Justin Elicker delivered a conciliatory victory speech Tuesday after unseating New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp, the inevitable result since his overwhelming Democratic primary win, while Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim said he was humbled after prevailing over the write-in candidacy of state Sen. Marilyn Moore, the loser of a close and bitterly contested primary.
Luke Bronin, a Democrat with ambitions for higher office, was re-elected to a second four-year term as mayor of Hartford, topping a five-candidate field that included the former mayor, Eddie A. Perez. Mark Boughton, a three-time Republican candidate for governor, won his tenth two-year term as mayor of Danbury with 54 percent of the vote, dispatching an energetic and well-funded challenger
Bridgeport and New Haven, the two largest cities in Connecticut and the keys to Democratic victories in statewide contests, commanded the attention of the state’s Democrats, while Republicans celebrated unseating the Democratic first selectmen in the Gold Coast suburb of Fairfield and the small town of Sprague in the Quiet Corner.
Elicker won in a landslide, winning over Harp by more than a 2-1 margin. In Bridgeport, Democrats prepared for a long night of counting paper ballots by hand, but their concerns were unfounded. Ganim also claimed a 2-1 margin of victory.
State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, gifted the GOP with an early and decisive victory over First Selectman Michael C. Tetreau, an eight-year incumbent wounded by the arrest of his public works director and unease over a tax base jolted by the departure of its largest taxpayer, General Electric, and purchase of GE’s campus by a non-profit, Sacred Heart University.
The target in Sprague was state Sen. Cathy A. Osten, a Democrat and one of three state senators who also are chief elected officials, dual roles that often drag state issues like tolls and taxes into municipal elections. Osten, who is co-chair the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, lost to Cheryl Allen Blanchard, 568 to 489.
The other senators holding municipal office, First Selectman Norman Needleman of Essex and Mayor Daniel Champagne of Vernon, each were re-elected. Needleman is a Democrat, Champagne a Republican.
Republican Timothy C. Griswold unseated Democrat Bonnie A. Reemsnyder as first selectman of Old Lyme, leading a full slate of GOP candidates into office on his coattails. Amid claims of mismanagement, Reemsnynder resigned as chair of the Connecticut Port Authority in July at the request of Gov. Ned Lamont.
Republican Mayor Erin Stewart cruised to re-election in Democratic New Britain with 60 percent of the vote.
In Danbury, Boughton weathered criticism over his approach to education and infrastructure, and came under scrutiny for making a third run at the governor’s office. He was the convention-endorsed candidate for governor last year, but lost the primary election to Bob Stefanowski. In victory, he was defiant.
“At the end of the day, they threw every single thing that they had at us; every single thing,” Boughton said. “Think about that — we had unions, we had party union leaders running around, we had the Working Families Party running around. We had all these different organizations and groups that were trying to get us out of office, and guess what? They failed tonight and we won.”
His opponent, Christopher C. Setaro, a former city council president who ran against him in 2001, matched Boughton in fundraising, raising hopes among statewide Democrats of capturing the state’s seventh largest city, capitalizing on gains in nearby suburbs in 2017 and the victory last year by Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, over a conservative GOP incumbent. On Tuesday, Democrats won the races for first selectman in all five suburbs bordering Danbury: Ridgefield, Redding, Bethel, Brookfield and New Fairfield.
“If you’re on top of things and you care about people it means that people will send you back to office time and time again.”
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton
“If you’re on top of things and you care about people,” Boughton said, “it means that people will send you back to office time and time again.”
The race was one of toughest for Boughton, who was neck and neck with Setaro in fundraising – both campaigns put the final tally around $180,000 – and has fended off claims of being detached and disengaged.
Democrats had their own pickups, flipping Republican seats in Madison and East Haven. Democrat Peggy Lyons was elected first selectman in Madison, beating a two-term Republican incumbent, Tom Banisch. Senate Democrats saw the race as building a foundation for the re-election campaign of Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford. Madison is part of her district.
In East Haven, Democrat Joseph Carfora defeated “Big” Steve Tracey to win the open seat long held by a Republican, Joe Maturo Jr.
Open races for mayor in Middletown and first selectman in Greenwich produced a split.
Democrats claimed victory in fractious Middletown, where 27-year-old Ben Florsheim, an aide to U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, defeated Republican Sebastian Giuliano, a former mayor. The GOP did the same in Greenwich, with state Rep. Fred Camillo the convincing victor over Democrat Jill Oberlander.
Greenwich once was an automatic win for Republicans, but Democrats won two Republican state legislative seats last year, setting the stage for what Democrats thought would be a good shot of winning the seat opened by the decision of First Selectman Peter J. Tesei not to run again.
In Middletown, Florsheim arrived to chants of “Ben, Ben, Ben” at La Boca, the Mexican restaurant where his supporters were crammed into a long narrow room on the side of the restaurant, eating nachos and drinking beer.
“This is an opportunity tonight for the work to begin, for the work to continue,” he said. “There has been outstanding progress made in Middletown, and we said it every day on this campaign that wherever I go in the state, wherever I go through-out the city, people are excited about the potential of this community.”
Republicans had ambitions for winning the mayoral race in Bristol, a city carried by the GOP in the 2016 presidential and 2018 gubernatorial races. But Democrat Ellen Zoppo-Sassu won a second term with 58 percent of the vote
Democratic mayors re-elected in other cities included Marcia A. Leclerc in East Hartford, Curt B. Leng in Hamden, Kevin Scarpati in Meriden, Benjamin Blake in Milford, Michael E. Passero in New London, Harry W. Rilling in Norwalk, and Neil O’Leary in Waterbury.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan of New Canaan, a Donald J. Trump delegate who nearly lost two years ago, had an easy time this year, winning with 61 percent.
Voters went to the polls in 165 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities, and chief elected officials were on the ballot in 128. Democrats did nominate candidates for mayor or first selectman in 26 communities; Republicans, 23.
Elicker seemed assured of an easy finish after winning the Democratic primary, but Harp continued on, utilizing the ballot line provided by the Working Families Party. Some of Harp’s supporters tried to rally black voters as a matter of racial pride. At a sparsely attended march over the weekend, Harp said, “For too long, the Democratic Party has taken many of us for granted.”
One of her supporters, Boise Kimber, warned of a white takeover.
“In the past few weeks, there have been some pretty divisive things that have been said,” Elicker said at his victory party. But he quickly added, “When I think about the future, Mayor Harp is not going to be remembered for this past three or four weeks.”
Harp will be remembered favorably for her career as a state senator and mayor, and all that she did for New Haven. The crowd cheered, and some appeared visibly relieved at Elicker’s tone — and his account of a cordial congratulatory call from the mayor.
“Very gracious,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M.Looney, D-New Haven. “That should help get him off on the right foot.”
In Bridgeport, Ganim’s supposedly easy stroll to re-election was interrupted by Moore’s stunning win at the polls in September. Only Ganim’s 3-1 advantage in votes cast by absentee ballot secured him the Democratic nomination. Moore’s campaign cried foul, accusing the city’s Democratic machine of manipulating absentee ballots.”
A court challenge failed, but is under appeal to the Supreme Court.
Ganim, who was returned to office in 2015 after serving seven years in a federal prison for corruption committed during his first tenure at city hall, said he was grateful for what appeared to be a 2-1 victory margin.
“It is as deeply humbling today as it was four years ago, and as it was when I was first elected in 1991,” Ganim said.
There was some confusion at the polls over the novelty of a write-in candidacy. To cast a vote for her, a voters had to fill in a bubble at the bottom of the paper ballots, then write her name.
“The victory is so overwhelming that it’s probably not an issue, unless someone clearly, intentionally broke the rules and broke the law,” Ganim said.
Onlookers said voters were misinformed at two polling locations, at Beardsley and Barnum schools, as to how they should fill out their ballots. Poll workers at both locations reportedly gave voters the wrong information, telling them to write “MM” in the write-in space. That mistake would invalidate those ballots, since there are two registered write-in candidates in with the initials “M.M.”
“As we approach 2020, it’s critical that people’s votes are counted,” said Danielle Dobin, a Moore supporter poll standing outside Beardsley School. “Particularly, African Americans deserve to walk out of a polling place and feel as though they can cast their ballot, and their ballot will be counted. And it’s disturbing to see that, women in particular, are walking out of a polling place, calling for assistance from a stranger, because they feel their ballot is going to be thrown in the garbage.”
“African Americans deserve to walk out of a polling place and feel as though they can cast their ballot, and their ballot will be counted. And it’s disturbing to see that, women in particular, are walking out of a polling place, calling for assistance from a stranger, because they feel their ballot is going to be thrown in the garbage.”
Election officials at the Aquaculture polling location described similar confusion over how to fill out a ballot. Cindy Mota said “over-voting,” filling out too many bubbles, was common. “We have to keep giving them new forms, to get them right,” she said.
The tabulating machines kick back a ballot when people filled out more bubbles than allowed, giving voters an opportunity to cast another.
“They don’t leave here without voting properly,” said Joseph Furino, an assistant registrar.
But the machines won’t catch voters mistakenly writing in Moore’s initials. “It’s gonna end up being nullified because there’s two ‘M.M.’s,’” Furino said.
It was not immediately known how many ballots were disallowed.
At the Dunbar School poll, there was confusion over whether voters could request assistance when voting.
“For a lot of people this is the first time they did a real write-in, and need some help,” Moore said on Tuesday afternoon.
Moore, who had visited 18 of 22 polling locations by about 5 p.m., was optimistic a few hours before the polls closed. “Not just pretending,” she said, “but based on the people coming up to me that I don’t know, who have come out to the polls, who have not tried to avoid me, they’re actually coming up to tell me, ‘I support you.’ “
Ganim said he would be open to a review of the rules for handling absentee ballots.
“With or without court comment, it’s clear to me and it has been, to anybody who’d familiar with the process, that there are improvements that need to be made in Connecticut over how people who are handicapped, people who are disabled, people who don’t have access to transportation, are allowed to fully access their constitutional right to vote,” he said. “The nuance of how that’s done is in the hands of the legislature. I’ll be glad to give them my insight.”
After it became clear later that night that Ganim had won decisively, Moore was thoughtful but did not concede the race.
“The race is never done. The results are never accepted. The people invested a lot of time and energy, and I don’t think everybody’s voice was heard,” Moore said. “We live to fight another day, and another race.”
Reporter Kathy Megan contributed to this story.