STAMFORD – Josh Fedeli has been the city’s Democratic Party leader for six years, but he isn’t seeking another term in Tuesday’s election.
Some are happy to see him go.
Democrats refused to vote for Fedeli in December, when Mayor Caroline Simmons nominated him for a seat on the Fire Commission. Some Democrats said he’s a bully who tries to intimidate them into doing what he wants, and retaliates when they don’t.
Fedeli said the charges are “a political hit” and “a total sham.” But he asked Simmons to withdraw his Fire Commission nomination after the Board of Representatives’ Appointments Committee voted against him.
Fedeli said Thursday that vote is not the reason he won’t run again for Democratic City Committee chairman, a powerful role in Stamford, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one.
“I told my executive committee in November that it was my intention not to run,” said Fedeli, who announced it to DCC members Wednesday night. “I’m leaving because I can do more politically to support [the Simmons] administration and candidates I back around the state.”
Stamford is important to Connecticut this year, when Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont is running for a second term, Fedeli said.
“In 2018 Stamford brought 32,000 votes to the top of the ticket,” he said, helping Lamont defeat Republican Bob Stefanowski by a slim 44,000 votes. “Stamford is at the heart of organizing for the Democratic Party in Connecticut.”
He can be more effective in that effort if he is not the leader of the Stamford party, he said.
“As chairman, my hands are tied a bit – I can’t take on Democrats head-on,” Fedeli said. “This frees me to be an operator and … someone who works successfully to get Democrats elected.”
He had “an extremely successful six years” in Stamford, he said. Membership in the party has grown, there are more Democrats on boards and commissions, and “the party apparatus is very high-functioning,” he said.
In 2020, there was “a coalition of people who liked Caroline Simmons and wanted to make a change,” rather than elect former Mayor David Martin to a third term, he said. “People went door-to-door, ran campaigns, raised more than $70,000, got put on the DCC, and went about doing that work.”
The committee now is “more inclusive,” Fedeli said.
It depends on what you mean by inclusive, said city Rep. Nina Sherwood, a District 8 reform Democrat on the Board of Representatives, where 36 of the 40 members belong to that party. Democrats are roughly split between reformers and established party members.
“I do believe Josh Fedeli wants to get more people involved in the DCC, but only if they are his people,” Sherwood said. “I’ve seen him be incredibly aggressive, use his voice and his presence to bully people, men and women. But the party wants obedience. So when there is someone who is willing to remove people who are not obedient, the party turns the other way. They like that he serves the system.”
The elected and appointed boards are supposed to provide checks and balances to the mayoral administration, Sherwood said.
“But administrations want muted boards, not active boards,” she said.
Fedeli said the reform faction “doesn’t carry Democratic ideals.”
“Because of the strength of the Democratic Party in Stamford, you can be elected if you’re on the Democratic Party line,” Fedeli said. “That’s the constituency that put you there. You have to be held accountable to them.”
Parties certainly wield power.
They hold elections every two years, Town Clerk Lyda Ruijter said. Party members interested in a committee seat gather signatures from fellow party members in their district. Each district has two DCC seats, so if more than two people gather signatures, there is an election.
Tuesday’s election is for Democrats in Districts 3, 16 and 18. For Republicans, it’s District 13, Ruijter said.
Party committees “activate” campaigns in town and state races, Ruijter said.
“That’s where it’s decided who gets the party nomination,” Ruijter said. “It’s much harder to run a race if you don’t get a party nomination. If you do, the party works to get you elected. If you don’t, you have to petition yourself onto a ballot. That’s difficult, and you don’t get the resources the party provides.”
That’s how it goes, said city Rep. Jenny Matheny, a Democrat from District 19 who ran for the first time in November. Matheny did not get the party nomination so she forced a primary and won.
“When I got involved I asked a bunch of people, ‘What is the difference between Democrats and Republicans at this level?’ Nobody was able to give me an answer,” Matheny said. ‘Yet you really can’t win in Stamford unless you’re a Democrat.”
Matheny and Sherwood said Fedeli has worked to prevent members of the Board of Representatives from also serving on the DCC, since that enables them to vote for themselves. But he has been less concerned about members of the Board of Education, Board of Finance, Zoning Board and other bodies holding DCC seats, they said.
“He says it’s a conflict of interest,” Matheny said. “OK. Then it’s all a conflict of interest.”
Sherwood said Fedeli targeted representatives because they are the ones “asking questions and pushing for better government.”
A true effort to eliminate conflict of interest would include mayoral administration employees, Sherwood said.
“An employee will vote for people on all boards and commissions who are friendly to the mayor, because they owe their job to the mayor,” she said. “No member of the administration should be allowed on the DCC, period.”