Waterbury Mayor Mike Jarjura was all smiles as he announced his switch to the Republican Party.
Story and Photographs By John Murray
Life-long Democrat Mike Jarjura will have his official Republican coming out party tomorrow night at the GOP convention in downtown Waterbury, but he’s not going to have the unbeatable fusion ticket he imagined seven weeks ago.
During an interview with the Waterbury Observer in late May, before he officially announced his switch to the Republican Party, Jarjura spoke openly about the possibility of joining the GOP. He couched all his sentences with “if” he became a Republican, and would neither confirm or deny his impending announcement, which became official five days later.
Jarjura spoke of the campaign advantage he’d enjoy if partnered with State Rep. Selim Noujaim (R-74) in the East End of Waterbury, and with State Rep. Tony D’Amelio (R-71) in the Town Plot neighborhood. “We’d be a powerhouse in the 74th and 71st districts,” Jarjura said, ” and the election would come down to the 73rd district. That will be the battleground.”
Near the end of the interview Mayor Jarjura talked about the possibility of forming a fusion ticket between the Republican Party and the Independent Party to oppose Neil O’Leary and the Democrats in November . As he spoke about the power of a fusion ticket Jarjura slammed his hand against his desk, leapt up from his chair and said, “If that happens, it’s game over.”
The Observer has confirmed that talks between the Independent Party and the Republican Party have broken down, and there will be no fusion ticket in November. “We couldn’t agree on core values,” Independent Party Chairman Mike Telesca said.
In the past month Mayor Jarjura has tried to convince three popular Democrats – Town Clerk Antoinette “Chick” Spinelli, City Clerk Mike Dalton, and City Sheriff Steve Conway to join him in the Republican Party. After that failed, Jarjura offered a GOP cross-endorsement, but Dalton and Conway declined the offer.
Antoinette Chick Spinelli
Spinelli – the highest vote getter in the past election – agreed to the cross endorsement. But when Jarjura also tried to get Spinelli onto the Independent Party line as part of a coalition slate, he encountered resistance. If the Independents had agreed to the proposal, Spinelli would have been the Town Clerk candidate on the Democrat, Republican and Independent slates.
“That’s not an election,” De Pillo said. “That’s an appointment.”
Spinelli e-mailed the Observer a statement saying..“It would be an honor to receive a cross endorsement for the office of Town Clerk. I feel that it shows that the parties are not merely concerned with political gain but instead realize that this particular office should be professionalized. Over the past ten years I have continued my education receiving the designation of “Certified Connecticut Town Clerk” (CCTC) and “Certified Municipal Clerk” (CMC) and currently serve as the Legislative Chair for the Connecticut Town Clerk’s Association. I truly appreciate that both parties have recognized my hard work and dedication to the citizens of Waterbury. A Town Clerk being cross endorsed or unopposed is fairly common across the state. This practice allows the clerk to focus on the duties of the office which intensify during the election season.”
Telesca disagreed, “We want choices, and the more we looked at the fusion option the more we realized it looked like the dissolution of the Independent Party. We may get crunched between two titans (Jarjura and O’Leary), but we’d rather go down holding onto our principles.”
De Pillo said the Republicans and Independents have been talking with each other off and on for six years. “We seriously talked about forming a coalition ticket with the Republicans,” De Pillo said, “but no one should be unopposed. Mayor Jarjura asked us to give him this one, and we said no. I don’t think the Republicans understand why the coalition fell apart.”
Consequently, the Independent Party has withdrawn its interest in forming a coalition ticket with Republicans, and will offer Waterbury voters a full slate of Independent Party candidates in November. With the Independent Party now committed to running a full slate, the spotlight shifts squarely to De Pillo, who has previously run for mayor four times (he lost a Democrat primary to Jarjura on September 11th, 2001, by 11 votes). The looming question is whether De Pillo will surrender his chance for re-election as an alderman, to place his name on the ballot for mayor?
“I’ll do whatever is in the best interest of the citizens of Waterbury,” De Pillo said. “I am one of the possible Independent Party candidates for mayor, but it’s up to the party to make the decision. It will be a tough choice. And most importantly, I need to talk with my wife.”
Larry De Pillo
“Larry would be a great candidate,” Telesca said. “He can go toe to toe with Jarjura and O’Leary, but it will be a tough decision because he really enjoys being an alderman.”
The Independents have almost an extra month to cobble together their slate. “We’re still trying to figure it out,” Telesca said, “but we have more time than the Democrats or Republicans because they legally have to hold their conventions in July to prepare for a possible primary. We can’t hold a primary, so we have more time to put our ticket together.”
It might be the only competitive advantage the Independent Party possess. They lag way behind in fund-raising and media coverage. In addition to the talks with Republicans, the Independents said they met with leaders of the Democrats and had frank discussions with them as well.
“Neither the Republicans or Democrats want us on the field, let alone as a partner,” Telesca said. “In either situation we’d be a junior partner, and the Republican coalition would go against our bedrock principle to give the voters a choice for every office.”
The other wild card in the mayoral race is former aldermanic president, J. Paul Vance Jr.. Vance filed exploratory papers in August 2010. He has staged no events and held no fund raisers. There are strong rumors swirling around Waterbury that Vance is about to withdraw from the mayoral race and accept a position in state government. When contacted, Vance said he had until August 10th to file paperwork to get on the November ballot as a petitioning Democrat.
“I’m a mystery,” Vance chuckled. “When I figure out what I’m doing, I’ll let you know.”
The Observer tried unsuccessfully to reach William Harris, the Chairman of the Republican Party, for input in this article.
The general public is invited to attend the Republican Convention in Waterbury tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Waterbury. The Independent Party convention is roughly scheduled somewhere between August 15th and August 31st.