Steven Adler, who was first elected to the West Hartford Town Council as a Republican in 2007, announced Monday that he has resigned from the Republican Party and changed his registration to "Unaffiliated."
Adler, who works as Manager of Privacy & Compliance for UnitedHealthcare's Legal, Compliance & Regulatory Affairs Practice, indicated that the recent partisan conflict over the fiscal cliff is what cemented his decision.
"I've been a Republican for over 25 years. I've never been anything other than a Republican," Adler said Monday morning.
In Connecticut, Adler said, unaffiliated voters now make up about 41 percent of voters. "There's a message there. I think people are disenfranchised about political parties. People are trying to get more issue-focused," he said.
Adler indicated that his decision to change was not so much focused on the local Republican party, but rather that party identification these days tends to overshadow the issues, which is what he believes are really important.
"There are good people within the West Hartford Republican Town Committee. I think they have very good intentions," said Adler. "The problem is that good people tend to get derailed."
Adler believes that as an independent he will be able to step back and get input from a variety of people. "We have diversity in our communities, and I think we need to engage those diversities," he said.
"For me, it's about how to focus on the issues without being part of the party ideology." He said that being labeled as a member of a political party makes that difficult. "How do you build trust and transparency if you can't get away from the predisposed political rhetoric?" he said.
Adler did not discuss his decision in advance with Town Council Minority Leader Denise Hall. She learned of his action through an email she received Monday morning that was also sent to Mayor Scott Slifka, Town Manager Ron Van Winkle, Town Clerk Essie Labrot, and the registrars of voters.
Hall said Adler's decision was personal, but she did not seem surprised. "He had not attended any caucus meetings lately so I sensed that his interest had waned," Hall said via email on Monday. She said that based on Adler's email, his ideological differences seemed focused on the national party, rather than on a local level.
Republican Town Committee Chairman Peter Martin was also not informed about the decision in advance. "Frankly, it is a non-issue and not surprising. Steve has been missing in action since his nomination two years ago, and likely would not have been nominated again. Whatever he wants to call himself now politically will have no impact on our relationship or the West Hartford Republican Party," Martin said via email.
Adler is the fifth local Republican leader to change party affiliation in recent years. Town Council members Joe Verrengia and Leon Davidoff switched from Republican to Democratic affiliation. Barbara Carpenter changed her affiliation from Republican to Unaffiliated in 2005. Board of Education member Naogan Ma formerly was a Republican and later ran for and was elected as a Democrat.
"It's deja vu all over again. It seems like this happens almost every year or every other year," said Mayor Scott Slifka.
"By way of observation, there seems to have been turmoil in the Republican Party since 2005. Steve may just be the latest. It appears to be a chronic condition," said Slifka.
Slifka said that the change is less complicated than when Leon Davidoff switched parties because it doesn't affect the majority representation, and said he looks forward to dealing with Adler independently.
Since the position of minority leader is an informal designation, and not part of the town's charter, Slifka said that Adler's departure would not affect that role. He said it may impact nominations for town boards and commissions.
"It makes a difference in that in addition to Council meetings, we each attend different committee meetings and then share information within our caucus. I attend monthly – and sometimes twice a month – Finance & Budget meetings, and monthly Public Safety meetings. I also attend the Pension Board and Veterans Commission meetings. I will now attend Administration & Technology Meetings. Burke [Doar, the remaining Republican on the Town Council] also has committee assignments, and he will take on more as well," said Hall.
"Ultimately, we now have two Republicans representing West Hartford residents on the Council. I believe in the two party system and I don't think it is healthy for the town or the state to be governed by a single political party," Hall said.
For now Adler will remain a caucus of one on the West Hartford Town Council. He said he isn't concerned about re-election and has not yet decided if he will run again in 2013.
"At the end of the day, if you're an effective political leader people will support you. If you want a friend you've got to get a dog," he said.