For sheer drama and confusion, nothing can compete with the mayoral election that will take place Tuesday in Bridgeport, where a court-ordered do-over of a scandal-tinged Democratic primary won by Mayor Joseph P. Ganim is supposed to come after the general election.
But there are other story lines in the municipal elections, including the expectation of new mayors actually being elected Tuesday night in races for open seats in two of Connecticut’s five largest cities, Hartford and Waterbury, as well as in East Hartford, Milford, Wallingford and West Haven.
In the Naugatuck Valley city of Derby, there is the curiosity of a mayoral contest featuring a Republican mayoral nominee facing criminal charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, a GOP incumbent pressing on as petitioning candidate, and a Democrat who nearly won two years ago.
In the Quiet Corner community of Thompson, the Republican town chairman is waging an unusual write-in campaign against the Republican first selectman over differences related to efforts to regulate where residents can use guns and keep chickens and goats.
M. Jodi Rell, the state’s last Republican governor, is making a rare appearance in local politics, albeit a small one. She has raised an eyebrow or two by endorsing Steven Mullins, a candidate for an open mayoral seat in West Haven. He is a Republican, but not the nominee. Mullins is running as a write-in candidate.
Tuesday is election day in 168 of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns. The exception is the state’s least populated community, Union. It is the last town to elect municipal officials in May, with Andover, Bethany and Woodbridge making the switch this year from spring to fall.
Connecticut’s largest city of Bridgeport is having an election, even if the results might mean nothing. John Gomes, the runner up to Ganim in the September primary, won a court order for a new primary on the basis of evidence of irregularities involving absentee voting that gave Ganim his margin of victory.
Despite the loss, Gomes is on Tuesday’s ballot as a cross-endorsed third-party candidate. If he wins, his lawyer says Gomes will attempt to withdraw his lawsuit and let the general election results stand. Whether a judge will concur is unclear.
On Saturday, Gov. Ned Lamont led Democratic get-out-the-vote rallies in Danbury and Derby, two cities at the top of his wish list for making gains, and in Waterbury, where Democrats hope to retain the mayoralty without one of Lamont’s allies, Neil O’Leary, seeking reelection.
In Danbury, the mayoral campaign is a rematch: In 2021, Republican Dean Esposito beat Democrat Roberto Alves in an open race, 51% to 49%, overcoming a Democratic voter advantage of 14,286 to 8,562.
“We’re a big city, but a small-town mentality,” said Esposito, who was chief of staff to his long-serving Republican predecessor, Mark Boughton.
Boughton remains a Republican, but he is a member of the Lamont administration, serving as the commissioner of revenue services. Esposito said he has a good working relationship with the popular governor, but Lamont said he wants to see Alves victorious.
“This is team Connecticut. It’s a Democratic team,” Lamont said.
Alves, an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Brazil as a child, addressed the rally with remarks in English, Spanish and Portuguese. He said he became a citizen in 2017 and dove into politics, inspired by Barack Obama’s words as president and enraged by former President Donald J. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“Barack Obama’s last speech, and I remember it like it was yesterday,” Alves said “And he said if you don’t like what you see, do something about it. Grab a clipboard, run for office, right? I did it. I did it.”
Other than Alves’ mention, Lamont and other speakers largely ignored Trump and national politics — even in Derby, where the Republican nominee is Gino DiGiovanni Jr., an alderman and GOP town chairman facing criminal charges for entering the U.S. Capitol during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
DiGiovanni won a close primary over Mayor Richard Dzeikan, who is trying to keep his office as a petitioning candidate.
With two Republicans on the ballot, Democrats are confident of a victory by their nominee, Joseph L. DiMartino, who nearly unseated Dzeikan two years ago in a more straightforward contest. A former college professor, Sharlene A. McEvoy, also is on the ballot as a petitioning candidate.
At a modest rally in the party’s headquarters near city hall, DiMartino criticized Dzeikan as a disengaged mayor overseeing a city that is running a deficit and has no tax collector or finance director. He made no mention of the legal difficulties of DiGiovanni, whom he once coached as a wrestler.
“How you run city hall with all these vacancies?” DiMartino said. “We need to fill them with qualified people, which I’m going to do first thing. Do a forensic audit, first thing, to see what we have, where we stand, where the money has gone and where it is now.”
Dzeikan and DiGiovanni could not be reached.
In Waterbury, where Democrats have a 3-1 advantage over Republicans, Democrat Paul Pernerewski and Republican Dawn Maiorano are vying to succeed O’Leary, whom Lamont credits for stabilizing Waterbury’s politics and finances. He joked with Pernerewski that candidates usually say, “It’s time for a change.”
“I’m not saying that,” Pernerewski said, laughing.
Pernerewski is the leader of the Board of Aldermen and a lawyer who became general counsel to the Connecticut Airport Authority in 2013 after 27 years with the attorney general’s office. Maiorano, who has not held elective office, is the fourth-generation owner and operator of the family-owned Maiorano Funeral Home.
Open races for mayor in the purplish communities of Milford and Wallingford give the out-of-power parties hope for comebacks.
In Milford, where Democratic Mayor Ben Blake resigned to become an administrative law judge, Democrat Kerri Rowland is facing Republican Tony Giannattasio.
In Wallingford, Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. is not running for reelection after 40 years in office. Democrat Riley O’Connell, who ran a strong challenge to Dickinson in 2021, is facing Republican Vincent Cervoni.
Elsewhere, the election cycle offers Republicans from the General Assembly in new roles.
Two former senators, Kevin Witkos of Canton and Toni Boucher of Wilton, are candidates for first selectman, as are two former representatives, Dan Carter of Bethel and Brian Ohler of North Canaan.
Boucher is unopposed in Wilton, while Witkos is trying to flip an open seat in competitive Canton, facing Democrat Bob Namnoum. Carter, who won a special election in February, is unopposed, while Ohler is competing with Democrat Christian P. Allyn for an open seat.
There are three dozen candidates for mayor or first selectman running unopposed.
One of them is Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman, a Democrat who also is a state senator. Another is Prospect Mayor Robert J. Chatfield, a Republican who has been overseeing local government in Prospect since Jimmy Carter’s first year in the White House.
The politically unaffiliated mayor of deeply red Wolcott, Thomas G. Dunn, also has no opponent.
In Roxbury, where the office of first selectman won’t be up until 2025, the Democratic and Republican lines are identical: Every candidate for every office is cross-endorsed.
“It does seem like it’s getting increasingly difficult to get people to run. People are just very busy,” said Elizabeth Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns. “The other thing we’re hearing is politics, even on the local level, has become so polarized.”
Municipal elections seldom offer insights about a state’s political identity, unlike state and federal elections that have branded Connecticut a deep blue state because Democrats control the legislature and every statewide and federal office. But they can say plenty about a community’s personality.
“It gets down to all politics is local,” said Bill Warner, the Republican town chair of Thompson, the town tucked into the northeast corner where the borders of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island meet.
The Republican chairman is leading a write-in campaign to unseat First Selectman Amy St. Onge, a fellow Republican. She lost the town committee endorsement, but won a GOP primary over Warner.
Warner said St. Onge’s efforts to set limits on backyard shooting ranges, as well as the number of chickens and goats one could keep, ran against GOP principles opposing government overreach.
“In Thompson, the RTC is doing a RINO purge,” Warner said, using the acronym for the phrase ‘Republican In Name Only.’
St. Onge did not return a call for comment. The Democratic nominee is Ken Beausoleil, the first selectman St. Onge unseated in 2019 and beat in a 2021 rematch.
National issues, such as disputes over how racism is addressed in local schools, crept into some Connecticut municipal races two years ago. In Guilford, conservative parents seized control of the local Republican Party and purged its school board members.
It was a Pyrrhic victory. All the Republican insurgents lost in November, and the local town committee is in disarray: They failed to nominate a single Republican for the ballot in Guilford this year.
But in many other places, Republicans have overcome significant disadvantages in voter registrations to win local offices.
“How is it Republicans do so well in municipal elections when in those same towns they can’t win a legislative seat?” said Ben Proto, the Republican state chairman.
One answer, he said, is that local races often turn on local finances, not the more polarizing social issues at play in state and federal elections, including Trump’s stubborn grip on the GOP’s national identity.
There are places, however, where the Republicans have candidates on the ballot, but little hope.
In Hartford, Arunan Arulampalam, the winner of a three-way Democratic primary, is the favorite to succeed Luke Bronin as mayor of a capital city where there are fewer than 3,000 Republicans and about 37,000 Democrats and 20,000 unaffiliated voters
Arulampalam faces Republican Michael McGarry and three petitioning candidates; Giselle Gigi Jacobs, Nick Lebron and J. Stan McCauley. A fourth, Mark Stewart Greenstein, quit the campaign, but his name remains on the ballot. Eric Coleman, a retired judge and former lawmaker, is seeking votes as a write-in candidate.
Across the river in East Hartford, Democrat Connor Martin is expected to beat Republican Saleema Davis, maintaining a long Democratic winning streak.
In New Haven, Democrat Justin Elicker is expecting to celebrate winning his second-to-last two-year term as mayor. He’s not planning retirement. A charter revision on the ballot would shift the city to four-year terms, beginning in the 2027 election.
Elicker is opposed by Thomas A. Goldenberg, who is running on the Republican and Independent Party Lines, and petitioning candidate Wendy Hamilton. Elicker is cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party.
In West Haven, Barry Lee Cohen, the Republican nominee, nearly unseated Democrat Nancy Rossi in 2021, losing by less than half a percentage point, 50.17% to 49.83%. But Rossi, burdened by financial mismanagement and the corruption convictions of city employees, is not seeking a fourth two-year term.
That offers an easier path for Rep. Dorinda Borer, the Democratic nominee, to capitalize on a 4-1 Democratic advantage over Republicans in registered voters.
For good measure, Cohen will be competing for Republican votes with Mullins, the write-in candidate endorsed by Rell. The former governor said she endorsed him because she knows and likes him — and he asked.