Stepping outside the realm of daily political duties, the Milford Democratic Party honored city residents and fellow party members at its third annual awards dinner Wednesday.
Richard Smith, the party’s chairman, said the night was an opportunity to step away from “the campaigning, a lot of the political rhetoric” and acknowledge those who put their community first.
“We stop and recognize not only the people that helped the two-party system survive and prosper, but also the people who, outside the political arena, do a lot for our communities,” Smith said.
Those people included President and CEO Barry Kasdan; Democratic Town Committee (DTC) volunteer Sharon Marrone; Board of Aldermen minority leader Philip J. Vetro, D-4; visionary parents Lisa and John Vaccino; and finally, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
All were honored at Aldario’s Restaurant with plaques and copies of “Ella,” the biography of Connecticut’s first female governor Ella T. Grasso, written and presented by former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz.
Outstanding Community Leadership – Barry Kasdan
The first award presented was for outstanding leadership in the community. As president and CEO of Bridges, a mental health and addiction services and support center, Kasdan “continually strives to be sure we provide the best for our clients,” said Claire Phelan, chairperson of Bridges’ board.
“I know his passion and his vision for Bridges, and for the folks who come through our doors in need of services,” she said.
According to DTC, Bridges began as a small mental health clinic with just 22 staff members and has since become a 160-person operation that serves more than 5,000 residents in towns throughout the state.
“What I do is really a labor of love,” Kasdan said upon accepting the award. He said that one cannot be a leader without a team, and for him, “Milford’s a part of that team.”
Lifetime Contribution – Sharon Marrone, Philip J. Vetro
The notion of teamwork spilled over into the next award, which honored the years of volunteer and “behind-the-scenes” work of two DTC members, according to Smith.
Marrone, an “undisputed queen of fundraising,” according to DTC, is a member of Milford’s Board of Police Commissioners and active volunteer in the community and the committee. Vetro is a former Woodbridge and Milford volunteer firefighter and has served on Milford’s Board of Aldermen since 2003, formerly as the majority leader.
Referring to the preparation it takes to complete a political campaign, Smith introduced the award’s recipients as the people who are “the true heroes of democracy.”
“What we take for granted in this two-party system are the people behind the scenes,” he said. “The people who for many, many years give of themselves…who make it all work.”
Smith added that without the work of Marrone and Vetro, “the local party would not exist.”
Marrone thanked those who awarded her, as well as her own behind-the-scenes team, her husband and daughters.
“It’s all a team effort…behind every leader there’s a team,” Vetro added.
Outstanding Community Service – Lisa and John Vaccino
The third award honored the , creators of Milford’s latest addition to the city’s playgrounds, Bodie’s Place, and parents of Emma and Johnny “Bodie” Vaccino, who has cerebral palsy.
Before awarding the Vaccinos, Smith spoke of the long days of work parents face, only to return home to their “second job” – their children.
“Some individuals are able to rally, to rise up and do even more,” he said. “How?”
“Ask Linda and John Vaccino.”
The couple took a four-year dream and made it into a reality with the opening of last month. The boundless playground is not only a safe place for their son to play and interact, but “it’s really become a community park,” Linda Vaccino said.
That community, including Milford residents, friends and family, helped raise nearly $400,000 to build the playground.
“We’re happy we live in Milford,” John Vaccino said. “We’re very glad we got the opportunity to do this.”
He added that seeing all the children swarming the park at its grand opening May 14 was the “best feeling of my life.”
Democrat of the Year – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
Though he had to give an address up in Hartford at midnight, Malloy still stopped by to greet fellow Democrats and accept his award from DTC for Democrat of the Year.
Smith introduced Malloy as a political leader the nation and state need.
“We need leaders in this city, in this state, in this nation,” he said. “We need political heroes. We need leaders who will change the polls, rather than follow the polls.
“We need a leader,” he repeated. “And that we have in Dan Malloy.”
Malloy congratulated the other award recipients and voiced his support for Aldermen Ben Blake, D-5, who is running for mayor.
Blake represents a “chance for Milford to regain its kick,” Malloy said, before launching into a rousing address.
“I’m proud to be here, proud to be in a group of Democrats,” the governor added. “We measure ourselves in a different way…by how strong our communities are.
“We don’t measure ourselves by personal success,” he said. “Never have, never will.”
Before departing for the Capitol, Malloy told the room of Democrats “care about society as a whole. The people honored tonight demonstrate that time and time again.”