Election Day has come and gone, and the 2013 municipal elections are in the books at last. So what did we learn?
Most people still don’t tune in: What was the final turnout in Hartford, a little over 5 percent? Granted, there were only a few Board of Education seats and charter questions on the ballot, but it’s still incredibly low. Turnout statewide was only about a third of registered voters, which is typical for “off-year” elections. Shame.
Toni Harp was never in any real danger: Harp had some stumbles but won a fairly convincing 10-point victory over Justin Elicker in New Haven. For the first mayoral election without John DeStefano in 20 years, this one was surprisingly free of serious drama or uncertainty. Now we get to see what sort of mayor she’ll make. The last mayor of a big city to come from the state senate, Bill Finch of Bridgeport, may not be the best model.
Some voters aren’t thrilled with school reforms: Speaking of Bridgeport, the hold that Finch and his controversial superintendent, Paul Vallas, have on the Board of Education slipped away in what is being touted as a big blow to the kind of corporate-driven, teacher-blaming school reforms they supported. Of course, the race also had a lot to do with local Bridgeport politics, but the reforms were at the heart of the campaign.
Republicans had a slightly better night than Democrats: It’s hard to call this a win for either party, but if I had to pick a major party that did somewhat better than the other, it would have to be the Republicans. They picked up the mayor’s chair in bigger towns like New Britain, Bristol, Ansonia, and Meriden, and shockingly held on in East Haven. Despite some bitter losses in Norwalk, Norwich, and Stamford they still managed to beat expectations, and move in on what often seems like Democrats’ turf.
Local, state and national elections aren’t connected: Republicans shouldn’t see this as a sign of things to come, though — a good municipal election night doesn’t guarantee anything next year. In 2005, 2007, and 2009 Connecticut’s Republicans did pretty well in lots of towns statewide. In 2006, 2008, and even 2010 they got creamed. They lost all their congressional seats, lost the governorship, did very poorly in U.S. Senate races, and couldn’t put much of a dent in Democratic control of the legislature. The stark truth is that the Connecticut Republican Party does fine in municipal elections, but can’t translate that to success at higher levels.
Politics runs in families: New Britain’s new mayor, 26-year-old Erin Stewart, is the daughter of former mayor Timothy Stewart, who lost to outgoing mayor Tim O’Brien in 2011. She’s going to have to do a lot of hard work to convince skeptical New Britain residents that she’s not just a stand-in for her father — although the size of her win suggests that may not be an issue at all. Ryan Bingham, who was even younger than Stewart when he became Torrington’s mayor in 2005, faced similar skepticism; his mother was a popular state representative.
Also, former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s son won a town council seat in Wethersfield.
East Haven has issues: Really? They re-elected “Taco” Joe Maturo? To be fair, Maturo had shown leadership during the crisis surrounding a plane crash in his town, but come on. A guy who was a national symbol of clueless bigotry, re-elected as mayor, may not be the best signal to send.
Casinos are coming in Massachusetts: Just not to Palmer or Suffolk Downs. Voters in those places rejected casino plans, much like West Springfield did in September. One gaming plan survived a summer vote: a massive MGM casino plan in Springfield. That one’s going to happen, you can bet on it. Connecticut casinos and northern Connecticut residents are watching very closely.
Connecticut is making voting easier: Some 1,600 new voters registered at the polls in the first test of a new same-day registration law. Excellent. In Enfield, my wife used only a credit card as identification, as the law absolutely says she could do, and was cleared to vote with no hesitation by poll workers. The fact that Connecticut is making voting easier and more accessible bucks the sad, worrisome trend of tightening voter ID laws and restricting access to the polls, and that’s something that should make us proud.
So that puts a cap on 2013. Now the 2014 elections, which will feature what is sure to be a nasty, hard-fought governor’s race, get under way. Can’t wait.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.