There were not a lot of surprises in Fairfield County’s election results last night, as most incumbents won re-election – including Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.
The one exception was Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau, who was unable to overcome a scandal involving alleged bribery and environmental misdeeds by public works staff.
Ganim’s win, which puts him at the Bridgeport helm for a second consecutive term – the Democrat served five terms as mayor from 1993-2003, before a conviction on federal corruption charges led to seven years in prison – turned out to be a slam-dunk: At press time, he had received 59% of the vote, with Republican challenger John Rodriguez receiving just 9%.
But Ganim was dogged by insinuations of voter fraud after the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, with state Sen. Marilyn Moore challenging what she saw as an irregularly high number of absentee ballots for Ganim. Three Bridgeport residents filed a lawsuit seeking to hold a new primary, something that was rejected by a Superior Court judge; an appeal is still pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The controversy even spread to The New York Times, which ran a story with the decidedly less-than-reassuring headline “Why This Ex-Con Mayor Is Running Away From Reporters.”
Nevertheless, Ganim is obviously looked upon with favor by a majority of Bridgeport residents. He has been leading the city on a development tear of late, ranging from the Cherry Street Lofts and the Harbor Yard Amphitheater to the creation of 1,800 residential units downtown.
Ganim also allied himself with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, which respectively operate the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, in a last-minute drive to push through legislation that would give the tribes $100 million in city and state funding toward building a $350 million project in downtown – a Hail Mary play that didn’t play well with some political allies and enemies alike.
In Norwalk, Harry Rilling cruised to a fourth term as mayor by besting unaffiliated candidate Lisa Brinton by a 55% to 44% margin. Norwalk is in the midst of its own development boom, with luxury apartment building The Curb recently opening its second building; more than $4 million in investments being made over the next 12 to 18 months to improve the Wall Street and West Avenue corridor’s infrastructure; and of course the long-awaited opening of the SoNo Collection mall last month.
A few days before the election, the mayor received endorsement from U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, and state Attorney General William Tong, all fellow Democrats.
“He has improved schools, ushered in economic development, brought fiscal responsibility and focused on improving roads, bridges and other needed infrastructure,” Blumenthal wrote.
Although a tight race in Danbury was foreseen by many, Boughton won his record 10th term as mayor with a 54% to 45% tally over Republican Chris Setaro – the same man he defeated for his first term as mayor.
“We’re doing it all,” Boughton told the Business Journal earlier this year. “The big things and the small things.”
The big things include new businesses — over 900 were added last year, Boughton said, “everything from storefronts to corporations. It’s the highest number we’ve ever seen and it outpaced the state.”
Setaro ran in part on the idea that Boughton’s tenure had led to complacency, and said the need for fresh ideas was obvious.
The one notable incumbent not returning to office is Fairfield’s Tetreau. The Democrat lost his bid for a third term to Republican Brenda Kupchick, who has been a state representative since 2011. With about 90% of votes tallied by press time, Kupchick was ahead by a 27% majority; Tetreau has conceded.
Although Tetreau received generally good marks during his eight years in office, over the past several months he has been caught up in a controversy involving allegations of bribery, environmental contamination and neglect. The town’s public works director and public works superintendent were arrested over the summer on charges of illegal dumping and kickbacks. An investigation into those allegations continues.
As for Kupchick, she has said Fairfield must grow its grand list, which has declined by 7.7% over the last 11 years. She has also promised to work with developers and business to diversify the town’s tax base and to create opportunities for public-private partnerships and technology while also modernizing its permitting process and services.
Another state representative, Republican Fred Camillo, will be the new first selectman of Greenwich, replacing the retiring Peter Tesei. Camilo defeated Democrat Jill Oberlander, 57% to 42%. Camillo has long painted himself as a friend of the working class and over the summer received a 100% voting score from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Those scores are based upon a legislator’s votes on such issues as mandatory paid family/medical leave program funded by a 0.5% payroll tax, raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023, supporting manufacturing careers and a state-run health care option, among others.
“This was the year of bad-for-business legislation, but I am proud to have sided with our local employers and their employees 100% of the time,” Camillo said at the time. “Anti-business policies can lead to layoffs, higher consumer prices and business closures. We need to change the narrative and we must do that by making it easier for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and create well-paying jobs for Connecticut residents, especially our recent graduates and young professionals.”
Democrat Vicki Tesoro won her second term as Trumbull First Selectman over Michael Herbst – the father of her predecessor, Tim Herbst – 62% to 37%. That matchup was arguably the fiercest within the county, as Herbst mounted a negative campaign that among other things accused Tesoro’s administration of allowing crime and EMS response times to rise.
Police Commission Chairman Ray Baldwin and Vice Chairman Angelo Magliocco issued a joint statement calling the claims “factually inaccurate and totally irresponsible,” while the EMS Commission issued a unanimous statement calling Herbst’s claims “ludicrous accusations which he is only using for his political gain.”
Herbst also took issue with the rise in the number of high-density housing units under construction, while Tesoro’s defenders said much of those projects, which involved changes in zoning regulations, are taking place on Trumbull’s outskirts and thus would be minimally disruptive to neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, during Tesoro’s term the town has benefited from Henkel’s $20 million investment to build a second research and development facility on Trefoil Drive, improvements to its Long Hill Green Village District, and the $3.4 million sale of the long-vacant 250,000-square-foot office building and parking garage at 48 Monroe Turnpike, formerly the home of United Healthcare.
Plans to turn the latter into a 350-unit mixed independent, assisted and memory care project are on hold in the face of a legal challenge to the zoning changes made to allow for such an endeavor. The lawyer for the plaintiffs is Tim Herbst.
Other incumbents re-elected were Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker, D – 55% to 37% over Republican Patricia Rist; Brookfield First Selectman Steve Dunn, D – 56% to 43% over Republican Mel Butow; Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, R – 90% to 9% over unaffiliated Christian Noe; and New Canaan First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, R – 61% to 38% over Democrat Craig Donovan.
Also returning to office are New Fairfield First Selectman Pat Del Monaco, D, over Republican and former First Selectman John Hodge (63% to 36%); Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, D, over Republican Dick Moccia (66% to 33%); Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, R, over Democrat John Harmon (66% to 33%); and Wilton First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice, R, over Democrat Deb McFadden (63% to 34%).
In Easton, where First Selectman Adam Dunsby, a Republican, did not seek re-election, Democrat David Bindelglass bested Republican Wendy Bowditch by a 47% to 43% majority.
Running unopposed were Monroe First Selectman Ken Kellogg, R; Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, D; Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton, D, who was also endorsed by the town’s Republicans for the second consecutive time; Sherman First Selectman Don Lowe, D; and Weston First Selectman Chris Spaulding, D.