Election season is underway, and there’s always a lot on the line. This doesn’t always bring out the best in candidates, the public, or the press. Everything seems personal or seems to carry hidden meanings. Candidates present themselves as heroes, while opponents paint them as villains. Supporters want their choice portrayed positively as others focus on their negatives. The press tries to wade through rhetoric to uncover truth at a time when some people don’t want to hear it. It’s no surprise that tensions and anger bubble up in discussions.
We’ve already seen this play out during this campaign season. Recently, a Democrat candidate wrote that he was “angered” and “disappointed” with us when we talked about re-election campaign concerns for council chair Chris Palmieri (D). This week, a Republican town committee member used similar language. He was “disappointed” and “offended” at a picture we used to illustrate a confusing town council campaign by planning and zoning commissioners Paul Chaplinsky (R) and Mike Del Santo (R). (At press time, we couldn’t confirm if it was a letter to the editor or not. If so, we’ll print it next week.)
What struck us was the similar wording in both complaints, but it didn’t surprise us since they came from staunch party members—one from each party—in defense of their teammates. Each claimed disappointment and hurt that we expressed our perspective. Although they have a right to their feelings, “disappointment” is a loaded word. Disappointment is the displeasure that we feel when expectations aren’t met, so what expectation did we not meet?
We do not endorse candidates—but we do frame important issues so voters know what’s at stake. We called for Palmieri to “consider” stepping down from the council race because he has a long history of ignoring conflicts of interest that goes back to 2003. It’s become even more of an issue with his recent promotion in the schools. Throughout his career, he’s led discussions about salary and staffing increases in the schools, often above and beyond finance board recommendations. He earns paychecks that can be affected by these sorts of decisions, and that’s what Southington’s ethics code is all about. We don’t know if Palmieri considered not running; only that some Democrats are “disappointed” we talked about it. We agree to disagree. Open government and ethics were the central issues in the last election, and we spoke out then, too. These sorts of discussions have to happen, even if they are uncomfortable. Ultimately, it is up to voters to decide whether it’s important to them or not.
As for the shell game illustration, we still think it was an apt metaphor, but in no way was it meant to imply any impropriety. This is a unique campaign, and we can’t remember another one like it. We think we created a good image to show the confusing nature of the race’s implications. Which town board are Del Santo and Chaplinsky on now? What happens after Election Day? Now you see them on the PZC; now they’re on the council? Who takes their place if they win? In fact, they are the only two candidates this fall that are guaranteed to be on a town board the day after the election. The big question is: which board? How is that not like a shell game? We do not apologize for the illustration. We do, however, apologize to the candidates if our illustration caused them any personal embarassment. That was not our intent.
We take our role seriously, especially with politics. There are few checks and balances in the charter and few places to speak openly. We will always say something if we see it and try to open a discussion—even if nobody else wants to talk about it. That’s the responsibility that comes with free speech.
To comment on this editorial or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.