Trump Supporter Elected City GOP Chair

Christopher Peak PhotoA self-described “country-club Republican” is turning over the local party to a man who once made the news for filming teens stealing Donald Trump signs off his lawn.

That transfer of power took place on Thursday night at the Republican Town Committee meeting at the Hall of Records on Orange Street.

After two years as party chairman, Jonathan Wharton, a Southern Connecticut State University political science professor who brought a moderate message and energetic recruiting approach, stepped down. In a unanimous voice vote from the 25 members in attendance, the committee picked Jeffrey Weiss, a marketing exec, as his successor.

Wharton clapped Weiss on the back after the vote and handed him a green parking permit —  the one “booby prize,” Wharton said, in the unforgiving task of rebuilding a party from scratch.

The party also reelected Marlene Napolitano as vice-chair, Michael Tortora as treasurer, David St. Hilaire as secretary, and Victor Fasano as parliamentarian.

Weiss now takes over Wharton’s uphill electoral battle to break the Democrats’ hold on the Elm City. The GOP last won the mayor’s office in 1951, and it hasn’t run for the position again since 2007. Every seat on the 30-member Board of Alders, not to mention the state and national delegations, is held by a Democrat (including two independent alders who identify as Democrats).

In part, that’s because the GOP is outnumbered in navy blue New Haven. Only 4.2 percent of registered voters claim party membership. The Democrats, by comparison, make up 68.3 percent of the voter rolls.

Weiss managed the GOP’s one citywide campaign last year. In the race for probate judge, a position opened up for the first time in 32 years by a retirement, Democrat Clifton Graves, Jr., beat out Weiss’s candidate, Republican Melissa Papantones, with 83.3 percent of the 10,549 votes cast.

A sales rep for JC Marketing Communications in Southington and a resident of the Quinnipiac Meadows neighborhood, Weiss moved to New Haven a year and a half ago from West Hartford. Up there, a Fox News affiliate featured him in a segment after two teenagers stole Trump campaign signs off his lawn. (Watch the video here.)

Weiss said he admires former President Ronald Reagan and believes the left veered off course after President John F. Kennedy. On Facebook, he has accused television networks of peddling “fake news,” mocked the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and spread conspiracy theories about the murder of a Democratic staffer.

Weiss said President Trump is doing a “great job.” But he said in his new role as chairman, he’ll welcome diverse viewpoints, encouraging “robust discussion of everything,” in contrast to what he called a union-enforced Democratic agenda at City Hall.

In his time in New Haven so far, “I see the town’s got a lot of very untapped potential,” Weiss said. “The biggest problem is that it’s one-party rule. With any party, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in charge, there is no give and take; you do not get the best results. You always need some sort of balance, so we’re here to restore democracy.”

Weiss said he plans to focus on growing the party’s size and running candidates for every open seat, from the school board to the State Senate. “There’s no reason for a seat to go unchallenged,” he said. How does Weiss plan to recruit those candidates? “You’ll see,” he said.

After two years in the gig, Wharton decided he needed to step down from the post. “It’s over,” Wharton said in an interview. “I’m overdue.”

Wharton said he plans to apply for tenure at SCSU next year, a task he said he needs time and mental focus to see through.

As chairman, Wharton tried to boost the party’s standing by finding over two dozen Republicans to join city boards and commissions , overhauling the party’s outdated webpage, and tweeting at all hours of the day.

Sometimes, his moves were questioned within the party. Wharton heard grumbles about holding too many fundraisers, especially at venues with bad food, and doing too many interviews with the media, only to get “backstabbed at the end of the day,” he said. He defended both those tactics for pulling in thousands of dollars to the party coffers and boosting the party’s presence.

Weiss said he plans to continue drumming up funds. “That’s a no-brainer,” he said. “No organization survives without the money.”

Does Wharton worry that the local party is losing a symbol of inclusivity without him at the helm? “Maybe it’s older. Whiter, okay. And straighter, fine, I get it,” said Wharton, who is African-American, but he said he feels he is leaving the party in good hands.

Weiss “brings a certain skill set that will be very helpful for candidates in the future to run for office,” Wharton said. “I’m more of a policy wonk; I’m obsessive-compulsive about issues and stances. He’s good with marketing and ads, getting the notoriety out there.”

Wharton said he and Weiss do differ in their presidential politics, too.

Wharton, who said he wrote in John Kasich’s name on the November 2016 presidential ballot, said he fits the “country-club variety.” Wharton said he doesn’t know what it would mean for a Trump supporter to be the one grooming candidates for New Haven’s party or slating delegates to send to the gubernatorial convention.

Weiss declined to say whom he’s backing for governor. “Probably a Republican,” he said.

The change in the Elm City’s chairmanship represents a general rightward trend across New England. In the region’s 21 congressional districts, 13 turned redder from 2012 to 2016. While there are still moderates in high office, from Maine’s U.S. senator to Vermont and Massachusetts’s governors, those establishment figures appear to be on the way out, demographers believe, as former industrial areas turn towards Tea Party populism.

Wharton said that it be overshooting the point to suggest that a real shift is happening in the Elm City. “The reality is that there’s variation,” he said, “but you don’t see all of them, because they’re not as plentiful on the Democratic side.”

Weiss said he plans to make room for all viewpoints in the local party.

“The national party has a platform: It’s a big tent. No one is excluded from participating if you don’t agree with the whole party line. You don’t have to follow every tank, as opposed to the Democrats where if you’re anti-abortion, you’re not welcome,” he said.

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posted by: manofthepeople on March 9, 2018  11:08am

I personally find the title of this article divisive and uncalled for. “Trump Supporter Elected City GOP Chair”. Is Trump supporter supposed to be a character judgement? A description? What does Trump supporter mean?

You could simply write about
1) A supporter of lowering taxes and encouraging business development
2) A supporter of holding schools accountable for their students and finances
3) A supporter of local government rather than distant government
4) A supporter of eliminating wasteful government programs to help lower the tax burdens for the average American

There are so many options that aren’t sensationalist yellow journalism.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 9, 2018  11:53am

Until the electorate grows a brain and quits voting auto-democrat - it’s a struggle. There was no more unqualified person than Graves.

posted by: robn on March 9, 2018  12:18pm

Admires Pres Reagan
Hates Pres Johnson?
Hates journalism
Ignores NSA confirmation of Russian election meddling
Likes Trump
Believes in conspiracy theories
“get off my lawn!” (shaky fist in air)

I think this is the most honestly genuine Republican representative to engage New Haven in a long, long time.

posted by: 06511 on March 9, 2018  12:42pm

manofthepeople,

You forgot

5) A supporter of verifiably untrue conspiracy theories
6) A supporter of a presidential candidate who vowed to ban all Muslims from coming to the United States
7) A supporter of a presidential candidate who bragged about sexually assaulting women

and so on and so forth.

posted by: Razzie on March 9, 2018  1:57pm

Manofthepeople

I don’t know about you, but I find the term “Trump supporter” highly descriptive. In the same manner as “Bernie supporter” or “Hillary supporter” tells me a good deal about the priorities and probable policies of the person the label applies to. If he is, in fact,  a Trump supporter, that tells me more than just sayiong he is a “Republican”. Some Republicans I like and appreciate. Trumpism I totally despise.

posted by: cellardoor on March 9, 2018  3:21pm

Manofthepeople, I am a Democrat who—like many Republicans—supports lowering taxes in New Haven, encouraging business,  holding schools accountable, strengthening local government, eliminating wasteful programs at every level. And I know Republicans who favor stronger public education, gun control,  and who consider health care a right and not a privilege.  But yes, “Trump supporter” tells me something more important than does “Democrat”, or “Republican”:  the troll president is a test of character, of intelligence, of education, of basic decency.  At some point it hardly matters whether a Trump supporter is stupid, or just ignorant, or greedy, or has rageful, racist/sexist/fascist impulses, or is a blend of all these factors:  responsible Americans must resist that person.

posted by: wendy1 on March 9, 2018  6:38pm

Just another reason “republicans” cant.  No hope in this town for these misguided folks.

posted by: vpaul on March 10, 2018  11:44am

Robyn - Your sarcasm is not appreciated. Why not be more honest, like the knee-jerk Wendy1?

There are plenty of us progressives who remain with the New Haven Republican Party, largely because you Democrats have proven that the one-party system does not benefit the people of this City.

And trying to label the new Town Chairman as “Trump supporter” does not give a fair evaluation of what he is doing for the local Party, and hence the City. The NH Independent, especially, can do better than that.

posted by: robn on March 10, 2018  2:05pm

VPAUL,

However much locals may not want to admit it, this candidate accurately represents the national GOP which voted a moron into the office of president. It reflects upon you.

posted by: 06511 on March 10, 2018  2:11pm

Vpaul,

Perhaps the New Haven you live in has no undocumented immigrants, Muslims, refugees, or people of color - for this is the kind of New Haven that would remain untouched by Trump’s policies and those local officials who support them.

posted by: vpaul on March 11, 2018  5:48am

No one has said Trump’s policies benefit New Haven. Rather, I’m trying to get you to understand that the local Republican Party is independent of them, and that many of us are opposed to them, even to the point of characterizing some of them as “idiotic.”

Please don’t try to tarnish us with this Administration. It’s as unfair as if we tried to say you local Dems supported Benghazi, the war in Syria, Hillary’s e-mails, and the selling of State Department appointments in return for donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Some of us think that the Republican Party can only be changed from the inside to reflect its original principles - a coalition of interests of the people of the times vs. the special interests of the times

posted by: vpaul on March 11, 2018  5:59am

As to the new chairman of the Republican Town Committee, you don’t know why he supported Trump. It may have been simply the rejection of Hillary and the awful campaign she ran. Some of us voted for Jill Stein because both candidates were horrible, and the Libertarians showed themselves to be ignorant fools.

posted by: BevHills730 on March 11, 2018  3:21pm

So an important part of Wharton’s legacy will be unleashing a Trump maniac on New Haven?

posted by: cellardoor on March 11, 2018  5:34pm

Vpaul, your comments are riddled with false equivalences.  Even if one concedes that Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate (and I think you have been misled by Russian bots on a number of counts), in November 2016 she—an experienced, intelligent,  and well-intentioned public servant with a strong international reputation—was all that stood between the presidency and the worst man ever to be nominated by any major American political party. Under these circumstances, a vote for Jill Stein (a different kind of joke than is the troll president), or even withholding one’s vote if one lived in a swing state, was irresponsible.  The Republican Party and will have to live with this stain on its history, and the people of the world will have to live with the consequences.

posted by: 06511 on March 12, 2018  11:58am

Vpaul,

Imagine this scenario:

Joe says, “If you vote for me I will give everyone in this room $200 as long as you let me punch your friend Jeff repeatedly in the face until he is unconscious.”

You vote for Joe.

Do you think Jeff will just accept it when you tell him “but I voted for him because of the $200, not the punching!” And do you think Jeff will ever trust in your ability to make responsible ethical decisions again?

This is where the Republican party is right now. It brought to the very pinnacle of power a unashamed bigot with authoritarian tendencies, and most of the party’s highest representatives continue to support and cover him in the hopes that he will enact some of their legislative priorities, many of which are themselves deleterious to working families.

If you want us to trust you with being responsible stewards of local governance, stop talking about Benghazi and Hillary’s emails, stop promoting local Republicans who spread conspiracy theories to positions of leadership, and start telling us what you are going to do to reign in the moral monster who is at the head of your party.

posted by: vpaul on March 12, 2018  2:31pm

06511 - Oh, you don’t like getting tagged with the foibles of YOUR national candidates, but you revel in bothering us (local Republicans) with the national Party! Exactly my previous point Maybe now you can re-assess the local situation fairly. Thanks for illustrating the hypocrisy of your previously stated opinion.

posted by: vpaul on March 12, 2018  2:39pm

Bev - No doubt you have clear and convincing evidence of someone’s “mania.” Please re-read my previous comments about those who could not vote for Hillary or for EITHER candidate. And please stop dredging for reasons to write us (local Republicans) off. Are you that pleased with the success of the present one-party system in New Haven?

posted by: 06511 on March 12, 2018  2:58pm

Vpaul,

Let’s forget for the moment that you have no idea what my party allegiance is (or if I even have one), and therefore have no basis on whether or not to assess my thoughts about Democrats and Hillary Clinton. We are talking about the local Republican party and its ability to capably represent the citizens of this fair city. Based on what this article states, the newly inducted party chairman spreads ludicrous conspiracy theories on his social media accounts; he also thinks that Trump is ‘doing a great job,’ in spite of the fact that (for starters), his policies have had very real impacts on New Haveners - refugee families who were slated to be reunited remain torn apart; undocumented neighbors are fleeing to churches to keep their families together (and yes, Obama’s policy on this was terrible also, and yes, I held him and his administration accountable). Please stop pretending that the national party has nothing to do with what is happening locally.

If you truly cared about building a local Republican party that can challenge the status quo, then you too should be deeply upset by this leadership change.

posted by: BevHills730 on March 12, 2018  4:08pm

Most of New Haven is horrified with Trump and the party that bends over backwards to protect him.  Wharton is doing his small part to empower this monster while his administration is literally tearing families apart in New Haven.

posted by: vpaul on March 12, 2018  5:21pm

06511 - I certainly do have an idea, since you’re so thrilled with the present local one-party system, and ready to tag us all with opinions we don’t hold. Thanks for your transparency.