NORWALK, Conn. – Anna Duleep finds a silver lining to the shifting balance of power on Norwalk’s Common Council: The Democrats are united.
“As much as I regret his decision, I have to thank him,” Duleep, leader of the council's Democrats, said of Michael Geake, who switched his party affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated last week. “We are going to be very united, and as a minority caucus we are going to present a positive alternative.”
The council now counts seven Democrats and seven Republicans, and Geake, who will caucus with the Republicans. Mayor Richard Moccia and others say that means the Republicans are now the majority.
Democrats may lose their committee chairmanships. Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan, a Republican, has issued a formal opinion (attached below) that says the council can change committee chairmanships at any time. A supermajority is not required.
But nothing has changed yet, Duleep said, because no one has made a motion that can be voted on.
Some Democrats questioned whether Geake can caucus with the Republicans under the Freedom of Information Act and have it be a private meeting. Maslan says the answer is yes. The objection would have been valid before 2002, when the legislature amended the act to say that a caucus can include members who are not in the same party, provided that person is only in one caucus, he said.
Maslan refers to Mason’s Rules, a parliamentary authority, in reference to the dispute over committee chairmanships.
Marc Bradley, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said Maslan’s ruling has been forwarded to the state Democratic Party for a review. He also questioned Maslan’s attendance of Monday night’s Republican caucus.
“We’re waiting to hear back from them about each of the points he raised,” he said. “The biggest outstanding question I think is whether he should have been in that meeting at all last night. He certainly could have been standing out in the hallway and not caucusing with Republicans.”
Geake has overturned the will of the voters, Duleep said. “This is one of those issues where you really find yourself questioning what it is to be a Democrat,” she said. “It’s just reaffirmed our commitment to each other as a caucus and to the ideals of a Democratic Party. The voters intent was a balance of power: a Republican-controlled executive branch, a Democratically control legislature. Mr. Geake took that away from the voters.”
Yet she said Democrats feel relieved. “Ever since we were elected, there has been this threat over our heads that if people don’t get their way they’re going to go to the other side,” she said. “We were all well aware of his intentions well ahead of (Tuesday’s) election. … We just hoped he wouldn’t make such a short-sighted decision.”
She speculated that a Republican might decide to switch parties, and the pendulum could swing again. “We could go back and forth for two years,” she said. “That’s the problem to having such a narrow margin, it gives one person the balance of power. It’s just that most of us choose not to exercise that.”