Change was in the air for many districts in Connecticut Tuesday and both major parties were celebrating some local victories as results started coming in. But as the evening wore on, it became clear that Democrats were picking up seats and gaining control of councils and school boards in a lot of Republican towns, mirroring similar gains being reported in other states.
In the Bristol, Democrats unseated Republican Mayor Ken Cockayne, who was vying for his third term after being censured twice by the town council over sexual harassment allegations. Democratic candidate Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, who had fallen short in a previous challenge for Cockayne’s seat, was victorious Tuesday.
In Glastonbury, Democrats gained control of the town council for the first time in many years, also breaking a 14-year Republican supermajority. In Manchester, Democrats extended their majorities on both the board of directors and school board. Democrats also won control of the South Windsor town council and school board, despite the resignation of a candidate mid-campaign over a controversial Facebook post. In the council race, M. Saud Anwar received the most votes.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, a Republican whose name is often mentioned as someone with statewide ambitions, was able to hold on for a third term, but control of the city council was seized by the Democrats.
In Farmington, Republicans retained control of the school board but lost the town council to the Democrats for the first time in nearly 20 years. Democrats also won control of the town council in Southington.
In Derby, unofficial results show that Republican challenger Richard Dziekan defeated two-term Democratic incumbent Mayor Anita Dugatto.
Republicans were also able to hold onto the mayor’s seat in Ansonia where two-term incumbent David Cassetti beat back a challenge from Tarek Raslan.
In Norwich, Republican Mayor Peter Albert Nystrom held off 25-year-old Democrat Darell Wilson in a run for the open seat vacated by Democrat Deb Hinchey, who opted not to run for re-election after taking part in a trip to the Kentucky Derby paid for by an energy group.
In Bridgeport, voters overlooked Ernie Newton’s criminal past and re-elected him to City Council, a seat he previously held 25 years ago before running for the state legislature.
In Greater New Haven there were some interesting races for top spots on the ticket.
In West Haven, incumbent Democrat Mayor Ed O’Brien lost his party’s nomination to Nancy Rossi, Tuesday’s winner. But O’Brien didn’t step aside. Instead he ran as a write-in candidate and he ended up getting beaten again Tuesday in a three-way contest that included Republican David Riccio.
In Guilford, where incumbent Republican First Selectman Joe Mazza Jr. decided not to seek a third term, Democratic candidate Matt Hoey trampled Republican Ken MacKenzie by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, according to unofficial results.
In East Haven, Mayor Joseph Maturo will continue — barely — his reign as the longest-serving chief executive in the area.
Maturo won a ninth term in his contest against Sal Maltese. Unofficial results had him ahead by 106 votes — 3,649 to 3,543 — a margin of 1 percent.
Maltese has previously sought the seat as both a Republican and an independent candidate.
In Danbury, the Republican Party decided to leave recently deceased Councilman Gregg Seabury’s name on the ballot. Seabury died Saturday and, according to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the Republican Party could have replaced him with another candidate if they acted by 2 p.m. Monday.
City officials also could have reprinted the ballots or blacked out Seabury’s name on the already printed ballots, according to Merrill.
Merrill’s office released a statement offering condolences, but she said the city failed to follow the law in that Seabury’s name was left on on the ballots. She said that if Seabury wins a seat, Danbury can’t fill the seat as if it were a vacancy.
It’s unclear what will happen in the contest for seven at-large seats on the city council. The city has been asked not to report the number of votes Seabury may have received.
Meanwhile, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who recently had brain surgery and is exploring a run for governor, easily won re-election Tuesday.
His Democratic challenger, Al Almeida, said he’s the new face of the Democratic Party and he’s not going away.
“We are winners,” Almeida said. “I want to come back in two years to finish up the job.”
In Norwalk, Democratic Incumbent Mayor Harry Rilling held off a challenge from unaffiliated candidate Lisa Brinton Thomson, who came in second, and Republican Andy Conroy.
Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, a Republican who decided not to seek re-election, will be replaced by Democratic candidate Vicki Tesoro.
“Of course I would have preferred to be succeeded by a Republican, but elections are tough, and in this contest an independent candidate took close to 1,000 votes in a low-turnout affair and the Democrat won,” Herbst, who is running for governor, said in a statement.
The Republican Party, which held a majority of the top offices at the local level, knew that this year would be a tough year. There were a number of open seats and a variety of local issues at play.
Late Tuesday it was too soon to tell whether disapproval of Republican President Donald Trump did in fact have an impact on Connecticut’s local contests, as the Connecticut Democratic Party had hoped.
Anecdotally, there were reports of vote tallies in certain cities and towns in which the Democratic Party set local records.
In Windsor, Democrats swept all contests. Every Democratic candidate running for council or school board received more than 3,000 votes. Retiring Councilman Al Simon said he’s been keeping records since 1983 and he can’t find any other election in that time period in which every Democratic candidate received more than 3,000 votes.
Hillary Clinton won the state in 2016 by 13.7 percent, and Democrats have said that Trump’s victory inspired many candidates and volunteers to get involved.
Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto said “tonight was a huge victory for the Connecticut Democratic Party, but, more importantly, for those who believe that we can make a difference by stepping up and volunteering and fighting for progress.”
Balletto added, “With uncertainty on the national level and a Connecticut Republican Party that remains silent in the face of the damaging and divisive rhetoric and policies of Donald Trump and national Republicans, Connecticut voters understood that they had the chance to have an impact in their communities, and they did so by electing Democrats.”
Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said the Democratic Party wants to make this election all about Trump, but if that’s true then “how come the Trump narrative worked in Bristol and not New Britain? All politics is local and that still holds true tonight.”
Statewide, when it comes to voter registration, Democrats have an advantage. There are 771,412 voters who registered as Democrats, and 453,625 as Republicans. They are still outnumbered by the 861,766 registered unaffiliated voters. Late Tuesday evening, voter turnout appeared to be hovering around around 31 percent with 125 of 160 precincts reporting on the state’s election results site.