Citing Trump Fallout, Connecticut Voters Go Big For Democrats

Democrats notched a string of stunning victories in Tuesday’s municipal elections, taking control of government in suburban Republican strongholds such as Farmington, Glastonbury and Trumbull.

Party leaders attribute the wins at least partly to cadres of newly engaged activists who were spurred by the election of President Donald Trump last year. In a traditionally low-turnout municipal elections, without a marquee contest such as U.S. Senate or governor, Democrats made tens of thousands of phone calls in an effort to boost turnout.

Connecticut election results: Town by Town races »

"In every region of the state, Democrats came out and proved yet again that grassroots energy is key to winning elections,’’ Connecticut Democrat party Chairman Nick Balletto said. “Our party understands that change starts locally and will spread across the state and have far reaching impact. We showed this by a groundswell of victories that included flipping Mayor's seats, taking back control of councils, and cutting supermajorities in major cities.”

Balletto said the wins Tuesday night will boost the party’s position as it heads into the 2018 election cycle, with the governor’s office up for grabs. “These elections send a message, particularly to those Republicans looking to higher office who suffered major repudiations [Tuesday] in their own communities,’’ he said. “We will capitalize on this momentum to mount a strong effort in 2018 and beyond."

Republicans reject the premise that the outcome of local races hinged on Trump. “As much as the Democrats want to pretend that this was a national referendum, if you look at the races that were flipped it was all local issue’’ said JR Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican party. “There were things happening in local races that have nothing to do with Donald Trump.”

Romano noted that Republicans also scored wins, toppling Democrats in Derby, Montville and Norwich.

Glastonbury Goes Democrat

But Democrats say their victories were historic. For the first time in 14 years, Democrats gained a majority on the town council in Glastonbury. “I think my Republican colleagues ran up against a perfect storm of a Republican president who is very unpopular and that gave us some votes,’’ said Tom Gullotta, Glastonbury Democrat. “I also think the elementary school air-conditioning issue hung over them along with the town hall renovations. We had energetic, hard-working candidates who worked hard on the campaign.”

Farmington Moves Left

The party also took control of the Farmington town council after nearly two decades in the minority.

“We won because we got 700 new Democrats to the polls and we won because our candidates resonated with the community,” said Farmington Democratic Town Committee Chairman Brian Noe. “We earned people’s votes because we were the better candidates.”

Republicans have long held an advantage over Democrats on the municipal level in Connecticut, but Tuesday’s results shook up that equation. Democrats seized control of local government in Simsbury, South Windsor, Pomfret and Guilford, said Leigh Appleby, spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic party. Democrats also won a majority on the town council in Southington.

And Democrats took control of the First Selectman’s office in Trumbull, where Republican incumbent Tim Herbst opted not to run for re-election. His is running for governor.

In the tiny western Connecticut town of Sherman, three-term incumbent Clay Cope, a Republican, lost his bid for reelection. Cope was his party’s nominee for Congress in 2016, losing that race to Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty.

Changes In Bristol

In heavily Democratic Bristol, Republican Mayor Ken Cockayne, 50, lost to Democratic challenger Ellen Zoppo-Sassu following a campaign marked by blistering charges and counter-charges. An investigator determined that Cockayne circulated private and embarrassing photos of a GOP city council member — who is his cousin — because her husband allowed Zoppo-Sassu on his radio station. Republican and Democratic council members censured Cockayne for sexual harassment and dishonesty in answering their investigator.

Stewart Wins New Britain

In Central Connecticut’s other key mayoral race, New Britain’s Republican Erin Stewart, seen by many in her party as a rising star, proclaimed victory on Twitter: “We Did It!!!!”

However Stewart’s joy was tempered by the fact that Democrats took control of the board of aldermen.

The news for Republicans was more positive in the small Naugatuck Valley city of Derby. Despite being outnumbered by Democrats. Republican Richard Dziekan won the mayor’s office. Former Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom, a Republican, also emerged victorious in a five-way race for mayor.

In reliably liberal West Hartford, which the GOP hadn't controlled since the early days of the George W. Bush administration, all the Democratic incumbents on the town council — Shari Cantor, Beth Kerrigan, Leon Davidoff, and Ben Wenograd — appeared to slide to easy victory. Democratic newcomers Liam Sweeney and Dallas Dodge also won. Republicans Mary Fay, Chris Barnes and Chris Williams will round out the nine-member panel.

Courant staff writers Don Stacom and Jordan Otero Sisson contributed to this report.


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