With a quick, silent and unexpected shuffle, the Wilton Republican Town Committee swapped two candidates in two separate races for the Board of Education. The spots on the ticket were switched a month after they were endorsed — without making it widely known to Wilton voters.
In the upcoming municipal election on Nov. 7, Wilton voters will have two separate BOE races to consider: in one, there are three open seats for four-year terms; in the other, there is one two-year term up for grabs. Candidates on the ballot running for the BOE run in one race only, not both.
The Announced Endorsements
Heather Priest and Annie Chochos were two of the four people in total who were endorsed as the RTC’s Board of Education candidates, alongside Republican candidates Lori Bufano and Mark Shaner.
Their nominations were announced publicly in a press release issued by the RTC on July 26. That press release didn’t indicate which of the four would run for the two-year seat.
GOOD Morning Wilton had a reporter at the meeting when endorsements were made and published a story on the slate that same day. Again, there was no indication who would run for which seats.
To clarify which of their candidates would run for the two-year term, GMW emailed RTC Chair Peter Wrampe on Aug. 3; Wrampe responded that same day identifying Chochos as the candidate the party would run for the two-year seat. Priest, Bufano and Shaner would run for the four-year terms.
The Unpublicized Switch
On Aug. 22, Wilton’s town clerk Lori Kaback received signed form-letter withdrawals from both Priest and Chochos for their respective races.
Along with the withdrawals, an endorsement signed by RTC Chair Wrampe was also filed with the town clerk specifying that Chochos was now one of the three candidates running for a full term on the board, while Priest would now be running for the two-year transitional term against unaffiliated candidate Sara Sclafani.
In the month since filing the change to its slate, the RTC didn’t not make an announcement, issue a press release, or contact GMW to report the candidate switch. Neither the RTC website nor Facebook page made note of the change.
“We deemed it in the best interest of our candidates and our ticket,” Wrampe said briefly when contacted by phone Monday morning (Sept. 18) and asked why the swap was made. “I just want to leave it at that.”
Asked why there had been no notice given publicly about the switch, he said, “We didn’t see any need for that.”
Asked whether the change related to the skills or strengths of either candidate, Wrampe said, “No comment.”
Priest herself did not respond to two inquiries for comment.
Chochos, however, expressed confidence in her party.
“The campaign committee made this decision,” she said, “and Heather and I fully support it.”
Asked about the reasoning behind the decision, Chochos referred further comment to Wrampe.
“The decision was at Peter’s level and he is, therefore, the best person to ask,” she said.
While by phone Wrampe offered a “No comment” statement on whether it was important for the public to have learned in advance exactly who was running for which seats on the ticket and when that choice was made, he later forwarded some additional thoughts via email regarding the change itself.
“The change was made officially on August 22nd, just as our Row B candidates began their campaigns based on input from many members of the RTC and with the candidates’ backing,” he said. “Every year both Democrats and Republicans slot candidates based on any number of factors, which is what we did here, and our candidates have been talking to voters ever since.”
Sclafani, the unaffiliated candidate who will now face Priest in the run for the two-year seat, gave her reaction about hearing the news.
“I was not notified of any change to the Republican Town Committee slate. Transparency is one of the qualities that I value most, and while I cannot speak to anyone else’s political motivations, I have made clear from the very beginning that I have no personal agenda. I am in this race because I want to keep politics out of education and do what is best for our schools and our children,” Sclafani said.
Tom Dubin, chair of the Democratic Town Committee, was also asked to comment on the switch.
“We have no insight into why the RTC quietly shifted Heather Priest to run for the two-year position,” he said. “Perhaps they felt she’ll have a better chance of winning against independent candidate Sara Sclafani.”
UPDATE: Priest reached out to GMW on Tuesday afternoon to offer a comment: “The BOE/RTC team thought it would be a better fit for Annie and I to switch the two- and four-year seats. From my perspective it didn’t matter either way, I am just excited to run and hoping to provide as much value to the BOE as I can, if elected. I have been sharing with people as I discuss my campaign and didn’t think I needed to make an announcement. Thanks for reaching out.