For the first time, the state’s elections watchdog agency has chosen a politician and an outsider to lead its operations, tapping Sebastian N. Giuliano, a Republican fresh off a losing re-election campaign for mayor of Middletown.
His appointment will not be formally approved by the State Elections Enforcement Commission until Jan. 18, but all five commissioners acted as a search committee that unanimously picked Giuliano as executive director and general counsel, the panel’s chairman said Thursday night.
“The fact that the position was vacant for so long, we wanted to make the announcement” before the formal vote, said Stephen F. Cashman, the chairman.
Giuliano was one of two former mayors in the pool of four finalists, whom Cashman declined to identify. Another finalist was a former chief operating officer of a municipality, while the fourth was from the private sector. No commission official or other state employee was a finalist.
Giuliano, who assumes the post Jan. 20, said he applied for the job in late November, after losing his re-election. He acknowledged the novelty of the politician now becoming a regulator of other politicians.
“I’ve seen it from all sides,” he said.
His appointment was announced Thursday, but he said Cashman notified him Wednesday that he had the job. The search and interviews were conducted without publicly announced meetings.
The commission has no meetings scheduled on its website until Jan. 18.
In an interview Thursday night, Cashman said the panel started with 35 candidates, interviewed seven or eight and picked from a pool of four.
“We were very satisfied with the search we did,” Cashman said.
The commission advertised nationally, in either the New York Times or Washington Post, and contacted law schools and professional organizations.
Applicants were required to have five years of legal practice and two years of management experience. None of the lawyers on the agency’s depleted staff met the management requirement, Cashman said.
The commission was reduced from 52 to 34 employees.
Cashman said the commission concluded that being a politician, even one who held public office less than two months ago, was no bar to being considered.
“We very carefully discussed it,” he said.
Giuliano served six years as Middletown’s chief executive until losing his bid for a fourth term in November to Democrat Dan Drew, who was strongly backed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Giuliano succeeds Albert P. Lenge, who retired in November.
“In light of the challenges we face in the area of public campaign financing and agency consolidation issues, I have every confidence that Sebastian Giuliano possesses the knowledge and experience to lead the commission,” Cashman said in a news release earlier Thursday. “We believe he is the right guy for the job.”
Cashman said in his statement that Giuliano stood out in a crowded field of candidates, but he may need to overcome some skepticism among Democratic proponents of public financing in the legislature.
The state’s public financing program was opposed by most Republicans, including the former party chairman who ran Giuliano’s first successful campaign for mayor, Chris Healy.
“I understand the arguments both ways,” Giuliano said of public financing.
His own views are irrelevant, he said, because his job will be to enforce the law as written by the General Assembly, and the public financing is a program the commission is charged with overseeing.
Giuliano said he has not been involved any issues before the commission, either as a complainant or as a target.
In his last campaign, Giuliano told Wesleyan students who registered to vote in Middletown using their campus post office box that they needed to inform the registrar of their actual dorm or apartment address. He denied suggestions by students that he might have been trying to intimidate them, saying their actual address made a difference in which district they voted.
“If we wanted to discourage voting, we would have shut our mouths and challenged them when they showed up to vote,” he said.
The commission described Giuliano as a committed and dynamic leader with more than 20 years of experience practicing law in Connecticut. A 1975 graduate of Boston College, he received his law degree in 1978 from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He also attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Giuliano’s appointment comes less than seven months after the commission was reclassified as a division — along with eight other watchdog agencies — within the new state Office of Governmental Accountability.
Along with the merger, the commission also has been challenged by deep budget cuts and reduced funding for the public financing program for state elections.
“What you’ve got is what you’ve got,” Giuliano said of the present budget. “You’ve got to get the job done.”
Nearly $60 million has been removed from the Citizens’ Election Fund over the past three years to close budget gaps.
The fund’s main source of revenue, its share of proceeds from the sale of abandoned properties, was cut by 43 percent this fiscal year. Malloy and the legislature also cut one-third of the staffing for the commission in the current budget.
It is unclear if the commission has adequate staff to process applications for public financing, which will come in a rush later this year, when all 187 members of the General Assembly are up for re-election. About three-quarters of the lawmakers have used the fund.
“It would be less than truthful if I said it was not going to be challenging,” Cashman said.
He said the commission will not approve grants without fully examining applications.
“We’re going to err on the side of deferring until such time we are completely sure if the person has met every qualification,” he said.
Lenge, who spent two years as executive director starting in the fall of 2009, had served the commission for 14 years prior to that as deputy director and assistant general counsel.
Lenge succeeded Jeffrey B. Garfield, who had been executive director for 30 years until his retirement in 2009.
Giuliano’s salary was not available Thursday, but the posted salary range for the job is $103,539 to $132,804 per year.