Marilyn Vitale, East Haven’s feisty, strong-willed politician, blazed the path for women in politics 2023

Marilyn Vitale, a “fiery crusader” in municipal politics for over 40 years, encouraged women run for office, friends and colleagues claimed.

In a 2021 letter, Vitale, who died April 24, said she first ran for government at 21 in a 1950s four-way primary. Vitale served mostly in the late 20th and early 21st century, when males controlled politics.

Officials claimed Vitale’s boldness and determination proved women could serve as equals in politics. Her tenacity encouraged future women politicians.

According to her letter, Vitale served 12 years on the Board of Education, two as chair. She served six years on the Town Council and lost three mayoral bids.

Marilyn Vitale, a pioneering politician from East Haven, is known as an outspoken, determined leader.

Peter Fradiani, who campaigned with Vitale in the 1989 Democratic Town Council primary, claimed women’s mayoral runs were “unheard of” in 1985. He called politics a “boys club.”

“At the time she was running and doing things, it was definitely a man’s world,” Democratic Town Committee member Noreen Clough said. “Being a woman then was hard.”

“The best way to describe her was she was ahead of her time,” said veteran Town Councilman Fred Parlato.

After Vitale’s death, state Rep. Joe Zullo, R-East Haven, called her a “fiery, trailblazing icon” who never gave up. Zullo captioned a photo of Vitale supporting him in his 2019 House of Representatives campaign, saying she often offered her “decades of political wisdom.”

“She was a fiery crusader, a champion for our children, and never afraid to run in tough races,” Zullo wrote.

Her colleagues alleged Vitale, a Democrat and Republican school board member, crossed party boundaries. She ran on the ticket she thought best served the town, not a party.

“Marilyn would work with anyone,” Fradiani remarked. “If it was something she believed in or right for the town, she didn’t care what party you were in.”

“She didn’t care if you were Republican or Democrat, she just cared about doing the right thing,” said Town Councilwoman Samantha Parlato, daughter-in-law of Fred Parlato. “She didn’t have her own agenda.”

Fradiani called Vitale a “strong-willed” politician who opposed her own party members. Her unfavorable ideas were always in the town’s best interest.

“She would always vote her conscience,” Fradiani added. “Even if there was 15 (Town Council) members, (the vote) would go 14-1, she didn’t care, she would be that lone ‘no’ vote because she had her convictions.

“She’d get her vote registered as a ‘no’ and her head would be held high,”

The fiscally conservative Vitale often upset her boardmates by opposing the majority and saying she preferred to see the contracts go out to bid, ensuring the best price for the town.

“She was very conscious of how the town spent their money, especially with cleaning contracts,” Fred Parlato recalled. She never took prisoners. She fought.”

Friends and coworkers said Vitale was fierce and passionate about serving East Haven communities, especially schools. After Democratic town officials dropped virtually all of their Board of Education candidates before the 2009 municipal election, she called them “old-time dinosaur-type politicians.”

Fradiani called Vitale East Haven’s John McCain due to her strong, serious demeanor.

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