WESTBROOK – Candidates for mayor, City Council and the School Committee will be nominated a month earlier than usual by the Westbrook Democratic Committee, a move being criticized by the mayor, but supported by party leaders.

Mayor Mike Sanphy says the decision to hold the vote on Tuesday, Aug. 13 is a way for the Democratic party to “load the November ballot” with their chosen candidates. Caucus leaders counter that the early date was chosen in order to fill the Ward 1 seat vacated when Councilor Brendan Rielly resigned Aug. 1.

In addition, Sanphy, a Democrat who is seeking the party’s bid after losing at the 2016 caucus but still winning the race, also said residents may not expect a weekday caucus before Labor Day.

Caucuses, party-specific meetings where members choose a preferred candidate, are typically held in early September. The date is chosen by the executive board within the local Democratic party and consists of four people, including City Councilor Mike Foley, who is also running for mayor and is the treasurer of the Westbrook Democratic Committee.

“The decision to have the caucus in August was in regards to Rielly resigning,” Foley said. “We communicated the need for a caucus and (Rielly’s) desire for the seat to be filled. Historically, we try not to leave any seat vacant.”

Rielly, when he announced his decision to step down at the City Council’s July 15 meeting, noted that he wanted to caucus for his replacement sometime in early August.

When Democrats caucus at 6 p.m. in the Community Center gym at 426 Bridge St., they will nominate two candidates for City Council for Ward 1. One person will be nominated to complete Rielly’s term from August through November. The second vote for Ward 1 will be the candidate nominated for the November general election.

“The way it will work for Brendan’s seat is, Ward 1 caucus attendees will hold two votes on the 13th. … Likely that will end up being the same person, but that’s up to the voters,” Westbrook Democratic Committee president David Morse said.

Nominations will also be taken for candidates to represent Ward 2, now served by Victor Chau; Ward 5, held by Larry McWilliams, and Ann Peoples’ at-large seat. Also up for nomination at the caucus will be School Committee positions in Ward 3, held by Noreen Poitras; Ward 4, held by Michael Popovic; and School Committee President Suzanne Joyce’s at-large seat.

While his seat is not up at the caucus, Foley said he plans to run for mayor and give up his council seat if he wins the mayoral race. If that happens, the city would likely have a caucus in the fall or winter to find someone to replace him.

“It’s a pretty informal process where Democratic neighbors get together and decide who will appear on the ballot for various positions,” Morse said.

An earlier caucus also means if a candidate fails to get nominated, they will have more time to file paperwork to run outside of the party, since the deadline to submit is Sept. 6.

According to Foley, voters have favored keeping the caucus, as it is a unique system for small-town government and is a part of the city’s character. He notes that while the City Council historically approves caucus nominations to fill vacancies, it is not required to.

But Sanphy believes whoever is nominated to finish Rielly’s term will have an unfair advantage in November, as the winning candidate will likely win the regular caucus vote for Ward 1 as well.

“That role doesn’t need to be filled, I say leave it open until the election because the candidate who wins the seat to fill Ward 1 will likely just get voted in come November too, and a lot of people won’t be able to voice their opinion,” Sanphy said. “It seems people are stepping down early to create an incumbent for November and that is suspicious; why don’t they just finish their term out?”

“The seniors, people working, they cannot make it on Tuesday,” Sanphy said.

“For the past three years, the caucus was on a weekday. … Another factor that plays into that is the availability of the community center gym,” Foley said.

Sanphy also believes caucuses are outdated and easily manipulated.

“We really should have a primary system,” he said. “There are no absentee ballots for caucuses. … people are calling me because they didn’t know about it.”

“We do our best for a date most people can make,” Morse said. “We have it on Facebook, we have an expansive mailing list that we emailed once the date was decided, we are also putting ads about the caucus in the paper”

“We want as many people there as possible. For those who are not registered, we will also have the City Clerk there from five to six registering people to vote,” Morse added.

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