A school bus drives by the Connecticut Supreme Court

A judge has given the Waterbury faction of the Independent Party sole control of valuable political real estate: A line on the 2018 ballot that allows it to cross-endorse major-party candidates or choose its own nominees for statewide offices, including governor. The competing Danbury faction plans to appeal.

The decision by Judge Trial Referee A. Susan Peck comes as the Waterbury faction prepares to hold a nominating convention Sunday, when at least three candidates are expected to compete for the gubernatorial nomination: Bob Stefanowski, the Republican nominee; Oz Griebel, a petitioning candidate; and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, a Republican. 

Waterbury and Danbury factions of the Independent Party have been fighting in court for two years over which group controls the ballot line. The inability of the factions to agree left the line unclaimed in the U.S. Senate race two years ago, as Danbury cross-endorsed Republican Dan Carter and Waterbury nominated John R. Price of Wallingford.

In her decision, Peck rejected the Danbury group’s request for an injunction blocking Waterbury from nominating candidates for statewide office and concluded that Michael Telesca and Rocco Frank Jr., the Waterbury leaders, had properly filed bylaws in 2010 that establish its faction as a statewide party.

“This will be appealed tomorrow,” said Matt Grimes, a lawyer for the Danbury faction.

The trial court directed Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to accept statewide nominations only from the Waterbury-based group, the Independent Party of Connecticut.

Grimes said the decision was a surprise. The two sides had reconciled themselves to not having a ruling before the September deadline for submitting nominations to the secretary of the state.

“Both sides had been in discussions as recently as yesterday about how to get through the 2018 election,” he said.

Cross-endorsements have been pivotal in some races, giving candidates two places on the ballot.

Without the votes cast for Dannel P. Malloy on the Working Families Party line in 2010, the Democratic nominee would not have been elected governor. State Rep. Pamela Staneski, R-Milford, won by 150 votes in 2014, when 253 of her votes came on the Independent line.

The Working Families, which is financed by unions, has cross-endorsed Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee for governor.

On Monday, Stefanowski, Griebel and Lauretti attended a convention of the Danbury faction, which delayed an endorsement for governor pending its discussions with Waterbury, Grimes said.

All three are expected to attend the convention Sunday in Waterbury.

“I was always planning on going to Waterbury, even when everything was in limbo,” Lauretti said.

Lauretti was a candidate for the Republican nomination, but failed to qualify for the primary. Griebel, who finished third in the 2010 Republican primary for governor, left the party and is running as a petitioning candidate.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who finished second to Stefanowski in the last week’s GOP primary, said he never considered seeking the nomination of the Independent Party.

“I’m a Republican, and I was running for the Republican nomination. Now I’m committed to helping” the GOP ticket, he said.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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