Trenee McGee is briefly overcome celebrating her victory. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

WEST HAVEN — Democrat Treneé McGee won a special election Tuesday in the 116th House District, succeeding a Democrat who resigned after his arrest on charges relating to the alleged misuse of federal relief funds.

McGee, 27, is a councilwoman and motivational speaker whose opposition to abortion will test the House Democratic majority’s willingness to embrace a lawmaker with a view at odds with the caucus.

Turning out the vote in a mid-December special election was the shared challenge in a three-way race with Republican Richard DePalma and Portia A. Bias, a former Democratic council member on the ballot as a petitioning Independent.

Unofficial results showed McGee with 572 votes; DePalma, 471; and Bias, 45. Turnout was 11.23%.

Former Rep. Michael DiMassa resigned from both the House and a job at city hall in October after a federal indictment accused him of steering more than $636,000 in pandemic relief to a company he and another employee created in January.

DePalma, who twice lost to DiMassa by lopsided margins, tried to tie McGee to the scandal, suggesting that the city council should have exercised greater oversight over spending at city hall.

“Why wasn’t Council Member McGee watching out for us?” he said in a Facebook ad. “We could use that $636,00 right about now!”

McGee said she believed that question made the race relatively close.

“Although my campaign had taken a controversial turn, a majority of what people were concerned about was the money taken,” McGee said. “They wanted to know was it going to be replenished. They wanted transparency. They wanted integrity.”

The “controversial turn” was her opposition to abortion rights, a position explored in a CT Mirror story nine days ago. Overall, she said, her direct approach to the issue was a positive.

She said she found common ground with some voters and an appreciation for being forthright with others. 

“People were inspired by my bravery,” she said. “I didn’t know I was being brave.”

Treneé McGee, the representative-elect in West haven

McGee said her goal as a lawmaker would not be to ban abortion, but to develop policies that would give pregnant women other choices and lessen demand.

The Democratic advantage was significant, even with a former Democratic council member ostensibly taking votes away from McGee. Bias lost her council seat in 2019, when Democrats endorsed McGee over her.

With more than 15,000 enrolled voters, Democrats outnumber the 3,500 Republicans and nearly 9,600 unaffiliated voters in this racially diverse city of 55,000.

The House district, one of three in West Haven, covers four polling places here and one in a tiny slice of New Haven, where only a dozen voters turned out — all for McGee. The new district map recently approved by a bipartisan Reapportionment Commission places all of the 116th within West Haven.

McGee’s opposition to abortion was not an issue in West Haven, even as it raised concerns among activists in Hartford. Neither of her opponents said they were aware of it.

She was one of only two signers of a letter circulated by Democrats for Life in 2020 that urged the Democratic National Committee to restore language from the 2000 platform that acknowledged a diversity of opinion on abortion.

The platform supported a women’s right to choose, but it also stated, “The Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.”

DiMassa was unopposed in 2020. He twice beat DePalma, winning his first term in 2016 with 73% of the vote and reelection in 2018 with 74% of the vote. On Tuesday, McGee got by with 52.57% — closer, but still nearly 10 points better than the runner-up’s 43.29% in a three-way race.

The special election was the first of three coming in the next three months to fill vacancies in the House. 

Voters in the 144th District of Stamford will go to the polls on Jan. 25 to choose a successor to Caroline Simmons, a Democrat who resigned after her election as mayor. Democrat Hubert D. Delany and Republican Danny V. Melchionne are running for the seat Simmons won in 2014.

Rep. Anthony J. D’Amelio, R-Waterbury, has resigned, effective at midnight on Dec. 31. A special election must be held between 46 days and 56 days after the seat becomes vacant, requiring an election in mid to late February.

D’Amelio has represented the 71st District of Waterbury and Middlebury for 25 years, winning a special election. He said he is resigning his part-time legislative job to focus on family and his restaurant business.

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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.