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How An Unaffiliated Mayor Sidesteps Partisan Warfare

How An Unaffiliated Mayor Sidesteps Partisan Warfare

Source: Kevin Maloney, New Haven Independent

If representative democracy is the goal, then it’s the people who count. 

That’s how Wolcott Mayor Thomas Dunn feels. He came on the ​“Municipal Voice,” a co-production of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and WNHH 103.5 FM, to talk about his time as mayor, being a rare successful independent in this state, and why he thinks that will be more common in the future. 

His career started over two decades ago, when folks inside a political party told Mayor Dunn that he wasn’t ready despite years of experience. But this might have been the catalyst for an entirely new approach.

“I didn’t have a team with me,” Dunn said, ​“So I didn’t have to answer to anybody except the people.” 

His motto in leading Wolcott is ​“People, not politics,” and for him being an independent helps him make sure he’s doing just that. 

“You have to compromise, but if it’s going against the people, then it’s not for me.” 

He maintains his connection with the people of Wolcott with an open-door policy that was a number one priority for him – making sure he was approachable and involved. 

Almost immediately folks were coming up to him and saying that some things just didn’t seem to be happening in town, so the mayor set about to accomplish them. Over time, there were buses for the senior center and new fields for the kids – all of which came from the vox populi. 

This system works for him, but in general, there aren’t too many who work outside the two-party system. Dunn thinks that might change. 

“I can work with a Republican or Democrat and walk with them in a parade,” he said, ​“and not getting looked at.” 

It’s a spirit of doing more together, something he learned at an early age when his volunteer fire department had meetings run by Robert’s Rule of Order. And something that he thinks the next generation of leaders can benefit from. 

Comparing an early campaign fundraiser, he noted that one opponent had $1000 a plate dinner and had maybe 10 or 12 guests. He had a barbecue roast and over 500 people at just $25 per family. In the end, they raised nearly the same amount, but his campaign’s reach was far greater

“You want the people, that’s what you want, that’s what’s gonna get you the vote.” 

Now that he’s got the weight of experience behind him, he hasn’t left the spirit of compromise and working together behind. 

He notes that the success in larger cities like Bristol and Waterbury are key to the success of smaller towns like his and others in the area. In many cases, those are the same families – folks that grew up in those cities move to the suburbs to raise families, and maybe their kids move back to the city for opportunity or cheaper rents. 

So for broadband, rail service, emergency services and more, he thinks about what others are doing and if they have needs that he could help with or vice versa. 

“I’m always asking other small towns how you do this, use this equipment or grant money,” Dunn said, ​“How do you do that? You’re always getting different ideas.” 

At the end of the day, it isn’t fundraising or campaigning that ultimately matters for Mayor Dunn – it’s that people are heard and they see what their government is doing for them. 

“We have to do the right things for the people.” 

Click here to watch the entire episode of The Municipal Voice.