Residents of Stamford voting at Scofield Middle School. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Caroline Simmons, left, chats at Westover Magnet Elementary School in Stamford. Simmons, who defeated Bobby Valentine, stood at the voting site with Gov. Ned Lamont and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff to greet voters.

Stamford voters chose a Democratic state lawmaker over a retired baseball player as its next mayor Tuesday, but Republicans claimed significant wins in municipal elections by retaining top offices in Danbury, Darien, New Britain and Westport and flipping seats in Bolton, Bristol, Colchester and Windsor Locks.

In Stamford, hometown sports celebrity Bobby Valentine waged an unconventional race against Democrat Caroline Simmons, declining the Republican line to run unaffiliated in Connecticut’s second-largest and fastest-growing city. The winner wasn’t clear until after midnight, when absentee votes were counted and Valentine conceded.

Valentine, 71, a former major league baseball player and manager, came close despite gaffes in the closing weeks, including dismissing Simmons, 35 — a Harvard-educated, four-term state lawmaker — as a “girl” who grew up in Greenwich, not Stamford. He also seemed dismissive of the renters who have filled the city’s new apartments.

“I think that unfortunate divisive language of my opponent has been offensive to me and to a lot of our city,” Simmons said as she campaigned Tuesday. “And so we’re bringing a more positive, unifying message about the future and what we can do to fix challenges in our community.”

Simmons had beaten the incumbent, David Martin, in a primary. She will be the first woman to serve as the city’s mayor.

Despite the election-night drama, unofficial results obtained Wednesday from the secretary of the state showed Simmons winning by more than  1,500 votes — 15,565 to 14,060.

Bobby Valentine greets people coming to vote at Davenport Ridge Elementary School in Stamford.

Even as votes still were being counted, Republicans were in a mood to celebrate their first substantial gains since the election of Donald J. Trump energized the Democratic base and put Republicans on the defensive in Connecticut.

Dean Esposito’s victory over Roberto Alves in Danbury was close but outside the margin for a recount, an Esposito advisor said. Alves, a Brazilian immigrant, was trying to become the city’s first Democratic mayor in two decades. Unofficial results showed Esposito winning 7,194 to 7,023.

“I’m very excited about what we’re seeing tonight,” said Ben Proto, the new Republican state chair. “We’re back in play.”

Bob Stefanowski, the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee who has been trying to measure whether Gov. Ned Lamont is beatable next year, posted a Tweet that made him sound bullish about a rematch.

He called the results a repudiation of the majority party on crime, on a greater parental voice in the schools and on taxes: “@CTDems have failed on all 3 & @CTGOP can bring it back home!”

Democrats made their own gains in races for first selectman in Avon, Simsbury and Roxbury and in the council races in Tolland. In Madison, where Stefanowski’s wife, Amy, is the Republican town chair, the GOP had hoped to flip the first selectman’s office won by Peggy Lyons in 2019, but she beat Republican Bruce Wilson.

A coalition of Democrats and Independents also defeated Republicans in Guilford who built their campaign around opposition to critical race theory.

National results contributed to the GOP’s upbeat take in Connecticut: Republicans won the off-year race for the open governor’s seat in Virginia, a state that had become more Democratic; in New Jersey, it was unclear Wednesday if Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, had won another term.

In Connecticut, the press and public had to rely on numbers gathered at the polls or reported by the campaigns. The election night reporting system maintained by a third-party vendor on the secretary of the state’s web malfunctioned. No results were available early Wednesday.

A spokesman for the secretary of the state said the municipalities were able to enter the results in the state Tuesday night, but they were not displayed.

That left a degree of uncertainty Tuesday night in places like West Haven and Bristol, where the numbers reported by the campaigns were close. Republicans, however, expressed confidence that their candidate, Jeff Caggiano, had unseated Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu in Bristol, who became the first woman to hold the office in 2017.

On Wednesday morning, unofficial results showed Caggiano winning by more than 600 votes, 6,912 to 6,293.

The chart below was constructed from data provided by the secretary of the state.

Democrats still hold comfortable majorities in the General Assembly, as well as every statewide and congressional office in Connecticut, and the GOP has struggled financially without office-holding rainmakers.

But Republicans had feared further dispiriting losses. In Danbury, the first election in two decades without Republican Mark Boughton leading the ticket made the race a toss-up. 

Esposito, the new mayor-elect, is a former Democrat who ran against Boughton in 2005 then became his chief of staff. But he had moved out of the city to Brookfield, a liability that did not prove fatal.

In Westport, Democrats failed to flip an open seat for first selectman in what has become a solidly Democratic town. Jennifer Tooker defeated Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport.

Less surprising was the easy win in Darien by Republican Monica McNally over Democrat Tara Ochman to succeed Jayme Stevenson, who retired after a decade running a wealthy suburb nestled between Stamford and Norwalk.

Rep. Irene Haines, R-East Haddam, won the open first selectman seat in her town, a GOP pickup in a Connecticut River community that favored Trump in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020. Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, was unopposed for re-election to first selectman in his community.

Republican Andreas Bisbikos unseated a one-term incumbent, Mary Bylone, in Colchester. Like East Haddam, Colchester went for Trump in 2016 and Biden last year. In Bolton, Pamela Sawyer, a former Republican state representative, unseated Democrat Sandra Pierog as first selectman. Pierog was unopposed two years ago.

In Windsor Locks, where First Selectman J. Christopher Kervick had been touting transit-oriented development geared to the new rail service in town, the incumbent was defeated by Republican Paul M. Harrington. Kervick was a three-term winner.

Spared a threatened Democratic primary in the summer, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker cruised to a second term over Republican John Carlson in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Open mayor seats in two reliably Democratic mid-sized cities also stayed in Democratic hands, as Lauren Garrett defeated Ron Gambardella in Hamden and Michael P. Walsh beat Matt Harper in East Hartford.

Garrett had defeated Curt Leng, the three-term Hamden mayor, in a primary. In East Hartford, Mayor Marcia Leclerc did not did re-election after a decade in office.

Republican Erin Stewart easily won a fifth term as mayor in New Britain, making her the longest-serving GOP mayor of a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly a 4-1 margin.

West Haven’s mayoral race, roiled by the eruption of scandal over allegations of mishandled federal aid, appeared headed to a recount, with the Democratic incumbent posting a 29-vote win. Recounts are automatic if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percent or fewer than 20 votes.

Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, on the defensive since a prominent city employee, Michael DiMassa, was indicted by a federal grand jury and accused of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars, badly trailed the rest of the Democratic ticket. She beat Republican Barry Lee Cohen with a 4,273-4,244 win.

DiMassa has resigned his city job and his position as Democratic state representative.

While official results were hard to come by, there was no wait in 43 communities where the elections for mayor or first selectman were uncontested. There were elections in 165 in 169 of the state's towns. Andover, Bethany, Union and Woodbridge are the last towns with spring elections for municipal offices.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

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.