With no competitive mayoral races in Connecticut’s largest cities, the focus in municipal elections Tuesday turned to the suburbs, where jubilant Democrats made gains on Republican turf across the state in races for local councils and chief elected officers, fueled by an ambitious ground game.
Democrats flipped control of governing boards in Clinton, Farmington, Glastonbury, Guilford, Groton, Lyme, New Britain, New Fairfield, Southington, South Windsor, Trumbull, Weston and Wethersfield and also elected a first selectman, Vicki Testoro, in Trumbull, winning the seat being vacated by a Republican candidate for governor, Tim Herbst.
In Bristol, they swept the council races and unseated Mayor Ken Cockayne, who was wounded by complaints of sexual harassment at city hall and a censure by the council. Ellen A. Zoppo-Sassu, the Democratic winner, ran and lost two years ago. In Guilford, Democrat Matt Hoey won the race for first selectman, succeeding a two-term Republican. Democrat Chris Spaudling unseated Nina Daniel, the Republican first selectman of Weston.
They even gave the GOP a slight scare in the Republican bastion of Greenwich, where a Democratic newcomer, Sandy Litvack, held the five-term Republican first selectman, Peter Tesei, to 53 percent of the vote. Democrats also ran close in New Canaan.
“Tonight was a huge victory for the Connecticut Democratic Party, but, more importantly, for those who believe that we can make a difference by stepping up and volunteering and fighting for progress,” said Nick Balletto, the Democratic state chairman.
But it was not a complete washout for Republicans.
The GOP’s Erin Stewart handily won a third term as mayor in heavily Democratic New Britain, defeating Merrill Gay. Democrats consoled themselves by winning control of a council that had been dominated by a Republican super-majority for two years.
In Derby, Republican Richard Dziekan was elected mayor, unseating Democrat Anita Dugatto, who was hobbled by a local party that failed to united after bitter primary Dugatto won by just 30 votes.
The GOP also made gains in several eastern Connecticut communities.
In Norwich, the former mayor, Peter A. Nystrom, won back the mayoralty for the GOP in an open race. Republicans in Montville ended two decades of Democratic control of the town council. In Putnam, Republican Norman “Barney” Seney unseated Mayor Tony Falzarano, a Democrat.
But Pomfret went Democratic, electing Maureen Nicholson as first selectman. She succeeds a Republican who did not run.
GOP chair sees no ‘national narrative’ in Democratic gains
Republican State Chairman J.R. Romano disagreed with Balletto’s assessment that the Democratic gains were helped by a base energized by the election of President Trump.
“As much as the Democrats want to celebrate this idea of a national narrative, it didn’t resonate in places like Derby, like Norwich,” Romano said. “And they spent a lot of time trying to take out Erin Stewart.”
But Democrats said discontent with Trump drew first-time volunteers to phone banks and canvassing campaigns, a base they hope to build upon in 2018 in the open race for governor and control of a closely divided General Assembly.
“Make no mistake. These elections send a message, particularly to those Republicans looking to higher office who suffered major repudiations tonight in their own communities,” Balletto said. “We will capitalize on this momentum to mount a strong effort in 2018 and beyond.”
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican exploring a run for governor, was re-elected to a record ninth term. Democratic mayors David Martin in Stamford and Toni Harp in New Haven also won uneventful re-elections. There were no mayoral races in Bridgeport, Hartford and Waterbury.
Republican Mark Lauretti of Shelton, a candidate for governor, was unopposed. Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, a Democratic candidate for governor, is at the mid-point of a four-year term and was not on the ballot.
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, a Democrat, won a third term. Plainfield elected a Democrat, Cathy Tendrich, as the first woman to lead the town as first selectman.
Mixed night for ex-cons, better for legislators
Felons seeking redemption had a mixed night.
In Bridgeport, the city that elected an ex-convict, Joe Ganim, as mayor two years ago, elected former state Sen. Ernest Newton, also an ex-convict, to the city council. But voters in Waterbury shut down a comeback attempt by their former mayor, Joe Santopietro, who was driven from office by a federal corruption conviction 25 years ago.
It was a good night for state legislators. Rep. Laura Hoydick, R-Stratford, was elected mayor of her hometown, succeeding a former lawmaker, John A. Harkins, who did not seek re-election. Rep. David A. Baram, D-Bloomfield, won a special election for probate judge. Both will resign from the General Assembly, forcing special elections early next year.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, won re-election to her day job, being first selectman.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a target in many GOP mailings, had cause to celebrate: Democratic candidates for governors winning in Virginia and New Jersey, the last races of his time as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
The governor was bemused as he voted at 8 a.m. in the West End of Hartford, where the ballot was brief: five candidates vying for four seats on the Board of Education. He was the 37th voter.
He said it was the shortest ballot he had ever seen.
A legal fight in Danbury was averted by the loss at the polls of Gregg Seabury, a Republican councilman who died Saturday and remained on the ballot over the objections of the secretary of the state’s office. Had he won, Democrats were expected to challenge the right of Republicans to fill the seat.