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SUSAN BIGELOW

The political process endures. Nine months after the 2020 election came to its exhausting conclusion, party committees all across Connecticut are meeting to endorse slates for the municipal elections this November. And, as is always the case, primary races are starting to firm up as candidates gather signatures to be on the ballot in September.

This year’s primary calendar is going to be a light one, as high-profile races for mayor in big cities are few and far between. Bridgeport and Hartford don’t have mayoral races this year, and a potentially divisive primary in New Haven was averted when mayoral challenger Karen DuBois-Walton dropped out of the race.

The highest-profile race, then, might be in Stamford where State Rep. Caroline Simmons, D-Stamford, narrowly defeated incumbent Mayor David Martin for the endorsement of the Democratic City Committee, 21-19. Martin is expected to collect enough signatures for a primary.

But Democrats are also closely watching races in New Britain and Danbury, where Republicans have long kept them out of the mayor’s office. State Rep. Bobby Sanchez was endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee last week as their pick to take on incumbent Mayor Erin Stewart, who is seeking a fifth term. Sanchez will likely face a primary from two fronts: community advocate Veronica DeLandro and co-founder of the New Britain Racial Justice Coalition, Alicia Strong.

In Danbury, where former Mayor Mark Boughton shut Democrats out of the top office for two decades, the Democratic Town Committee has endorsed city council member Roberto Alves for mayor. John Esposito III, another member of the city council, is expected to primary.

Outside of the cities, the most interesting race may be happening in Hamden, where incumbent Mayor Curt Leng was heavily defeated at the Democratic Town Committee convention by Lauren Garrett. Leng didn’t actually attend the DTC convention, and didn’t seek its endorsement, but is expected to primary. Two other challengers, Brad Macdowell and Peter Cyr, are also promising to petition their way onto the primary ballot. That could set up a four-way race for mayor.

But what do primary voters want?

In almost every case, it depends on where they are. Local elections are decided on local concerns. 

In Stamford, there are obviously plenty of Democrats who are frustrated with David Martin and want a change. Yet Martin has a strong record when it comes to the city’s economy. Stamford has been uniquely positioned to take advantage of the flight of people and businesses from New York City during the pandemic. Also on Democratic voters’ minds will be their nominee’s eventual November opponent: former Mets and Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. Celebrity candidates often fizzle, but Valentine is a Stamford native and once had a job as the city’s Director of Public Safety. If he starts to get traction, Democratic voters may decide changing horses is too much of a risk. Lucky for them, Valentine isn’t well-known for winning.

In New Britain, Mayor Stewart is one of the better-known Republicans in the state, and she briefly explored a run for governor back in 2018. She’s always been surprisingly strong in this heavily Democratic city. As a state representative, though, Sanchez is well-positioned to give her a run for her money. It would be very surprising if Democratic voters suddenly decided to go in another direction. 

Danbury Democrats are looking to excise the political ghost of former Mayor Mark Boughton, who resigned last year after Gov. Ned Lamont nominated him to head the Department of Revenue Services. Boughton was mayor for nearly 20 years, frustrating all attempts by Danbury’s Democrats to oust him. Republican Joe Cavo became mayor after Boughton resigned, but decided to run for city council instead of trying to keep the job. That left Danbury with something the city hasn’t seen in a very long time: an open race for the mayor’s office. Is Alves the person to beat Republican Dean Esposito, or are Danbury Democrats doomed again?

And then there’s Hamden, where Democrats are split between progressive and more moderate factions. Voters handed control of the town committee to progressives last year, and they support Lauren Garrett. Leng defeated Garrett in a primary in 2019, but if the town committee election is any indication, the progressive wing is in a much better position this time. Voters will be sending a message about the social justice platform of the committee and its candidates, whether those candidates win or lose.

We’ll know more about what primary voters want come September.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.