Democrats were jubilant Tuesday night as Ellen Zoppo-Sassu swept to a stunning victory as mayor, and her party picked up five of the six seats on the council.
The election was a devastating loss for Republicans, who had suffered through a bitter in-party feud during the campaign and a series of public embarrassments.
Republican Mayor Ken Cockayne, who at one point during his two terms had been considering a run for governor, could not be reached Tuesday night to discuss the loss.
“We have elected a mayor we can be proud of,” Democratic Town Committee Chairman Dean Kilbourne told a wildly cheering crowd at the party’s victory celebration.
Kilbourne was referring to the two censure votes that the council took against Cockayne over the past year.
The race was heavily watched in state political circles, partly because rumors had spread last spring that a faction of local Republicans wanted to run someone other than Cockayne.
He has been the face of the Republican revolution in this traditionally blue-collar city, where the GOP took control of the school board in 2011 and made him mayor in 2013. He defeated Zoppo-Sassu to win re-election in 2015 and the GOP held onto a 3-3 split on the council, even though the party lost the school board.
Zoppo-Sassu crushed Cockayne by a roughly 3-2 ratio, according to unofficial results. She told her cheering supporters that Democrats will continue for the next decade to be the party that best represents Bristol.
“All that we can say tonight is that the people have spoken. They have chosen their candidates and we owe it to them to get right to work,” she said.
She promised an “accountable, efficient and transparent government” that will be collaborative.
“We are ready to get to work — that’s the best way to show the people who put their faith in us that we, in turn, will do our jobs,” she said.
Tuesday night was virtually an across-the-board debacle for the local GOP. Council incumbents Anthony D’Amato and Jodi Zils-Gagne were voted out, and the line of challengers that many Republicans leaders were banking on — Eric Carlson, finance board Chairman Cheryl Thibeault and Andrew Hower — went down to defeat. The sole Republican council member will be Dave Mills, a well-liked former football coach.
Zoppo-Sassu made no direct reference to Cockayne or Zils-Gagne, his cousin and the center of the fracture in the GOP campaign. The council censured Cockayne after concluding he sexually harassed her and distributed potentially embarrassing photos of her and her husband.
Turnout was approximately the same 38 percent it was in the 2015 municipal election.