Democrats held on to seven of nine legislative seats in special elections Tuesday, losing a Senate race in Meriden and a House contest in Madison, but otherwise thwarting efforts by Republicans who painted the election as a referendum on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to raise taxes by $1.5 billion.
Republican Noreen S. Kokoruda of Madison won in the 101st House District and Republican Len Suzio of Meriden was the upset winner in 13th Senate District, picking up a Democratic seat in each chamber. All nine vacancies were created by the resignations of Democrats, six of whom took jobs with Malloy.
But Democrats were quick to celebrate minimizing their losses in races held just a week after the first Democratic governor in a generation proposed raising a broad array of taxes. In four targeted House races, the GOP hit hard on the tax issue with a flurry of late mailings.
“So much for the referendum on Dan Malloy,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “The Republicans thought they were going to have a good night. Not so much. Give Dan Malloy the credit he deserves.”
Republican State Chairman Chris Healy said Democrats should not be too satisfied: The GOP was competitive in every contest but three: House races in West Hartford, Bridgeport and New Britain. And he said the districts all favored Democrats, except the Madison race won by the GOP.
“We didn’t lose anything tonight. We won two seats that were theirs,” Healy said.
Democrats viewed Terry Gerratana’s win in the 6th Senate District of New Britain, Farmington and Berlin as an upset. New Britain is heavily Democratic, but the Republican nominee was the mayor, Tim Stewart, a proven winner in the city. Early internal polling showed Stewart ahead, 60 percent to 40 percent, sources said.
“I’m blown away,” Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said of Gerrantana’s victory. “This was like running against a popular Republican incumbent. For a Republican to be a popular mayor in New Britain, we knew he was going to be a favorite.”
Unofficial results showed Gerratana carrying New Britain by 600 votes, while Stewart won in Berlin and Farmington. Stewart’s refusal to say when he would resign as mayor was a gift to Democrats, blunting the Republicans’ effort to tag Gerratana as another vote for Malloy’s tax package.
“Under Tim Stewart, 4,524 New Britain residents unemployed. Now Stewart wants to two jobs?” the Gerratana campaign said in a late mailing. “Can we afford politicians who put personal gain before the needs of our community?”
Gerratana, a former state representative, also was aided by a cross-endorsement from the Working Families Party, who poured door-to-door canvassers into the district to hang onto a seat vacated by Donald J. DeFronzo, who became Malloy’s commissioner of administrative services.
“They were hitting about 1,000 doors a night during snow storms, which got people’s attention,” said Phil Sherwood, an aide to Gerratana.
Suzio, the victor in the 13th Senate District, is the first Republican to win the seat in more than 30 years. He was running for the second time in three months. He lost in November to Sen. Thomas P. Gafffey, D-Meriden, who resigned after pleading guilty to double-billing for legislative travel.
Rep. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, defeated Bob Kolenberg in Stamford. Kolenberg also was the GOP nominee in November against Andrew J. McDonald, who resigned to become Malloy’s general counsel. Leone is succeeding a McDonald for a second time. He followed Anne McDonald, who was Andrew’s mother, into the House.
“To win two of three races in this environment I think is pretty amazing given all the noise,” Williams said.
House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, said the results show that the public is taking a measured attitude toward Malloy’s budget proposal.
“The tax thing was an issue. The public is mulling it over right now. They are trying to figure it out,” Donovan said. “They trust us. They trust Democrats. That’s the message that came out.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who celebrated Gerratana’s victory with her at the Pulaski Democratic Club in New Britain, said Democrats typically do well in legislative races, but the GOP failure to do better showed that, at the least, voters were unprepared to abandon Democrats over taxes.
“I think people trust Dan Malloy right now. They want to give him and the Democratic majority a shot at working this out,” Murphy said.
Healy said the election was too early to be a referendum on Malloy.
“Nobody’s paid anything yet. It hasn’t come to shore,” Healy said of the governor’s tax plan. “In 2012, there’ll be a referendum.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said that the two victories represent net gains in each chamber for the Republicans and are a continuation of the gains the GOP made in November, when Republicans won 14 Democratic seats in the House and one in the Senate.
He called both wins upsets, though the Madison seat had been Republican until it was won by Deborah Heinrich.
“Tonight, Connecticut voters can rest a little easier knowing there are two new votes for common sense solutions to our state’s fiscal crisis that will focus on smaller, more responsible government without raising taxes,” Healy said.
Democrats won 23 of 36 Senate seats and 100 of 151 House seats in November.
After Tuesday’s results, they will hold a 22-to-14 advantage in the Senate and a 98-to-52 margin in the House, with one vacancy. Leone, who won the 27th Senate District seat, will resign from the House.
The victories of the Rev. Charlie Stallworth of Bridgeport and Robert Sanchez of New Britain give the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus a gain of two members. Stallworth succeeds Christopher Caruso, while Sanchez follows John C. Geragosian.
One issue that remains alive as a result of one Democratic win: the possible repeal of the death penalty.
The Senate passed a repeal bill, 19 to 17, in 2009. After November, the chamber seemed deadlocked, 18 to 18, with a tie potentially being broken by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
If Gerratana votes for repeal — she has said she would consider it — Wyman still could be in a position to break an 18 to 18 tie. A Stewart win would have given opponents a 19 to 17 edge, likely shelving the issue for two years.
Av Harris, a spokesman for the secretary of the state’s office, said turnout in most places hovered around 20 percent, but Essex had more than 40 percent of voters come out to choose between their first selectman, Democrat Philip J. Mlller, and a former TV anchorwoman, Republican Janet Peckinpaugh, in the 36th House District.
The winners are in bold.
Senate 6 – Berlin, Farmington and New Britain
(Vacancy: resignation of Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, D-New Britain)
Terry Bielinski Gerratana (D)
Timothy T. Stewart (R)
Terry Bielinski Gerratana (WF)
Senate 13 – Cheshire, Meriden, Middlefield, and
(Vacancy: resignation of Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden)
Thomas E. Bruenn (D)
Len Suzio (R)
Thomas E. Bruenn (WF)
Len Suzio (Independent Party)
Senate 27 – Darien and Stamford
(Vacancy: resignation of Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford)
Carlo Leone (D)
Bob Kolenberg (R)
House 20 – West Hartford
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford)
Joe Verrengia (D)
Allen Hoffman (R)
Allen Hoffman (Connecticut for Lieberman)
House 25 – New Britain
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain)
Robert Sanchez (D)
Robert Sanchez (WF)
Richard Marzi (Write-In)
House 36 – Chester, Deep River, Essex, and Haddam
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex)
Philip J. Miller (D)
Janet Peckinpaugh (R)
House 99 – East Haven
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven)
James M. Albis (D)
Linda Monaco (R)
James M. Albis (WF)
House 101 – Guilford and Madison
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. Deborah Heinrich, D-Madison)
Joan M. Walker (D)
Noreen S. Kokoruda (R)
House 126 – Bridgeport
(Vacancy: resignation of Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport)
Charlie L. Stallworth (D)
James Keyser (R)
Mark P. Trojanowski (Petitioning Candidate)
Carlos Silva (Petitioning Candidate)
Robert T. Keeley, Jr. (Petitioning Candidate)
Thomas R. Lombard (Petitioning Candidate)
Verna Kearney (Petitioning Candidate)