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Where I take on both party establishments, and come up one vote short

On January 6, 2020, the Stamford Board of Representatives voted 19–18, with two abstentions and one member absent, to elect Frank Cerasoli over Joshua Esses to fill the Republican vacancy on the Board of Finance.

I had always expected the Democratic Party establishment to oppose my election. On that count, I was not disappointed.

Never, however, did I expect my own party’s establishment to unite against me as well. Ultimately, the combined obstacles were too great to overcome (this time).

The newspaper can capture only a fraction of the insanity that were the events leading up to and including Cerasoli’s election. Here are just a few of them:

1. After the November municipal elections, Sal Gabriele, a Republican elected to the Board of Finance in 2017, resigns, with his term set to expire in 2021. Sal endorses me to fill the vacancy.

2. Kieran Ryan, the only other Republican on the six-member Board of Finance, endorses me as well.

3. The then–six-member Republican caucus on the Board of Representatives establishes a process by which it will interview candidates interested in filling the vacancy on the Board of Finance, and submit one name to the Board of Representatives for approval.

4. Believing the caucus’s process to have a pre-determined outcome in favor of Cerasoli, Republican Representative Anzelmo Graziosi, with my blessing, submits my name to the Steering Committee of the Board of Representatives, to be referred to the Appointments Committee and ultimately for full consideration to the Board of Representatives for election.

5. The caucus conducts interviews with interested candidates, lasting about 30 minutes each. Cerasoli earns the caucus endorsement 6–1, with only Rep. Graziosi voting in my favor (two Republicans had been appointed to vacancies to bring the caucus to eight, although one of the eight was absent for the interviews).

6. At the request of the Republican caucus, the Steering Committee votes against referring my nomination to the Appointments Committee, in an effort to preclude consideration of me for election, notwithstanding Section III.B.8 of Rules of Order of the Board of Representatives, which states that “any candidate nominated [by a member of the Board of Representatives] to fill a vacancy on said Board shall be referred to the Appointments Committee.”

7. After the Steering Committee’s vote, Kieran Ryan resigns from the Republican Party, switching his registration to unaffiliated.

8. I write a 9-page, single-spaced demand letter, addressed to the President of the Board of Representatives, demanding that the Board complies with its own Rules of Order and refers my nomination to the Appointments Committee.

[Bonus color for readers with an interest in the law: to my surprise, municipal legislature violations of rules of order actually are justiciable, and courts will provide a remedy, including removing wrongfully appointed individuals from positions in municipal government.]

9. On December 18, 2019, the Appointments Committee interviews Cerasoli for the vacancy. Following his interview, they vote to hold his name so the Appointments Committee can reconvene on December 30, 2019, which is the only date in December the Committee is allowed to “suspend the rules” under Roberts Rules of Order in compliance with the state’s Freedom of Information Act laws, and take up an item not on their agenda (i.e., my interview).

10. On December 30, 2019, with more than half of the members of the Board of Representatives in attendance, the Appointments Committee conducts my interview, lasting nearly two hours.

The interview went pretty well. After the interview, the Appointments Committee votes, by a 4–1 margin, with one abstention, to recommend that the full Board elect me to fill the vacancy.

To this day, no one has responded to my demand letter. I might have accomplished little by sending it.

11. On January 4, 2020, all four sitting Democrats on the Board of Finance submit a letter endorsing Cerasoli to fill the vacancy on the Board of Finance. The following day, Ryan and Gabriele respond with a letter of their own, reiterating their endorsement of me to fill the vacancy.

12. The day of the election, January 6, 2020, my internal count of the vote is as follows:

Esses: 18

Cerasoli: 19

Undecided: 1

Abstaining: 1

Absent: 1

Total: 40

13. Shortly after 8:00 p.m. that evening, the debate to fill the vacancy begins on the floor of the Board of Representatives. It largely consists of members indicating both candidates were qualified for the position, with reasons for preferring one not reflecting on the other (e.g., “Frank has served on the Board of Representatives and Board of Education, so he has the experience to hit the ground running immediately”; “Josh is qualified, and Frank is already on the Board of Education, so don’t move Frank from one seat to another and leave the opening to fill on the Board of Education”).

However, I did learn during the debate that, because of my involvement with the Federalist Society, members were concerned I would be biased against the LGBTQ community, because of Justice Neil Gorsuch and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Or something like that.

14. The roll call vote begins, each representative voting one after another alphabetically by last name. The undecided vote breaks in my favor. Then, an expected supporter abstains instead of voting for me. Cerasoli prevails, 19–18.

15. Days letter, Rep. Graziosi resigns from the Republican Party, and re-registers as a Democrat. [He had previously been a Democrat and sought their nomination for state representative for House District 147 in 2018, but was bested in an insider’s nominating convention by Matt Blumenthal, who had recently moved to the district, and is the son of the other Blumenthal who is well-known in Connecticut.]

* * *

Once I determined the caucus process was one in which I could not prevail, I was left with two choices: (1) fold, and run for the Board of Finance in 2021; or (2) try to get enough Democratic votes on the Board of Representatives to elect me. It nearly worked; by party, the Democrats voted for me 17–13 (with two abstentions), and the Republicans voted for Cerasoli 6–1 (with one member absent).

I’ve decided this means I get to call myself a bipartisan candidate in any future elections.

Ultimately, with the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s very unlikely I had a path to the 20 or 21 votes on the Board of Representative once the Republican caucus established their process. That said, I do not regret moving forward whatsoever. Systems and institutions under stress reveal their true nature. I learned invaluable lessons over the past few months, that may have otherwise taken years to learn. And, the option to run for Board of Finance in 2021 remains available.

For now, I can get back to our regularly scheduled programming: blog posts scrutinizing the proposed private-public partnership by which the administration seeks to build our school infrastructure; charts with the voting records of our elected officials compared with the administration’s preferences as benchmark, and so on. Additionally, since I don’t have a formal seat at the table, I can have a little fun with investigatory work, including a FOIA request or two I’ve been thinking about sending.

So, stay tuned for what’s to come in 2020 and beyond. And as always, if you have any ideas or suggestions, my inbox is always open.