Every two years I go to the same corner near my house in Enfield, and take pictures of the political signs there. I’ve been doing this since 2004, and what’s emerged from this project is a record of the changes in politics, the changes in my town, and the reassuring resilience of democracy in Connecticut.
The corner has gone through a lot of ups and downs over the last sixteen years. The price of beer at the package store has gone up, as have the signs in the window. A medical building was built behind the package store sometime between 2008 and 2010. The walk lights, which didn’t exist in 2004, have been changed at least three times since. The number of newspaper boxes dwindles from two, to one, and then none.
I was just 27 in 2004; I’m 43 now. Oof.
In 2004, the big issue was the Iraq War. Now? Pandemic, economy, and general hell on earth. The past always seems quieter than the present. I wonder what 2020 will look like from the perspective of 2036?
Let’s start with 2004 and move forward towards the present.
There are a couple of big hand-painted signs here: one for state Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, one for Democrat Bill Kiner, who was running against Kissel that year, and one for Democrat Jim Sullivan. Sullivan was running a futile race against incumbent U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, whose signs flank his.
Notice also the sign for U.S. Sen Chris Dodd. This was Dodd’s last race; he ran for president in 2008 and got creamed, then he decided to retire in 2010. Dodd spent some time as CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, and has recently been a top advisor in Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
2006 saw a re-run of the Kiner-Kissel race, and both have large signs here. Kiner would once again come up short; Kissel was, and continues to be, well-entrenched. The big race that year was between Rob Simmons and his 2002 opponent, former state representative Joe Courtney. Simmons’ red, white, and blue signs are mixed in with Courtney’s high-visibility yellow and black ones. Courtney would win that race by a hair—and go on to easily defeat his opponents in every election since.
If you look closely, you’ll see some signs for a familiar name: Ned Lamont. That year was his entrance on to the political scene. He won the Democratic primary against Sen. Joe Lieberman, but lost to him in the general election. The big issue, once again, was the Iraq War, which by 2006 the public had soured on.
Not pictured are signs for Gov. Jodi Rell or her opponent that year, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. Rell won in a landslide. No Republican has won since.
Please excuse this awful potato of a photograph. I took it with my Blackberry and thought it would be fine. It was not fine.
There are two signs visible here, one for Kissel, and the other for his opponent that year, George Colli of Suffield. Colli lost that year, but went on to a career in journalism. I think I can just make out a Courtney sign, as well. He easily defeated his opponent in what was a banner year for Democrats. At issue was the massive economic collapse caused by the subprime mortgage crisis.
Ah, a clearer picture! 2010 was the Tea Party year, and it was also the first open-seat race for governor since 1994. There are several signs here for Republican Tom Foley, but none for the eventual winner, former Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy. Sadly, there are no signs for Linda McMahon or Richard Blumenthal, who faced off for the Senate seat of the retiring Chris Dodd.
The big sign is for Martha Dean, a Republican running for attorney general. Her mysterious slogan was “Faith, Family, Fortune.” Also visible is another Kiner sign – this time for Bill Kiner’s son David Kiner, who ran for state representative and won. He would represent the 59th District until 2017.
We saw Barack Obama get re-elected; the economy was the major issue. There are some David Kiner signs here, along with signs for Kissel, his opponent, former State Rep. Karen Jarmoc, and Courtney. Tom Sirard was a Republican running in the 58th District, which is right next to the 59th. The boundary between the two districts is visible in the photos; I was taking the picture from the 58th, but the signs are in the 59th.
There are also signs for Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon, who were facing off for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by a deeply unpopular Joe Lieberman. McMahon, as in 2010, came up short despite spending tons of her own money.
The “Vote Yes” sign is about a local referendum on renovations to Enfield High School. It passed.
2014 was a strong year for Republicans elsewhere in the country, but not in Connecticut. Dan Malloy won re-election, though neither his signs nor Tom Foley’s are visible here. Courtney has a sign on the corner, as does David Kiner, his opponent Republican Rob Kwasnicki and, of course, Kissel. Kissel’s opponent this year was John Foxx; Kissel won with almost 70% of the vote. The sign with the face on it is for Republican Tom Kienzler, who lost to David Alexander in the 58th.
This is a pretty small crop of signs relative to previous years. Visible are signs for Republican Carol Hall and her Democratic opponent, Tony DiPace, who were running for the open 59th District seat. Hall won that race. The 58th District was a race between Greg Stokes, a Republican whose signs are visible here, and Rep. David Alexander, who was arrested on DUI charges twice during his short time as a state representative. Stokes would defeat Alexander, who would be arrested again not long after for allegedly assaulting his own mother while intoxicated.
Something new happened on the corner in 2016: a sign for a presidential candidate. This sign was for Donald Trump, whose signs were all over increasingly Republican Enfield. Later, after the election was done, I wondered if that had been an omen.
There were no signs on the corner in 2018! I was so distraught that I didn’t even take a picture.
Thankfully, the signs returned for 2020. Carol Hall has a big sign up with a black-blue-black stripe on it. That’s a thin blue line symbol of support for police. Hall is married to a former deputy police chief in Enfield, and has made support for police and opposition to the recent police accountability bill the centerpiece of her campaign. Opposing her is Dr. Jerry Calnan, a retired pediatrician.
Kissel is also facing a doctor in his re-election race, Dr. Richard Moffa. Kissel has a sign here; Moffa does not. Kissel is the only politician to have a sign every single year. He’s been in office for a long, long time. Courtney also has a sign here, as does his opponent, Justin Anderson of East Haddam.
And, lastly, presidential candidate Joe Biden has a sign on the corner. Is that another omen? I guess we’ll know soon enough.
Despite everything that’s happened, from the Iraq War to the Great Recession to the lunacy and unreality of the Trump years to this year’s horrible pandemic, democracy has endured. Connecticut has been practicing democracy in one form or another for 381 years, ever since the Fundamental Orders were signed in 1639. Whatever happens this year, I know that our democracy will stand, a mighty oak against the storm.
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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