This is an updated version of the story that was originally posted at 9:48 a.m Wednesday, July 29.
Compromise is one of the cornerstones of American politics.
And the Trumbull Democratic Town Committee and first selectman candidate Vicki Tesoro said last week that they’d like to see more of it from First Selectman Tim Herbst when setting up this fall’s debate schedule.
“He is making demands through the media, but won’t respond to us.” Tesoro said in a press release on July 28 that asked the first selectman “to stop the political gamesman ship” and to work with her campaign to map out a series of mutually agreed-on debates.
For his part, Herbst said on July 29 that he would agree to Tesoro’s proposed three debates — two less than his desired five, but added that he would host his own “open chair” forums without Tesoro.
“I agree to three debates but, as I said earlier this week, I think we need more than that — we need to have debates based on individual issues that show the voters who has a command and understanding of specific problems that have faced Trumbull in the past, issues happening right now in the present and the issues surround the town’s future,” he said.
Herbst said that the Democrats campaign would be based on “character assassination,” rather than expertise on subject matter.
“The only way to prove that [Tesoro] has a command of the issues is to engage in face-to-face conversation in front of the public,” he said. “I will gladly debate her in three debates times.”
Herbst originally sent out the proposed debate schedule on July 15. Tesoro responded to it 12 days later, on July 27, with the first of two press releases regarding the fall debate slate.
A day later, Herbst told The Times that he stood strong with his five proposed debates.
Tesoro said in her second press release on July 28 that the feud was “a perfect snapshot of why Trumbull needs a change in leadership.”
“My opponent makes demands,” she said. “He talks to the media, but doesn’t have the common courtesy to respond to me directly, effectively shutting the door to any other opinions.
“It’s not limited to the way he campaigns, it’s the way he governs,” she added. “It’s not professional, it’s not effective, and the people of Trumbull have had enough.”
Getting five in
Tom Kelly, chairman of the DTC, told the Times on July 28 that Tesoro’s proposal was in line with previous debate schedules from past elections.
“The standard, since 2009, is three debates and we want to follow that same format,” he explained. “It’s served everyone well so far and there’s no need to change it.”
He said that five debates might be too many, and that Tesoro’s proposal included a total of five debates — three for the first selectman candidates, one for the Board of Finance nominees and one for the Board of Education challengers.
“It’s a small town, there’s only a certain amount of attention people can dedicate towards politics,” Kelly said. “No reasonable person would agree to five or seven debates, like the first selectman is proposing. We’re not evading him but we’re trying to be reasonable and present a full scope of the issues to town voters...
“The first selectman’s office is not the only office up for election this year, there are other boards that are very important to this town,” he added.
Kelly said allowing those boards’ candidates a venue to openly debate issues would be beneficial for both sides, as well as voters.
“There’s a lot of people running for the finance board and the education board this year — we haven’t had this many candidates in a while,” he explained. “This is the first year where all Board of Education members are up for re-election — we could have a complete change on that board and the public needs to get a feel for what these people think before they’re elected and eventually pass a $100 million school budget.”
Rick Costantini, who is the majority leader of the Trumbull Town Council and co-chair of Herbst’s re-election campaign, said in a press release on July 29 that Tesoro has an obligation “to not only present her plan for Trumbull, but more importantly, to defend that plan to the voters of this town...
“I can understand why Mrs. Tesoro has reservations about debating First Selectman Herbst given the progress his administration has made over the past five and half years; but to hide behind the argument that Trumbull residents can't pay attention to more than three debates for First Selectman is laughable,” Costantini added. “Trumbull residents deserve more than quick sound bites and pre-planned press releases from their candidates.”
He said that debates allow for a dialogue about specifics in each candidate's plan.
“If Mrs. Tesoro wants to be First Selectman, she should have no problem standing side-by-side with Tim and explaining to Trumbull why she is the better person for the job,” Costantini said.
Both Herbst and Costantini were adament that the Democrats needed to do more than “just say what you will do for Trumbull.”
“You have to be able to articulate how you plan to it,” Costantini said. “Tim's record speaks for itself and he is ready, willing and eager to discuss not only his record, but Trumbull 2025, a comprehensive plan for Trumbull's future.”
In her July 28 press release, Tesoro said that Herbst was on the opposite side of the argument last year when he ran for state treasurer.
“He criticized his opponent for failing to negotiate debate terms,” she said. “Now he’s doing exactly what he opposed less than 12 months ago.”
She said it might be part of a broader strategy to avoid debating her in any forum this campaign season.
“[He’s] making demands of the Tesoro campaign in the hope that no agreement can be reached,” she said.
“It appears that he would prefer not to debate the key issues facing Trumbull, such as the highest sewer rates in the state, the administration pushing through a 20.2% salary increase for the first selectman, six-year contracts for top staffers, out-of-control town-side spending, and more,” Tesoro said. “I get that. But still, it’s best for the town that we put the issues on the table and let the voters decide.”
Costantini said that Tesoro’s original press release on Monday, July 27, which proposed the three debates, was sent out 20 minutes before the Trumbull Republican Town Committee held its nomination convention.
Compounding that timing decision, Costantini said his fellow Town Council member failed to call him about working out a negotiation.
“Given that in her announcement speech she advocated for a new kind of leadership where picking up the phone and talking to people would solve problems, I am surprised my phone hasn't rang yet,” he said.
“[Herbst] made a proposal for debates that included directing Mrs. Tesoro and her campaign team to me personally to negotiate terms,” Costantini aded.
In her email to Herbst, Tesoro designated Kelly to represent her in debate discussions.
“Both Tim and Enrico have my contact information, and I'm ready to talk,” Kelly said in the release. “They can call me, text me or e-mail me.”
“What my opponent can't do is set the terms of the debates himself,” she said. “There are two candidates in this race, not one. His position is just one more indicator of too much power in too few hands.”
When speaking to The Times on June 28, Kelly agreed with that sentiment.
“No one can unilaterally dictate terms,” he said. “There needs to be a negotiation — a mutual agreement — between parties.”