Probate court judge endorsement convention ends in stalemate
Republicans from both New Canaan and Darien gathered on Thursday, May 6, to officially endorse a candidate for judge of the towns' newly merged probate court. After more than three hours of debate, the 20 delegates failed to endorse an official candidate for the position.
New Canaan delegates nominated Bill Ostendorf, and Darien delegates nominated John Ryan. Each town committed all 10 of its delegates to its own candidate three separate times before the voting was called to an end.
"Both John Ryan and Bill Osterndorf received Certifications of Eligibility to appear on the Aug. 10 primary ballot since they each received 50 percent of the vote of the convention delegates present and voting," said Harry Artinian, the committee's temporary chairman. "Neither will appear on the line reserved for endorsed candidates since the convention adjourned without endorsement."
The convention got off to a rocky start, with questions raised about the distribution of members on committees. Originally, the convention's rules committee was comprised of two Darien delegates and one New Canaan delegate, while the credentials committee had two New Canaan delegates and one Darien delegate. Both committees were created by Artinian, who also serves as the chairman of Darien's Republican Town Committee.
Artinian said he selected an odd number of members for both committees, because it is standard practice at such conventions. Odd numbers tend to lead to a quicker voting process, according to Artinian.
"I was very disappointed in the way that convention was handled by Harry [Artinian]. And I don't think it was something that I would ever want to be a part of," said Darien's Republican First Selectman David Campbell.
"They basically tried to cut off New Canaan's ability to have a say at the convention, and were trying to keep New Canaan from participating, basically," he said. "In the first hour-and-a-half, it was not a good meeting. It was not allowing New Canaan to put their own people they wanted on certain committees, not allowing New Canaan equal voices on important committees and just shooting down anything New Canaan asked for. And I don't think that's the way to treat a neighbor."
O'Hora said Artinian tried to dictate which New Canaan delegates to place on the committees.
"We had to push back and say, `No, Harry, we'll decide which delegates to put on what committee, just like you did,'" he said.
Eventually, the delegates altered the committee compositions. New Canaan Republican Delegate Bill Redman was added to the rules committee, which was chaired by Darienite Sam Schoonmaker, and also consisted of New Canaan's Matthew Palladino and Darien's Gil Kernan, according to Artinian.
"The rules committee is the most important committee at the convention. ... They would have tried to have broken the 10-10 tie by giving more weight to the temporary chairman's vote by saying it counts for two votes or something," said O'Hora, explaining his objection to its original makeup.
Once the committees were reconstituted, each town put forth a candidate for the position of probate court judge. Had the delegates elected a permanent chairman, that person would have been able to issue a tie-breaking vote; Artinian was only a temporary chairman.
Though no permanent chairman was chosen, there was contention over the fact that Artinian was selected as the temporary chairman by the chairman of the State Committee.
"Apparently the Republican state party chairman selected Harry Artinian, my counterpart, as the temporary chairman of the convention. I was not consulted. I was not asked [for] input. I was not even informed that he was going to be the temporary chairman. In my opinion, that was a terrible choice," O'Hora said.
O'Hora said Artinian is "completely conflicted" because of his allegiance to Darien.
A spokesman for the Republican Party of Connecticut said Artinian was chosen because he is both an RTC chairman and a delegate at the convention, whereas O'Hora was not a delegate.
Artinian issued the following statement in response to comments about the way he handled the meeting:
"Our system of endorsement is through a party convention. This year was particularly challenging given that, with the uniquely planned probate court merger of our two towns, each town had an equal number of delegates. Overcoming strong initial feelings of New Canaan skepticism and mistrust, perhaps because the chairman of the State Committee of Connecticut appointed a temporary chairman from Darien, took a great deal of time, patience and flexibility as key items were successfully negotiated, the acrimony dissolved, full agreement was reached and delegates ultimately left on cordial terms.
"Critical attacks of the process or how it was conducted, observed especially by those who are brand new to politics, claim to be non-political or those advising them who have their own political hidden agendas, cannot be taken seriously because the convention dynamics may or may not be to their liking. Attacks of this type do a disservice to the citizens of both towns."
Ostendorf said he was happy with the outcome of the convention.
"It ended up the way everyone expected it would," he said. "It was unfortunate that it took almost three and a half hours when it could have been done in less than one hour, but it's behind us and it's time to start thinking forward to the primaries."
"I don't know that it makes any sense to focus on the fact that the meeting was a little lively on getting started, because it was pretty obvious what the result was likely to be," he said. "It was a new convention. It was a new district. A lot of it was new people coming with different perspectives."
Brittany Lyte can be reached at email@example.com; Maggie Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.