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Democrat’s win causes unrest in party

November 11, 2018

STAMFORD — When the Democratic City Committee endorsed Board of Education candidates back in May, they gave their blessing to three people: incumbent board member David Mannis, city constable Jon Gallup and parent advocate and new Democrat Jackie Pioli.

All endorsements were not equal, however. Now, on the back end of an election that did not go the way party leaders intended, DCC Chairman Josh Fedeli said the idea was for Pioli and Gallup to be “placeholder” candidates on the ballot, to protect people from petitioning their way onto the Democrat line, which is valuable in a blue-leaning city like Stamford (case in point: Gallup, who did not actively campaign, received 23,378 votes, more than all three minority party candidates combined).

Fedeli said Pioli understood the DCC would be spending their resources on supporting Mannis, handing out fliers and taking out an advertisement in The Stamford Advocate urging people to vote for Mannis.

“We spoke to her about our process,” Fedeli said. “It meant we expected her to support the ticket and it meant the city committee was going to support David Mannis. When they used our resources in the race, they were for David Mannis. She chose to run a competitive race and that was her right. I don’t believe it was clear to our committee that was her intent until she was endorsed.”

But Pioli said that was not the case. The 40-year-old parent advocate and Stamford Public Schools parent always intended to run a robust campaign for the only open Democratic seat on the board. On Election Day, she beat Mannis by nearly 2,000 votes following a race that pitted two people in the same party against each other.

“I’m excited and I’m happy to see that the hard work that not only myself, but other people who helped with my campaign, showed,” Pioli said. “It goes to show that you have to give true democracy to the people and let them vote on the candidate they want and not push to just vote for one candidate. That hurt David too.”

Prior to the election, Fedeli said Pioli was recommended for endorsement by another board member. He added last week that Pioli had just switched party affiliation after running last year with the Green Party, and losing with about 2,000 votes. An endorsement, he said, would help the new Democrat establish herself within her party and gain name recognition.

“Jackie had no other choice,” Fedeli said. “She couldn’t primary on the ballot (as a new party member). I feel in the end she misused the goodwill of the community. We will remember that in the future for all cases.”

In an advertisement taken out by the DCC in The Stamford Advocate the Sunday before election day, a sample ballot only promoted votes for Mannis. A pamphlet handed out on election day showed the same.

In an email from Fedeli to DCC members the day before the elections, the chairman urged people to vote for Mannis and said Pioli “re-negged” on her agreement to become a placeholder.

“Jackie Pioli has resorted to negative campaigning, name calling and misleading this committee to gain our endorsement,” Fedeli wrote. “She is ill suited to serve on this Board and as your chairman, I’m embarrassed that she on the Democratic line. I will be voting, with a bullet, for David Mannis. I urge you to do the same, and not allow this disruptor to subvert this committee.”

Pioli disputes his assertions, saying from the time she was endorsed, she went to campaign meetings, gave updates to the DCC and openly campaigned on social media. She said it wasn’t until the week before the election that Fedeli began claiming she was never intended to truly run.

“I was upset by it because they lied to the public,” Pioli said. “Democracy is all about giving people the option to vote and they didn’t do that. They honestly did not believe I had a chance at winning and I showed them. Hard work, door knocking and canvassing did that.”

David Michel, a Democratic state representative from the 146th District, said he and others he spoke with were not aware Pioli had allegedly been a placeholder. He added he advocated for her when she said she didn’t have access to the Democrats’ database used for door knocking while her opponent did.

“It’s a little bit weird,” said Michel, who won his seat last week. “I immediately had a fundamental problem with the fact the DCC has eliminated one of their own endorsed candidates. I feel it is their obligation to be neutral between endorsed candidates. They should not show a position. Josh is arguing she agreed to be a placeholder. My response to that is then stop playing around and getting placeholders.”

Michel and other Stamford Democrats are now calling for unity within the party and to move forward with Pioli on the board.

“Our number one priority as public servants is community, community, community,” said Board of Education member Antoine Savage. “On Tuesday, the community spoke and it’s our duty as elected officials to answer and respond. ... We are all in this together to serve the community and they gave us marching orders on Tuesday.”

Fedeli said the DCC will continue to use placeholders.

“She did a great job,” he said. “(Pioli) ran a good campaign ... the voters are ultimately what we go by. She’s now a Democrat on the board of ed and I wish her all the success in the world and congratulate her on the victory. It won’t change the way we go about our process.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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