Mike Telesca, chair of the Independent Party Credit: Hugh McQuaid photo

Lawyers for Bob Stefanowski’s gubernatorial campaign sent notice to the Connecticut Independent Party’s chairman Wednesday challenging the party’s endorsement this week of candidate Rob Hotaling over Stefanowski following a tied caucus vote Tuesday night.

In a three-page notice, Stefanowski’s attorneys at Hinckley Allen contend that the Connecticut Independent Party’s bylaws did not permit Chair Mike Telesca to cast a tie-breaking vote awarding the nomination to Hotaling, a banking executive from Cheshire, depriving Stefanowski, a Republican, of a second ballot line in his rematch against Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont.

Stefanowski’s campaign has called the nomination illegal and contended it violated a number of bylaws including rules that dictate that another round of voting must take place if a candidate does not obtain at least 51% of the vote. 

“Even with your illegally cast second vote, Mr. Hotaling did not achieve the 51% of the vote required to receive the Independent Party nomination,” attorney Peter J. Martin wrote. “We believe that a court reviewing these facts will conclude that the Independent Party’s nomination of Mr. Hotaling violated party rules and law such that the Secretary of the State cannot permit Mr. Hotaling’s name to be printed on the official ballot.”

The notice also advised Telesca to retain all relevant documentation until the matter is resolved. 

Reached by phone Wednesday, Telesca was unsurprised by the legal action. 

“I knew he was going to file a lawsuit no matter what. Whether it was a tie vote or he lost by 20, he was going to object to the results — sort of a Donald Trump move. ‘Either I win or I sue,’” Telesca said.

Telesca said he expected his actions Tuesday would withstand legal scrutiny but acknowledged the party’s bylaws did not expressly give the party chairman the authority to break a tie. As a minor party, the group has some leeway in interpreting its rules, he said.

“I resolved the situation in what I thought was the right way. In our town committee bylaws we have that the chairman would break a tie. Apparently we didn’t put it in our state bylaw, but the thought process was still the same,” Telesca said. 

By that time the votes had been tallied three times, several additional contests still had to be decided, and several members who had attended only to vote on a governor candidate had already left the event, he said.

“It would not have been fair to do another vote call at that point,” Telesca said. “What can I say? We’re a minor party. There’s no harm to Bob Stefanowski. He will be on the ballot. He has his line. This is about suppressing choice. He doesn’t want us on the ballot because, in his mind, it doesn’t help him. And he should get over that. He really should.”

However, losing a second ballot line would be a blow to Stefanowski as he again faces Lamont, who has already secured the cross endorsement of the state Working Families Party. During their last contest in 2018, the Independent Party endorsed Stefanowski and around 25,000 voters cast ballots for him on the minor party’s line. 

In their letter to Telesca, Stefanowski’s lawyers kept their options open.

“We continue to investigate the circumstances of these events, but, at a minimum, such conduct warrants remedial action and the [Stefanowski campaign] Committee will pursue all available remedies arising from this conduct,” Martin wrote.