SEEC appoints Hamden lawyer as top elections watchdog

On its second try in less than a month at naming a new leader, the State Elections Enforcement Commission on Friday selected Michael J. Brandi of Hamden as its executive director and general counsel, a choice the commission hopes will quell a political storm.

Brandi, 40, a lawyer in private practice, was the chief administrative officer for a Democratic mayor, Carl Amento, in Hamden from 2001 to 2004. He has had no more recent political involvement, according to the commission’s chairman, Stephen F. Cashman.


Michael J. Brandi

The commission abandoned its plan a month ago to name a recently defeated elected official, former Mayor Sebastian Giuliano of Middletown, in the face of legislative opposition to someone so recently involved in partisan politics.

“We believe that appearances do matter, and we’ve taken steps, hopefully, to allay the perception that our original choice was not going to be able to be impartial,” Cashman said before the commission voted unanimously to appoint Brandi. “Quite frankly, that is something we underestimated.”

Cashman said he had no doubts about Giuliano’s ability to be impartial, but even the appearance of partisanship could undermine an agency responsible for overseeing election law and the state’s public financing program for legislative and statewide campaigns.

He said in an interview that the commission was so focused on finding a new leader to run an agency hobbled by budget cuts, retirements and staff reductions that it failed to anticipate the political storm that would be generated by its choice of Giuliano.

“We have had a tumultuous year here for a variety of reasons,” Cashman said.

But, ultimately, the commissioners acknowledged that they needed to address the perception that the state’s top elections watchdog might not be politically impartial, Cashman said.

“That’s what we did. We’re trying to correct the damage,” Cashman said. “We’re trying to do the right thing.”

Brandi was in the original group of seven applicants who were interviewed. Cashman said the commission decided not to formally launch a new search, fearing it would take too much time.

The new director, who will assume his duties Feb. 10, said he had no second thoughts about seeking the job after seeing the controversy that engulfed Giuliano.

“I had no reluctance at all. I am appreciative of the commissioners and their confidence in me,” Brandi said. “My job is to move this agency forward, and that’s what I am focusing on.”

He is taking over an agency that shrunk from 52 to 34 employees in the past year. Brandi’s role requires having the skills to lobby the governor and legislature for sufficient resources, while keeping sufficient distance to oversee investigations of elections officials.

Brandi is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross and the University of Connecticut School of Law. He was a member of the Democratic Town Committee in Hamden during the 1990s, but he said he has never held elective office.

His only campaign contribution found on data bases of state and federal races in recent years was $250 he gave in 2009 to Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.

For the past seven years, he has been a lawyer with Cohen and Acampora in East Haven, practicing municipal, administrative and busines law. He previously was with the Hartford firm of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy.

He succeeds Albert P. Lenge, who retired in September.

The pay range for the new position is $103,539 to $132,804 a year.