by Stephanie Philips
One day before the 2021 August Democratic Caucus to pick the endorsed mayoral candidate, Steve Taccogna announced he had filed a complaint against Stephanie Philips, one of the two candidates, with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Taccogna, the Chairman of the Stratford Democratic Committee (SDTC) at the time, made the complaint based on what he called a “strong suspicion” of campaign finance violations.
On February 1st, 2023, the SEEC decision completely vindicated me. As I promised, my campaign received a “Clean Bill of Health.”
I have always vehemently denied the allegations. I have said it repeatedly; this was a desperate, 11th-hour attempt by Steve Taccogna and a small group of SDTC board members to smear my reputation, deny me the Democratic endorsement, and avoid a primary race for their preferred candidate. As I had announced before the caucus, I would not primary a fellow Democrat or engage in any negative politics. But, unfortunately, my opponent made no such promise.
It has been a long two years, but I’ve moved on. I remain a committed Democrat and will continue to work for our community. My heartfelt thanks to all of you who stood by me during this investigation and refuted all accusations – formal and otherwise – leveled at me.
Taccogna’s SEEC complaint accused Philips of financing her 2017 mayoral campaign with straw donations from a reputed former mobster. He also accused her of using federal Paycheck Protection Program loans made to her business for her 2021 campaign.
It is very unusual for a current Democratic Chairman to file a public complaint against a former Democratic Chairperson, let alone one with 14 years of elective office experience and the only minority woman to hold the position.
The Democratic mayoral candidate faced one opponent in 2021 and lost by 3299 votes; I ran for mayor in 2017 and lost by only 612 votes in a three-way race. The 2021 election results across the board speak for themselves and the DTC’s decision-making process regarding their local candidates.
I believe the complaint resulted from a personal vendetta by a few DTC leaders, since my attempts to reconcile afterward were rebuffed. Even so, like other Democrats in town who are not members of the Stratford DTC, I gave funds and time to our local candidates running for office in November 2022.
That said, after the 2022 election, I was surprised to hear that the DTC leadership limited the Democratic post-election celebration to invitation only by RSVP. Rather than prioritizing inclusiveness by welcoming everyone and allowing the candidates to celebrate with all their supporters and donors, this leadership chose to do the opposite.
Choosing a closed celebration for party insiders at an undisclosed catered restaurant was an egregious mistake. It was an insult to the broader donor base and supporters of all the Democratic candidates in favor of the vetted supporters of a select few. These actions only serve to foster an elitist clique mentality within the Democratic Town Committee.
DTC leadership should work towards embracing all Democrats. Every contribution is important, and every person who gives time and energy to a campaign should be acknowledged.
That is how you grow attendance and make a quorum.