Former Middletown Mayor Sebastian N. Giuliano won’t become the state’s top election watchdog after all – and he says that Connecticut’s election-enforcement agency has weakened itself by reversing its original decision to hire him.
Giuliano was chosen by the state Election Enforcement Commission, in a decision announced Jan. 12 – but the appointment was put on hold a week later after a strong protest from two Democratic legislative committee co-chairs who wield legislative oversight over the enforcement agency.
Now Giuliano says he’s been told that the elections agency will “re-post” the job, which pays $100,000 plus annually, following public criticism from two legislative committee co-leaders. State Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg of Milford and Rep. Russ Morin of Wethersfield said Giuliano was too freshly removed from partisan politics to serve in key position enforcing other politicians’ compliance with state election laws. Giuliano lost in his Nov. 8 attempt to be re-elected to a fourth term as Middletown mayor.
Giuliano, 59, a Republican, said in an interview Monday that he will not re-apply, and he called it “impossible” that the commission would consider his old application. He said the commission – already weakened by staff reductions that came as it was merged with other watchdog agencies in a Malloy-administration consolidation move – is now surrendering its independence by backing down.
“It’s like [members of the elections commission] are in bed with the covers pulled over their heads – hoping that when they peek out, the boogeyman is no longer there,” Giuliano said. “This problem is not going to go away. This goes to the heart of who you are.”
Giuliano said the commission should have asserted its independence because “it did nothing wrong…..If you are giving up the only thing you have, really, to fight with or defend yourself with – your independence and your integrity – then you are defenseless against those who want to dismantle you … and put you out of business,” Giuliano said.
The commission’s chairman, Stephen Cashman, said in the original Jan. 12 press release that the panel selected Giuliano – after conducting interviews to pare down a field of more than 30 applicants – because he “is the right guy for the job.”
“I think that the chairman [Cashman] was told … in effect by those two legislators” that the commission’s continued existence might be jeopardized if it went through the hiring, Giuliano said. He said he had spoken with Cashman and other commission members last week, and got the impression that if the threat to the agency’s future was “not expressly stated, then it was an extremely strong implication.”
He said commission members told him last week that "the legislative leadership and the administration have wanted to get rid of them" for a long time. "By looking weak and poilitically malleable, do you think they make a stronger or weaker case for their existence?"
Slossberg and Morin have said that to serve on the election enforcement commission, a person must "be removed from partisan politics for three full years" – and they say that the same cooling-off period should apply to the commission's top paid administrator in charge of investigating alleged election-law violations by candidates and office-holders.
But Giuliano said the three-year cooling-off period is not in the statutes concerning the executive director’s job, adding that there’s no “magic” to that standard. “That isn’t any kind of indicator of whether you’re going to conduct yourself in a partisan manner or an impartial manner,” he said.
“I have a question for Senator Slossberg and Representative Morin. That question is: Are you telling me that if you … were ever called upon to conduct yourself in a nonpartisan, fair and impartial manner – [recognizing] the fact that you hold elective office, have had to go through partisan campaigns, and I presume in a few months you're going to go through them again – does that fact render you incapable of acting in a nonpartisan, impartial manner when called upon to do so?”
“If you say yes – I am capable of that when called upon to do so – then what makes you special? How do you presume to be able do it, but no one else can? And if the answer is no, … then how do you do your job?”
Reached later Monday, Slossberg said Giuliano’s comments vindicate the commission’s reversal of its decision to hire him. “Unfortunately, Mr. Giuliano’s response has made it all the more obvious why we insisted that there be independent leadership with regard to the watchdog agencies,” she said. “That type of comment sounds like partisan sour grapes, and it’s exactly what we need to avoid for somebody to be an appropriate head of an independent, nonpartisan watchdog agency. People from both sides of the aisle have to have faith that its leadership is nonpartisan.”
She said rather than weakening the commission, the position that she and Morin took will help to preserve and strengthen it. “Obviously, we have continued to fight to insure that this agency has remained independent and nonpartisan,” she said.
Morin said that he "went out of my way, with anybody I spoke to, not to make this personal with the mayor. I applaud his service as mayor.... I refuse to get involved in 'you smack me, I smack you back.' That's not productive."
Giuliano said he had no doubt of his ability to be nonpartisan. He said he’d supplied eight names as references – five of them Democrats – who he said would attest to his ability “do the job even when your own interests conflict with it. “I take my oath seriously,” he said, referring to his oath as a lawyer in private practice for 27 years, and his oath as mayor for three terms. “Many, many times in the six years I was mayor, something would come up and I would think, ‘This would be better for me, it would be easier for me, but it’s not what’s right.'”
Giuliano, who said he had never run afoul of the elections enforcement commission while he was in elective politics, became the subject of a election complaint Jan. 17 – the day before the commission had been scheduled to vote on his hiring, but then backed off. The complaint was filed with the elections agency by a student from Wesleyan University in Middletown on behalf of a campus Democrats’ group. It alleged that he and allies had tried to interfere with Democratic students' ability to vote in November.
Giuliano said Monday there’s no valid basis for the complaint and he has no worries about it. He said he’d become aware before the election that some Wesleyan students had registered to vote with campus mailboxes as their addresses; he said he’d indicated that they should make sure the local registrar had an actual place of residence for them, or their votes might be challenged. Students said it had always been done that way in the past, and Giuliano responded that he never buys that argument.
He said if he was trying to keep the Wesleyan students from voting, his campaign would have said nothing about the possible registration problems and then raised a challenge when they tried to vote.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun