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If you’re looking for a coherent storyline with national implications from Election 2019, you are out of luck. Republicans, Democrats, and independent candidates all scored wins Tuesday night in cities and towns across Connecticut.
Our three largest cities got the drama out of their systems in September’s primaries, but Tuesday’s vote confirmed what we already knew to be true: Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, none of which have white majorities, will all be led by white male Democrats. Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim will start the second term of his second stint as mayor with a cloud over his head thanks to the controversy over absentee ballots that tainted his primary win.
Smaller cities largely supported incumbent mayors. Republicans Erin Stewart and Mark Boughton won re-election in New Britain and Danbury, respectively, while Democrats Henry Rilling and Michael Passero won in Norwalk and New London. Democrat Ben Florsheim held the mayor’s office for Democrats in Middletown, as well, replacing outgoing Mayor Dan Drew. Council control shifted, however, in some cases. Republicans won back control of New Britain’s common council, while Democrats took the majority in Norwich from Republicans.
In the suburbs, Republicans and Democrats both notched pickups from the other party. Republicans defeated incumbent Democrats in Rocky Hill, Wethersfield, Southington, Clinton, and Fairfield, while Democrats defeated Republican incumbents in East Haven, Madison, Easton, and East Windsor.
Small towns saw plenty of change. Canton, East Hampton, East Haddam, Colchester, Lebanon, Preston, and Litchfield changed from Republican to Democrat, while Republicans picked up control from Democrats in Bozrah, Sprague, Coventry, Plainfield, Thompson, Marlborough, and Old Lyme.
Third parties and unaffiliated candidates did pretty well, too. Danielle Chesebrough, who has previously worked for the United Nations, is an unaffiliated candidate endorsed by the Democrats who will become the next first selectwoman of Stonington. Gerard Smith in Beacon Falls defeated a Democratic incumbent, while petitioning candidate Timothy Angevine defeated incumbent Republican Craig Nelson in Warren. Angevine, a political newcomer, petitioned his way onto the ballot with only six signatures — four more than he needed.
Unaffiliated first selectmen or mayors were re-elected in Salem, Wolcott, Meriden, and North Stonington.
I was struck by how many women in both parties were being elected or were contesting seats. Gender parity in our leadership will only bring benefits, and that’s a trend I hope continues.
Turnout was abysmal as usual. The Secretary of the State’s office pegged it at around 32% statewide. That’s a trend I’d like to see be reversed, but it’s never easy to gin up a lot of voter excitement about local races.
Is there any kind of pattern to all this? Well, Democrats did well in some smaller towns, which is part of a longer trend of Democrats making inroads in rural areas. Republicans are doing better in the suburbs and small-to-medium cities, which is also part of a longer trend. But there are plenty of exceptions to both trends.
It is a little unusual to see this many incumbents fall — nine in all, I believe. Incumbents tend to have a big advantage, especially in small towns. But it was also interesting to see so many open seat races — most of the party changes came because the mayor or first selectman’s office was being vacated.
So perhaps the theme of the night, if there was one, was change.
As for national implications, it’s inadvisable to squint too hard at municipal election results to try and divine meaning for next year’s elections. Local races are local, and any kind of effect having to do with, say, Donald Trump was too slight to show up in turnout or voting patterns.
And now that we’re done with that, it’s on to 2020! I hope you’re ready, because I definitely am not.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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