After reversing its initial decision to hire former Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, the State Elections Enforcement Commission re-interviewed the finalists and voted unanimously Friday to hire an attorney from Hamden as its new executive director.
Michael Brandi, 40, an attorney in private practice for 15 years and the former chief administrative officer of Hamden, was chosen to lead the agency in charge of administering the Citizens’ Election Program and enforcing election laws.
The commission’s initial choice of Giuliano received widespread criticism from the co-chairs of the legislature’s General Elections and Administrations Committee to Wesleyan students, who felt Giuliano gave them misinformation about their ability to vote in the November election.
Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, has said he has nothing against Giuliano, but believed the commission should reconsider his hiring because he “just came off of a real partisan, nasty election.”
“I just don’t believe somebody fresh out of a partisan position should hold that position,” Morin said. “It wouldn’t matter who it was.”
Giuliano told the Courant that its reversal made it look weak. Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney sent a letter to the commission urging it to stick with its gut and hire Giuliano, despite the criticisms.
State Elections Enforcement Chairman Stephen Cashman said Friday that he was surprised by the reaction of the regulatory community and the media to Giuliano’s nomination.
But in the end he decided that “the mission of this agency can only be accomplished when the people of the state of Connecticut and the regulated community believe that we are truly independent, impartial, and nonpartisan.“
“We believe that appearances do matter,” Cashman said Friday. “And we’re taking steps hopefully to allay the perception that our original choice was not capable of being fair and impartial.”
“Quite frankly that is something we underestimated,” Cashman said.
He said that’s not to say the commission didn’t truly believe Giuliano could be fair and impartial, it’s just they underestimated the perception that he may not be because of his recent past position.
In an interview after his appointment Friday, Brandi said he wasn’t reluctant to continue with the interview process.
A registered Democrat, Brandi said, he plans on making sure the legislature knows the SEEC is a fair and impartial office and is going to follow the law. He said there were no political officials or lawmakers who encouraged him to apply for the job, but he thinks he’ll be a good fit based on his management experience with the town of Hamden.
Brandi has never held elected office, but he said he has given to both Democratic and Republican campaigns in the past.
As executive director Brandi’s salary will be more than $100,000 a year and he will oversee a staff of about 30. He starts Feb. 10.