The 2021 municipal primary is in the books and it might just be more notable for all the things that didn’t happen than for all the things that did.
Primary season started with the promise of a slate of contested races in New Haven, Danbury, and elsewhere. But one by one, challengers dropped out and local parties mostly reconciled themselves to the town committees’ endorsed candidates.
In New Haven, Karen DuBois-Walton dropped out of her race against incumbent Mayor Justin Elicker prior to the Democratic Party’s convention, clearing the way for Elicker to win a second term in the heavily Democratic city. In Danbury, City Councilman John Esposito III was unable to gather enough signatures to primary endorsed Democratic mayoral candidate Roberto Alves. Alves will face Republican Dean Esposito in an open seat race, Danbury’s first in decades, while John Esposito decided to become a Republican in order to run for city council again.
In the end, only a few towns across the state held September primaries.
Incumbents and party-endorsed candidates largely did well. Rep. Bobby Sanchez, D-New Britain, defeated Alicia Strong for the right to take on New Britain’s incumbent Republican mayor, Erin Stewart. Incumbent Democrats defeated challengers in West Haven and Redding after being endorsed by their parties.
The biggest stories of the night came out of Stamford, Hamden and Guilford. In all three towns the party-endorsed candidates defeated incumbents.
In Stamford, Rep. Caroline Simmons, D-Stamford, easily defeated Mayor David Martin after narrowly being endorsed by that city’s Democratic Town Committee earlier this summer. Simmons captured rising discontent with Martin’s administration and will face former Stamford Director of Public Safety Bobby Valentine, who reportedly has some kind of baseball experience as well. Valentine is going to find it harder to make the case that he’s the change candidate in the race now that Martin is out.
In Hamden, Mayor Curt Leng was handed his walking papers by progressive challenger Lauren Garrett, who soundly defeated Leng after losing to him two years ago. Hamden’s Democratic Party has undergone some significant changes since 2019, with a new, more liberal faction gaining control of the town committee. The progressive slate, including Garrett, won all their races; local Democrats clearly signaled that their party has been heading away from Leng. Garrett and the progressive slate ran on building a more just and inclusive Hamden as well as righting the town’s finances.
Both of these races turned on local issues, which is the norm for any kind of municipal election. But every once in a while, national issues worm their way down to this level. That’s the case in Guilford, where a Republican challenger slate backed by the town committee ousted incumbents on the board of education.
The challengers, which called themselves the “5 Reasons Why” slate, ran on a platform opposing the teaching of critical race theory in the wealthy, 96% white, shoreline town’s schools. Critical race theory, of course, is a legal theory that is taught to graduate students, and is not actually the same thing as any discussion of race that makes white parents of middle-schoolers uncomfortable. The topic has been a sore point in Guilford recently for goodness knows what reason, and was controversial enough to drive turnout among Republicans through the roof.
Guilford’s Board of Education is currently controlled by Democrats. I’d be surprised if that changes any time soon, as embracing some fairly fringe right-wing views in a town that voted for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden is not likely the best strategy.
In all three of these high-profile races, town committees seemed to be pretty in tune with what their parties’ voters want. In Stamford and Hamden, Democrats wanted change and better administration. In Guilford, Republicans wanted to be mad and stick it to the libs.
None of these results are particularly surprising, though the margins of victory in each of these towns are larger than a lot of people were expecting. But the big takeaway here is that leaders and politicians may like to think that voters will go to the polls for good government and competence, but they’ll actually turn out for controversy and drama.
Take whatever lessons you will from that into November.
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.