Previewing Connecticut's 2017 Municipal Elections

Nov 6, 2017

Voter registration numbers have been released and there are about 125,000 new registrants ahead of Tuesday’s municipal elections in the state.

For a preview of local races, WNPR spoke with Mark Pazniokas, Capitol Bureau Chief for the Connecticut Mirror.

WNPR’s Diane Orson: Let’s start with the basics. Which offices are up for election?

All but four of Connecticut’s cities and towns will go to the polls to elect everything from mayor to school board and other local offices.

It’s something of an off-year, in that some of the bigger cities and towns have gone to four-year terms for mayor. That includes places like Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury. They don’t have mayoral races this year.

Between the daily dramatic news coming out of Washington and our own drama with the state budget here in Connecticut, what’s on people’s minds?

Some of the drama coming out of Washington are actually factors in the local races, to varying degrees. There are some big names in national news and state news that are not going to be on the ballot, but they have come up in these races. And that includes Donald Trump, Dan Malloy, and believe it or not, Harvey Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein has become an issue in the race for selectman in Greenwich because the Democratic candidate for first selectman in Greenwich is a former Disney executive. And Disney is the company that bought Weinstein’s old studio Miramax. So people have asked in Greenwich, what did he know about Mr. Weinstein’s sexual infidelities and inappropriate behavior?

The Democratic party has used concern about the president, anger at the president, to try to mobilize the Democratic base.

As far as Dan Malloy, the budget fight that has just been resolved loomed large over municipal races, because of the governor’s threat – when he was running the budget by executive order – he was going to withhold a lot of municipal aid. I think you could hear a big sigh around the state among Democratic municipal candidates when this was resolved and this particular monkey got off their back.

The Connecticut Mirror reported that the GOP gained ground in state after the 2016 presidential election. Could that affect elections this week?

It might. Local races are determined, not surprisingly, by local personalities and local issues. The parties and political reporters like me, we’re always trying to find whether there’s larger meaning or trends in these things. But I’ll give you a couple of example of how that might be hard.

There is a Democratic mayor of Derby, Anita Dugatto, who is having a tough race. And this was an area that Trump did well. And people might be tempted to say if she loses, this is evidence of a permanent turn down there towards a more conservative, more Republican candidate. But you have to look at the local factors. She had a very difficult Democratic primary. She won by only 30 votes and from what I hear, they have not kissed and made up – the two Democrats who were running. So that’s a problem.

On the flip side, you have a Republican mayor Ken Cockayne in Bristol who seems to be in a lot of trouble, but it is over local issues about allegations of harassment that Mayor Cockayne is accused of committing. So there’s that kind of push and pull over what these races mean.

There’s certainly a look already at 2018, open race for governor. I

n Danbury, Mayor Mark Boughton faces a Democratic opponent. He really didn’t have much of a race the last two times out. Boughton has an exploratory campaign for governor. People will be look to see how strongly he performed.

In Trumbull, the First Selectman Tim Herbst is a Republican candidate for governor. He is not seeking re-election.

Dan Drew, a Democratic candidate for governor, is not on the ballot for re-election as mayor of Middletown. He has a four-year term.

Any other particularly interesting races to keep an eye on?

Look in Waterbury election night to see how a candidate for district seat on the Board of Alderman does. That would be Joe Santopietro, who was the boy wonder many years ago – elected in his 20s as mayor of Waterbury. But he ended up going to prison on a federal corruption conviction. He’s been out for quite a while and he’s trying to make his political comeback, albeit in a fairly modest office.

But if he wins, and depending on how he’s received, he may be a candidate for mayor in two years.