The Southington Republican Town Committee (SRTC) burst into headlines last week with a very public split in the party. The schism may not be a surprise to anyone following local news over the last couple years, but it’s an odd choice as their first public statements since last November’s election.
A split on the council was clearly noticeable in the days leading up to the election when former councilor Ed Pocock III and former council chair Mike Riccio seemed to square off in the debate about hiring top town officials. Pocock and Cheryl Lounsbury hinted—and even said outright in some interviews—that they weren’t running for reelection because of their differences with Riccio. The GOP lost their majority. Riccio was reelected but lost 900 votes from his 2015 tally.
A split between Republican leadership on the council and other town boards was apparent when Riccio, along with current Democratic chair Chris Palmieri, overstepped their authority to make demands on the school superintendent, only to get stonewalled by Republicans on the Board of Education—the very ones leading the mass exodus.
The split was obvious to voters as well. The GOP retained its majority on every board…except the council. Even GOP voters seemed split in their support of their candidates.
That’s at the heart of this schism. Changes in leadership aren’t surprising after a political defeat, but the way it unfolded says a lot about the SRTC. It seems that SRTC “press releases” are leaked willy nilly to whichever media outlet they perceive as a friend based on past coverage. We’re proud to say that The Observer seems to be out of this quid pro quo loop when it comes to these leaks. Like the public, we often hear about these things second hand, but that perspective has helped us to look fairly at everybody’s part in the conflict.
The SRTC says that the decision to kick Pocock’s family off the committee wasn’t personal, but with Riccio on the executive board kicking his opponents—Lounsbury and Pocock, along with their families—off the committee, it’s hard to believe that it isn’t personal. On the other hand, the RTC has every right to do whatever they want in their organization.
Pocock talked to us about the reasons for the exodus, and he said that it was an ethical divide. “We stood for strong ethics, our party leadership didn’t,” he told us. Although it may be part of the reason, we disagree that this was the main point. Pocock, Brian Goralski, Colleen Clark, Terri Carmody, Patricia Queen, Juanita Champagne, and Paul Champagne contributed to an election guide in 2015 that drew criticism. The ad was called the “Official Town of Southington Election Guide,” and it included the town’s logo in a prominent position on the front cover. Critics complained, and state officials agreed in a ruling that the ad was unethical. Yet, in 2017, the SRTC seemed to ignore the state’s warnings and did it again.
Pocock and Juanita Champagne didn’t contribute when they weren’t running in 2017, but all the rest of the protesters, including newcomer Joseph Baczewski, contributed to the unethical guide in 2017, knowing the state’s ruling from 2015. We think it’s hypocritical to point at the SRTC’s lack of ethics when it suits them yet fall in line with the lack of ethics when that suits them. This isn’t an ethical split. It’s personal.
What’s lost in all this public controversy is that nobody is talking about a split in Republican ideals or GOP platforms. The SRTC, like its Democratic counterpart, has played a positive role in community discussions for generations, but the current Republicans, on either side of the fight, look like a bunch of quarreling children on the playground, grabbing their stuff and holding their teammates hostage.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.