Voters go to the polls today to choose leaders in 168 of Connecticut’s 169 communities, with closely watched mayoral contests in Bridgeport and Danbury, open mayoral seats in Hartford and Waterbury and a bitter charter fight in Stamford.
Arunan Arulampalam, a Sri Lankan immigrant who won a Democratic primary, is expected to be elected mayor of Hartford, succeeding two-term Democrat Luke Bronin. His opponents include Nick Lebron, a Democratic councilman running as a petitioning candidate.
In Waterbury, Democratic Alderman Paul Pernerewski and Republican newcomer Dawn Maiorano are vying to succeed Neil O’Leary, the Democrat and former police chief leaving the mayor’s office after 12 years. Pernerewski is endorsed by O’Leary and the hometown paper, the Republican-American
In Danbury, a Brazilian immigrant, Roberto Alves, is a Democrat cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party trying to unseat Republican Dean Esposito in a rematch. Esposito won by 290 votes in 2021, when the seat was open for the first time in two decades.
If Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim wins, he faces a court-ordered do-over of the Democratic primary he narrowly won in disputed absentee voting. John Gomes, the runner up in the primary who sued for a new contest, is on the ballot as a petitioning candidate on the Independent line. If he wins, Gomes will attempt to withdraw his suit.
Stamford is alone among Connecticut’s five largest cities in having no mayoral election, but its mayor is on the ballot by proxy.
Mayor Caroline Simmons is a Democrat at the midpoint of her first four-year term, but the stakes Tuesday are as high for her as any mayor whose name is on the ballot. She is vested deeply in defeating a charter change that would shift executive power from the mayor to a local legislative body antagonistic to rapid growth.
The fight has exposed deep divisions in Stamford’s dominant Democratic Party, most notably between its first-term mayor and the leadership of the Board of Representatives, its 40-member legislative body.
“It’s really a power grab,” Simmons said.
Nina Sherwood, the leader of the board’s 36-4 Democratic majority, said the revisions are intended to give voice to neighborhood interests in the state’s second-largest and fastest-growing city.
“I hope that the establishment of the Democratic Party actually will pay attention to what the people are saying,” Sherwood said. “That hasn’t been happening in Stamford.”
The League of Women Voters opposes the charter revision, chiding proponents on two counts: packing disparate changes in one long referendum question, as opposed to separate ones; and ignoring a charter provision that encourages referendums to be held in higher-turnout, statewide election years.
One of Simmons’ moves came under fire from Sherwood and other board members for lacking transparency. Simmons convinced lawmakers to insert a provision into the state bond package that prohibited what Simmons saw as one of the more dangerous proposals in the charter.
The proposal would have empowered anyone opposed to growth by liberalizing the rules allowing homeowners to appeal zoning and planning changes to the Board of Representatives, even if the opponents don’t live near a proposed development.
One of the proposed charter changes would impose a residency requirement for certain key city employees, a move that opponents say would limit the talent pool given the high cost of housing in Stamford.
But a key sticking point is the power to make and confirm appointments to various city boards and commissions, particularly those with planning and zoning authority.
Sherwood acknowledges that the Board of Representatives is eager to review the voting records of those who approve development projects, but they have been thwarted by the existing charter.
If Simmons is concerned that a commissioner could not win confirmation for a new term, she has the power to leave the commissioner in place indefinitely. In one case, the BOR did reject a reappointment, but the official can remain in office unless Simmons nominates a successor.
“The problem has gotten so bad that 47% of all members of boards are serving on expired terms,” Sherwood said.
A revision to the charter would allow the president of the Board of Representatives to appoint a successor 120 days after the end of a term. Simmons said the board would have complete control over appointments by rejecting a mayoral choice, run out the 120-day clock and making their own choice.
“Overall, these changes would be damaging to the city for the next decade by hampering the ability of me and future mayors to govern,” Simmons said.
The fight predates Simmons’ election in 2021. In fact, the Democratic predecessor she unseated in a primary, David Martin, has publicly opposed the charter changes, as have some prominent Republicans, including former Lt. Gov. Michael C. Fedele.
Stamford is one of more than a dozen cities and towns with referendum questions Tuesday.
Ansonia voters will opine on borrowing $132 million, mostly for schools, but also $10.7 million for city-wide surveillance cameras and other public-safety improvements.
Retail marijuana sales are on the ballot in Simsbury.
Voters will be asked if Simsbury should join 40 other communities in allowing sales of recreational marijuana, including its neighbors of Canton and Bloomfield. Nineteen communities have prohibited the sales, and 31 others have declared moratoriums.
Charter revisions in New Haven would change the mayoral terms from two to four years.
As the last scheduled election before Connecticut moves to extended in-person voting in 2024, Tuesday marks the end of an era: The demise of a singular Election Day.
Next year, voters will have four days to cast in-person votes in the presidential primaries and special elections, seven days in other primaries and 14 days in general elections.
An absentee-ballot scandal in Bridgeport has brought unusual attention to the mechanics of voting, with the secretary of the state’s office posting daily updates on the numbers of ABs issued and returned statewide.
As of Monday, 37,352 voters already had cast their votes. Polls are open until 8 p.m.
You can check on your voter registration status on the secretary of the state’s web site.