GUILFORD – The Guilford Democrats and Independents have announced slates of candidates for the upcoming municipal election, while the Republican Town Committee has opted not to endorse any candidates this year.
“The political climate is not favorable,” said Republican Town Committee Chair Nick Cusano. “It’s been a difficult obstacle to overcome for candidates. The personal costs are very steep.”
Cusano said it’s a difficult position for the local party to be in, and they will need to spend the next couple years building the Guilford Republican Party around a mission of fiscal responsibility and family values.
“We are the smallest party in town and trying to grow the party is part of our objectives,” he said. “We want to reach out to more people to grow the party. It’s a difficult position to be in. Results in the past couple of years bear that out.”
He said the party has a laundry list of ideas, but aren’t ready to put those ideas forward yet.
“It’s all geared toward changing the wrong perception people may have of Republicans based on the world of social media we live in,” he said. “It’s what we’re up against and looking to solve going forward. I think we’re going to do more community outreach, gain a bigger following, and be more active socially through social media in the public eye. That’s the best mechanism that we have right now.”
Though the party hasn’t done well overall in recent elections, turnout from the party base has been healthy.
“70% of Republicans have turned out to vote, but it’s not enough,” he said. “Unfortunately we’ve been minimized. It’s the culture of this town. We’ve done a pretty good job consolidating where we can in our ranks and become relevant. A lot of it is measuring the political winds.
“We are here,” he said. “We worked really hard on the budget referendum, putting information out to the public. We want a well informed electorate to really think about things instead of being told what to do.”
The Democratic Party’s nominees are all incumbents with Michael Ayles and Meghan Scanlon as nominees for the Board of Finance; Kathleen M.B. Balestracci, John DellaVentura, and Richard Hersh for the Board of Education; and Brian Wiley for the Board of Assessment Appeals.
“The goal of the Democratic leadership in town is to continue to preserve the excellence of our school system and safeguard our town’s fiscal priorities,” said Democratic Town Committee Chair Tara Hunt Melvin. “We are in a healthy financial position with a solid ‘rainy day’ fund, and Guilford Public Schools are consistently ranked among the top in the state. The DTC has been very successful in finding and developing talent who are dedicated to our town and we are looking forward to continued leadership and success in November.”
She said the key focus for Democrats has been on education.
“We’re focused on preserving the good work our school district has been doing and the excellent education we provide for our students,” she said. “We have a strong Board of Ed that has had to deal with a lot of issues from some members of the community and I believe they have strong support. The banned books issue is part of a whole national playbook. There’s a lot going on with that. We can’t forget that when looking at our little town of Guilford. We are not immune to national issues.”
The Independent Party has two candidates slated for this election.
“We’re endorsing two incumbents,” said Independent Party Chair Mike Mikolay.
The two candidates are Kristen Peck for the Board of Education and Robet Hartmann, Jr. for the Board of Finance.
The Independent Party has built a strong presence in Guilford recently, with four seats on the Board of Education to five for the Democrats and none for the Republicans. Independents also hold two seats on the Board of Finance, while the Democrats have four and the Republicans, one.
“We want to continue to protect the cooperative environment of Guilford that Guilford has long maintained,” said Mikolay. “We want to remain hyper focused on Guilford and be a stabilizing force in the community.”
Mikolay said that it’s no secret that people have turned away from the two mainline parties to the Independents.
“I think people are looking for something that’s more focused on Guilford in giving back and I think there’s a pent up demand that we’ve found,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a secret sauce or anything that’s different in Guilford. I think what we found was that people cared about the community. They want to give back. They want to be involved. They want to be informed. We’re not following any national playbook. We’re not tilting one way or the other, because people like to label things and people like to say, ‘What are you? Are you a bunch of former Republicans? Are you a bunch of former Democrats? Are you something different?’ The real answer is we’re a bunch of Guilford citizens who don’t want to be labeled and we want to give back to the town.”
He said Peck – who is finishing her first term on the Board of Education – and the rest of the board, deserve a lot of credit for navigating and serving the town in particularly challenging times.
“She’s ready to continue to give back,” he said. “I think she’s ready to put in a second term and continue to do the work she’s already started.”
He also praised Hartmann’s legacy in the town.
“Hartmann’s been doing this for quite some time with a background in banking and corporate finance,” Mikolay said. “He was born and raised in Guilford. Continues to have deep roots in Guilford. He’s been on quite a few boards and commissions. I think we have two qualified individuals that meet the ethos of the group, dedicated to Guilford…and a track record that gives them a known quantity of what to expect.”