The results of last night's municipal elections in Connecticut, while solid, should nevertheless serve as a wake-up call to Democrats looking ahead to 2020. A test of local party infrastructures, organizational capacity, and party leadership—the margins in these races tell us a lot about whether parties can activate their voters. The broad takeaway for Connecticut Democrats should be that there is work to be done on a local level to leverage opposition to Donald Trump heading into the presidential races.
In Danbury, for example, the Democratic Party, Democratic activists, Working Families Party, and labor unions had invested a good deal of resources and energy into defeating nine-term Republican Mayor Mark Boughton. Amidst other partisan concerns, Boughton has been criticized over his approach to education, which has included support for the Danbury Prospect Charter School. However, he held off a hard-charging and relatively well-funded Democratic candidate, Chris Setaro, with an unofficial 7 point victory. Funding for Danbury Prospect would be a win for public school students and families who are dealing with an over-crowded public school district.
Republicans also saw wins in Fairfield County/Upper Fairfield County—where Democrats have been growing in favor since 2013. Fred Camillo, long-time Republican State Representative, was elected Greenwich First Selectman, even though the town has seen significant Democratic growth over the last two elections. In Fairfield, Republican Brenda Kupchick also knocked off two-term Democratic First Selectman Mike Tetreau. While Tetreau faced thorny local issues this year, it’s not the first time that he has contended with strong Republican messaging. (In 2015, immediately after Democrats took the blame for GE leaving town, he barely held off a hard-charging Republican.) In Hartford County, Republicans took back some seats that Democrats had picked up/held in recent years, including the Rocky Hill Mayoral seat and the majority on the Wethersfield Town Council. And State Senator Cathy Osten, Democratic Chair of the Appropriations Committee, was defeated in Sprague as First Selectman. While the votes cast in 2019 for this race represent less than 5% of those cast for her 2018 State Senate election, this result is disappointing for Senator Osten, who the GOP has targeted for municipal defeat in recent years.
But Democrats also produced some strong results across the state, sealing the deal in Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury, and Hartford to maintain control of the state’s large urban centers. (New Haven elected a new Mayor in Justin Ellicker, who is likely to become a force on the state-level.) Dems also flipped the Madison First Selectman’s seat, retained a Democratic Middletown Mayor (electing a young Democrat in Ben Florsheim), and took back the East Haven Mayoral seat (after Republican Joe Maturo, who has held off Democratic efforts in recent years amidst public crises and personal transgressions, nevertheless decided not to run for re-election). In Essex, State Senator Norm Needleman had a strong showing in his re-election as First Selectman, which is a helpful sign for him as he prepares for his first re-elect as a State Senator in 2020.