A Middletown judge will decide whether four third-party candidates will be reinstated to the November ballot in a disagreement between the city's new town clerk and an independent mayoral candidate over a filing discrepancy that's reverberating across the state.
When Realistic Balance secretary John Kilian turned in his party's nomination document to Town Clerk Linda Bettencourt on Aug. 28, he left with the understanding that everything was in order and the Realistic Balance-endorsed candidates for November's election would appear on the ballot.
Minor party candidates also failed to get the signatures by the state's Sept. 4 deadline in the towns of Ridgefield, Easton, Fairfield, East Hampton, Bethel and Simsbury this year, kicking them off the November ballot.
A change to the requirement for petitioning party candidates in July 2011, Bettencourt said, requires that the signatures of minority party candidates appear on the document filed with her office.
Kilian, who is facing off against Democratic Mayor Dan Drew, says Bettencourt's acceptance of the endorsement letter implied it was legitimate. She said although she knew last week about the election law change, she didn't think it applied in Middletown until Secretary of the State Denise Merrill Staff Attorney Theodore Bromley informed her otherwise.
He's so confident that Realistic Balance Chairman Fred Carroll filed an intent to sue on Thursday in Middletown Superior Court.
Bettencourt is firm on her position. "The issue is the statute. If I don't uphold the statute, I am now breaking the law. I have to act. There's not a lot of leeway for us here."
Carroll, who's running for common council on the third-party ticket, is intent on pursuing the entire slate's candidacy. "This is some bad stuff. You're trying to make the political process even more exclusionary. There's no reason for this. They're not even giving us crumbs, we're not even getting into the outfield," Carroll said.
"This is ridiculous. We're a tiny little threat."
Whether or not to accept third-part nominations without signatures of each candidate is actually up to the municipalities.
"It is the town clerk's discretion," Merrill's Communications Director Av Harris said. "We have communicated to them the determination is theirs to make."
In municipal elections, Harris said, the secretary of the state's office doesn't even take the forms. They're kept with the town clerk.
If not for this disqualification, the Realistic Balance ticket would comprise Republicans councilmen Phil Pessina and Joseph Bibisi and planning and zoning commission candidate Jeremy Clark and Democrat Stephen Devoto, who won the Sept. 10 planning and zoning primary.
Still, nearly every Realistic Balance candidate is on the November ballot under other parties, Bettencourt says. "The only one this will impact is Stephen Smith," a Democrat whose caucus failed to nominate him. He also didn't receive a Working Families nod.
Bettencourt said she's waiting until Oct. 1 to give the printing company the OK to create Middletown's election ballots, when the party meets and decides how to proceed. "I have to have a ballot available Oct. 4," she said.
If the court sides with Kilian and Carroll, Harris said, the town clerk would have to reinstate all the Realistic Balance candidates. Harris said if Middletown's election ballots are finalized, the court could order they be reprinted.
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