Milford Independents cross-endorse Republicans at top of ticket

The leader of the Milford Independent Party said concerns about affordable housing drove some of this year’s decisions when the committee gathered recently to choose candidates to cross-endorse in the November elections.

At the top of the ticket, the Independents are backing Republicans Paula Smith for mayor and Joanne Rohrig for city clerk.

Smith is running against incumbent Democrat Mayor Ben Blake; Rohrig, the current city clerk, is being challenged by Democrat Brendan Casey.

The Milford Independent Party only has 11 registered members, though those numbers swell to 276 when counting those registered as Independent — minus the Milford tag — according to the registrar of voters office. That compares to 6,808 registered Republicans; 8,799 registered Democrats and 16,171 unaffiliated voters.

But even with those relatively low Independent numbers, the party has wielded some power in recent years.

Several of the Republican and Democratic candidates running for office in the November elections attended the Milford Independent Party’s committee meeting this past weekend to offer their views on issues.

Rocco Frank, head of the Milford Independent Party, said the top issue for his party is affordable housing in Milford.

“The top item discussed across the board is the ongoing challenges with 8-30g [the affordable housing legislation], clarity on Mayor Blake’s position, restrictions on the use of expert witnesses to testify on behalf of Milford, especially in the 8-30g appeals court, and the ongoing situations whereby the city is consuming money on 8-30g appeals,” Frank said. “All endorsed candidates expressed their willingness to work with our state legislators to reform 8-30g.”

Frank, who was vocal in fighting a Wheelers Farms Road development plan, said the 180-unit apartment complex that was proposed on Wheelers Farms Road and denied by Milford’s Planning and Zoning Board is drawing a lot of concern from members of the Milford Independent Party. Even though the P&Z denied the plan, residents fear it is not a done issue because the developer is filing an appeal of the denial.

In addition to Smith and Rohrig, the Milford Independents voted to back the following candidates:

Greta Stanford (D), Ellen Beatty (D), and Anthony Giannattasio (R) for aldermen in the 1st district.

Jeremy Grant (R) for alderman in the 2nd District.

Philip Zetye (D) and Suzanne DiBiase (R) for Board of Education members in the 5th District.

John Grant (R) for Planning and Zoning board in the 5th District.

The Milford Independent Party’s cross-endorsements, initially seen as unimportant and even drawing criticism from some major party representatives in the past, have become more sought after in recent years. In several past elections Independent Party cross-endorsements have affected races because the candidate’s name appears on the ballot twice — once for their own party, and then again for the Independent Party. The combined votes in some cases gave cross-endorsed candidates the edge over their opponent.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Paul Beckwith said the GOP in Milford has always held respect for the Independents and appreciates their cross-endorsements.

“For many years now the Milford Republicans have recognized and respected the strength of the Independent Party voice in Milford and truly appreciate the opportunity to again present our vision for Milford to their caucus,” Beckwith said.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Rich Smith attended the Milford Independent Party’s endorsement meeting and said he was skeptical of the nominating process: Nominations took place at Frank’s house Saturday evening, Smith said.

“Despite being in the room for part of the Milford Independent Party ‘convention’, I remain completely stumped on how it worked,” Smith said. “There was Rocco and his wife and five other people, so a total of seven folks deciding endorsements.”

Smith also questioned the focus on the affordable housing legislation, saying, “That is a state issue.”

He said the party has the power to affect races, but wonders if that’s real power.

“They get about 100 to 150 votes in the line so it can impact outcome,” Smith said. “The question is, where would those people have voted if the Milford Independent Party line was not there?”