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Middletown Planning and Zoning Commissioner Steps Down for Out-of-State Job

Republicans hope that with Robert Simpson's departure, the common council will appoint the second highest vote-getter in November's election, righting a wrong done when alternate Phil Pessina was seated.

Vinnie Szynkowicz and Robert Simpson of Middletown.
Vinnie Szynkowicz and Robert Simpson of Middletown.

The city's planning and zoning commission, which has been fraught with a number of contentious issues for more than a year, has again changed membership with the resignation of newly elected Republican Robert Simpson, who has moved out of state for work.

Simpson, who worked as a legislative aide for the House Republicans in the Connecticut General Assembly in Hartford relocated to Arlington, Va., last month to become a legislative associate at a state and government affairs firm.

The Middletown GOP is hoping the common council will seat former candidate Vinnie Szynkowicz as a candidate and in the process put to rest Republican resentment over the naming of councilman Phil Pessina as an alternate. 

Party members were incensed when the city seated Pessina as an alternate on the commission once Republican Jeremy Clark, who ran for both a full and backup spot, was elected and then resigned as alternate.

Last July, the Middletown Republican caucus failed to nominate Pessina as a candidate because many felt he neglected his political obligations as minority leader by not holding town committee meetings and sharing information with the membership.

Vice-chair Molly Salafia says the Republicans had hoped the common council would honor past practice and place Szynkowicz in the seat vacated by Clark.

She's satisfied Szynkowicz will do an excellent job. "Vinnie is an elevator repair mechanic and a union member for more than 30 years," Salafia says. "He knows construction, his understanding is extensive, and he's very civic-focused."

Szynkowicz has said he looks forward to a future where Middletown's Connecticut River front area will be a "showpiece" and place for all residents to enjoy.

"I will work to bring new business to our city to provide jobs and increase our tax base," Szynkowicz has said.

It's not easy to follow the intricacies of the planning and zoning commission's recent history when even a synopsis of events is difficult to keep succinct.

Proceedings have drawn a good deal of community interest since at least late 2012 when Wesleyan University announced it was considering moving the campus bookstore to the corner of High and Washington streets, part of a 10,000-square-foot mixed use project that was met with vocal opposition from Wesleyan students, professors and area residents.

That continued when Wesleyan professor Stephen Devoto, who failed to earn the Democratic Town Committee's nomination for planning and zoning at its caucus last July, forced a primary and won. 

On Election Day, Devoto earned the most votes of all the planning and zoning candidates, ahead of Democrats Daniel Russo and Robert Simpson and Republicans Robert Blanchard and Jeremy Clark.

In mid-November, Democratic planning and zoning commissioner Carl Chisem caused a ruckus when he turned up at the regular meeting after being sworn in to the common council, prompting Republican members to leave, canceling proceedings for lack of quorum. 

In December, despite some public objection, Russo was appointed by the common council for full membership. Former Republican councilman Phil Pessina was named an alternate to the chagrin of the Middletown GOP whose members wanted Szynkowicz sworn in.

Now, with Szynkowicz likely to fill the seat, the only November candidate for planning and zoning that won't be on the commission is Realistic Balance candidate Stephen Smith, who garnered 717 votes on Election Day.

Robert Blanchard January 21, 2014 at 05:14 PM
On Election Day, he earned the most votes of all the planning and zoning candidates, ahead of Democrat Daniel Russo and Republicans Robert Blanchard, Jeremy Clark and Robert Simpson. CORRECTION:On Election Day, he earned the most votes of all the planning and zoning candidates, ahead of Democrats Daniel Russo and Robert Blanchard as well as Republicans Jeremy Clark and Robert Simpson. I am registered as well as ran as a Democrat in the 2013 Election.

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