At first glance, the Branford municipal election in 2019 may not have much of an impact going forward. The top of the ticket, the first selectman race, is uncontested. Jamie Cosgrove, the incumbent, will serve another term, and the Board of Selectmen will be Cosgrove, his running mate Joe Higgins, and Democrat Ray Dunbar will fill out the board.
Tax collector Roberta Gill-Brooks has been cross endorsed by the Republicans, and will remain in her position. Republican Lisa Arpin is unopposed, and will keep her seat.
Positions like Treasurer and Board of Assessment Appeals have little to no impact on most residents, and the same applies for constables.
The most impactful vote this election comes on the Representative Town Meeting. And the impact can be significant.
While most see first selectman Jamie Cosgrove as the driving force for the state of the town, and major infrastructure projects, the support of the Board of Finance and RTM are crucial to seeing those projects and budgets approved and moving forward.
The Board of Finance is unelected, with Cosgrove a key figure in determining who serves. It is of note that the Republican Cosgrove, via the Board of Selectman, has reappointed the three Democrats on the Finance Board multiple times, all members he inherited from a previous administration. Working with Democrat Joe Mooney as chair and Jim Finch as Finance Director, the result has been a truly non-partisan effort in working together to see town finances managed well and key infrastructure improvements move forward.
Cosgrove’s record shows he largely avoids the typical politics that often plague municipalities and certainly the state and country levels. A longtime Democrat himself, he is not a career politician, and chose to run when significant town issues went unsolved, and in some cases, exploded in a flurry of legal actions and costs.
The Republicans on the RTM have supported Cosgrove and the Board of Finance in general, and thus are running on the record of the “Cosgrove Team.” That record is as follows:
- Ending the Tabor lawsuits
- Moving a Senior Center forward with a new combined all ages Community House
- Addressing the constant concern of a Walsh Intermediate School that was built years ago as open concept, with classrooms lacking walls, moving a major remodel forward
- A major energy conservation plan of over 6 million dollars that is self-funding
- Tearing down the decrepit Branford Hills School and establishing a new Branford Hills Park
- Establishing Foote Park as a town entity and undergoing upgrades.
- Replacing the Indian Neck Firehouse
- Creating a major solar panel installation on town property to offset town energy costs
That record is largely been supported by Branford residents, as the Cosgrove ticket has been overwhelming elected three times, and is now seeking a fourth term.
While many of those items passed multiple town boards and commission easily, it is of note how many only passed because the Republicans had control of the Representative Town Meeting. Democrats on the RTM, led by Chris Sullivan, actively fought against many of the projects:
- Democrats either abstained or voted against the new Walsh School project, with concerns over a Building committee. Despite the process taking over 4 years, and countless meetings of the Board of Education, Board of Finance and public hearings, only the Democrats on the RTM took a party line approach that the project was being rushed, and tried to block it. The effort failed and the project moved forward.
- Democrats actively fought against a $6 million self -funding effort to upgrade energy use at town buildings. Democrats clearly did not understand the concept of self-funding, and repeated statements through the meeting that were false, before fighting the investment. Their effort failed.
- Democrats ran an aggressive campaign in 2017 against the new Senior Center/Community House, including mailers and community meetings with often false and misleading information. Once the election effort failed, they reversed course and voted for the project unanimously.
There is key aspect to remember in evaluating the RTM votes: it was not Democrat opposition; it was RTM Democrat opposition. All of the above passed with unanimous Democrat support on the Board of Education, Elderly Services Commission, Parks and Recreation, Board of Finance and many others. Only when it arrives to the RTM did Democrats work to fight the project, injecting party politics into what had largely been a bi-partisan, and mostly non-partisan, effort.
Currently, the Democrats on the RTM are running on no real issues, but largely diverting to making the local election about national issues. And anti-Trump campaign on a local level may not make sense, but the effort is an attempt to drive anti-Trump voters who may not follow local issues to the polls ad vote party line.
While the major projects Republicans on the RTM are running on were largely fought by the Democrats, there is one key matter currently ongoing which will be highly impacted by the results on this election.
The Parkside project is a tear down and rebuild of an existing senior housing development in Indian Neck. Under the plan, the current development, made up of three two story structures, will be torn down, and a new single 4 story structure will be built. The units will no longer be limited to senior housing and handicapped, but will have income limits.
Initially, the proposal was made as a traditional development; when neighbors balked at the size of the structure and concerns over the welfare of the residents, the applicants, Beacon, a Boston based developer, chose to reapply using the affordable housing statutes, making approval significantly easier legally.
After 4-5 redesigns and changes, the current plan calls for part of the design to overlap on property they do not own, and is owned by the town. Planning and Zoning has stated this can only be done with permission by the landowner, the town, and that would require approval by the RTM.
Currently, there are only three ways the project moves forward as currently designed:
1. Planning and Zoning approves the request to impact land the applicant doesn't own. This is not happening.
2. A judge decides it is ok for the applicants to include land they don't own in their application. This would be a major precedent, and is unlikely.
3. The Democrats win the RTM, making approval of use of town property for the project likely. If the RTM remains Republican, the applicants won't even attempt to come to the RTM. If it goes to the Democrats, they will.
The Parkside project is very much on the ballot this election, and the outcome will have lasting impacts. Democrats have had closed door meetings with the applicants in the past, and have shown up at meetings to support the project. This project uses tax credits at over $400,000 a unit in tax dollars.
Republicans have largely sides with the residents in the area, and were joined by one Democrat in the district, Maryanne Hall. However, she is no longer on the RTM, and interestingly, changed her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
Typically we would take a more in depth look at individual seats in an election. But without a contested top of the ballot, and a town that, by every objective measure, operates extremely well, and for the most part, in a non-partisan manner, we need to simply look at the bigger picture.
The partisanship only truly enters politics with one group of Democrats on the RTM. That’s it. Based on the almost absurd reasons for objecting to projects, it is clear the leader, Chris Sullivan, is more often after political talking points than doing what is best for Branford. Democrats on other town boards and commission don’t fall into this thinking, and have actively. When you literally have Democrats fighting a new school and an energy conservation plan, one would be right to wonder what ideology that actually represents. Hollow claims of fiscal responsibility fail when the town’s AAA bond rating is reaffirmed, independent agencies praising the moves by those in power.
We have other examples of the current administration improving town meetings and decorum as well. Many have noticed the signs around town by a disgruntled resident Wayne Cooke. With the freedom that being born into wealth brings, Cooke has made a career out of actions like this, and in both Democrat and Republican administrations. But where Democrats in the past under DaRos and Sullivan have actively fought with Cooke, essentially helping him achieve his goal of provoking public officials, Cosgrove and the Republicans have not engaged, returning civility and logic to town meetings. This is no small matter. Engaging a conspiracy theorist who has made a cottage industry out of provoking public officials of both parties for years helps no one, and this is something the Republicans have realized.
When a ship is on a strong course, changing that course makes little sense. There will always be party line voters, but residents would do well to realize that many of the things they see now, like a new Senior Center/Community Center, a new Walsh School, a new Branford Hills park, solar farms, energy conservation plans for town structures, a AAA bond rating, budget surpluses and more are a direct result of the current administration avoiding partisanship to get things done. It simply doesn’t make sense to change course when a strong direction has already been set for Branford.
Democrats on the ballot want to make a local election a referendum on Trump. Thats a clear sign there is little on the local level to actually run on. Trump is not on the ballot, and its highly unlikely he spends much time in the White House thinking about Branford.
We endorse voting Row B.