if a Democrat ran as a petitioning candidate and was one of the top three vote getters,” she asked. “Wouldn’t you like to have 15 Democrat aldermen?”
Piccochi said the charter states you can’t have more than 10 members from the same party, but if candidates ran as petitioning candidates…….
Well, nobody had an answer for that. Cullinan said there was lots of work to do by all three town committees in Waterbury and they would all have to change their by-laws in accordance with state statues.
Clearly there are a lot of issues to resolve; district lines the most looming, but if the minority set aside has vanished, you can expect the Republican Party to file a lawsuit to protect its interests.
Piccochi said the process is in uncharted territory and there is not a lot of time to figure all this out. “Some people are coming up to me and asking if we can postpone this until we have a better understanding of what’s going on,” Piccochi said. “We can’t. This has to be in effect next election.”