Published Oct. 31
Saying he’s “not part of that gang,” Town Councilman Matthew Catalano, a Republican, told the Connecticut Post Tuesday that he is backing Democrat Joe Paul for mayor over fellow Republican and incumbent John A. Harkins.
“Party politics are killing this town,” Catalano told the newspaper exactly one week before the municipal election, “and what I like about Joe is that he’s not part of the other gang, either.
“He stood up and won a primary, beating the endorsed Democrat.”
In a town-wide party primary in July, Paul, a retired bank executive, beat the Democratic Town Committee-endorsed Beth Daponte, a former United Nations evaluator and college professor, by 156 votes, 911 to 755.
Another candidate to be snubbed by the DTC was Town Councilman Jason Santi, who now says he’s backing the Republican for mayor.
“Over the last four years, I have forged a good working relationship with Mayor Harkins and the (Republican) Council majority,” Santi wrote in a letter to the Stratford Star.
The councilman goes on to say that the mayor “has done many things” for his district and that “there are too many uncertainties” for the Fourth District if Harkins does not get re-elected.
Santi’s endorsement comes three months after his own party gave him the cold shoulder in favor of political newcomer Andre Ely. In their snub, DTC members had criticized Santi for voting too often with the 8-to-2 Republican majority on key Council votes.
But after the nod went to Ely to run for Santi’s seat, it surfaced that Ely owed the town about $10,000 in real estate and vehicle back taxes, leading the endorsed candidate to drop out of the race. Santi would eventually win back his party’s endorsement but not without some gentle scolding.
“You have all the makings of a great councilman, just find a way back here,” DTC Chairman Richard Burtula told Santi at the party caucus where the incumbent was finally granted the nomination.
The "party politics" Catalano reportedly accused Harkins of partaking in is just what the incumbent Republican says has been stifled since he took office in 2009.
"One of the things that we brought back to Stratford is civility between the parties,” Harkins told Stratford Patch in an interview about his re-election in August. “Working as a legislator, you learn to work with the other side.”
Much of the apparent friction between Catalano and Harkins can be tied to Shakespeare Theatre.
Catalano is an ardent supporter of the theatre's revival. Harkins has repeatedly said he won't pump any taxpayer dollars into the long-shuttered theatre.
In April of 2012, Harkins, citing issues of public safety – specifically air quality – suspended all work on the theatre. The sudden closure led to protests at Town Hall and left Catalano puzzled.
“For the last two years a large number of volunteers, including myself, have been engaged in the work of cleaning our theatre, which sat filled with garbage from the time we took title in 2005 until we took office in 2009,” Catalano wrote in a letter to Harkins.
“Why would you lock the doors with no explanation and disenfranchise this group of residents and taxpayers from helping restore pride in our town?”
In response, Harkins wrote that it’s his duty as mayor “to protect the town’s property and to assure for the public health and safety of our residents.”