Voters in cities and towns across the state went to the polls Tuesday, sending incumbents, party favorites, newcomers, and veterans into municipal leadership.
Some races ended as expected. In Hartford, Democratic incumbent Mayor Luke Bronin claimed victory against range of candidates, including former Mayor Eddie Perez. The same was the case in Bridgeport, where incumbent Democratic Mayor Joe Ganim won while holding off both legal challenges from the primary and political ones, as well. And Republicans celebrated both in Danbury, where Mayor Mark Boughton kept his seat, and in New Britain, where Mayor Erin Stewart did the same.
Other races brought leadership changes to city hall. In New Haven, Democratic nominee Justin Elicker won a lopsided victory over incumbent Mayor Toni Harp, who had continued her reelection effort after losing the primary in September.
Elicker is a former alderman who ran against Harp in 2013. This time around, he won -- with about two-thirds of the votes. Harp ran on the Working Families ticket. Elicker told supporters he wants to be an inclusive mayor who listens to all of the city’s residents.
“New Haven is a place where everyone has the opportunity and needs to have the opportunity to thrive,” he said. “New Haven is a place where divisive rhetoric has no tolerance.”
Elicker said he wants to promote more equal economic development between New Haven’s downtown and its neighborhoods.
In her concession speech at the Elks Club, Harp congratulated Elicker and thanked her supporters.
“I’m blessed with the opportunity I have had and I’m grateful in my heart of hearts for the ability that I’ve had to serve the people of the city of New Haven,” Harp said, telling a crowd of several dozen that she expects to do some form of public service in the future.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim will begin his seventh term after winning handily against write-in candidate and State Sen. Marilyn Moore.
Ganim compared the big win to his long-shot victory in 2015 that followed his seven-year stint in prison for corruption.
“It is as equally humbling today as it was four years ago and as it was when I was first elected in 1991,” he told a crowd at Testa’s Restaurant in the city.
Ganim trounced Moore by over 6,000 votes after beating her by just 270 votes in the September primary with a big advantage in absentee ballots. The Connecticut Supreme Court is still considering an appeal of a lawsuit that claims absentee ballot issues cast doubt over the outcome of that contest.
Moore conceded defeat, but she still maintained she was unfairly deprived of victory in the Democratic Party primary in September. She won on the machine ballot but lost because of the absentee vote.
“I never tried to lower my standards,” Moore said. “I never took the low road. I tried to show us we are much better than what we have here in Bridgeport that’s going on.”
Moore said that, as a state senator, she intends to work on legislation to improve Connecticut’s voting system when she returns to Hartford next year.
In Middletown, the race for an open mayoral seat saw Democrat Ben Florsheim beat Republican former mayor Sebastian Giuliano. Florsheim is a 2014 graduate of Wesleyan University.
“What I’m going to do over the first few weeks in my administration is make sure people know that our priority is listening,” Florsheim told supporters after declaring victory. “That’s the only way to build trust is to build actual relationships.”
“Today is an opportunity,” he said. “It is a victory for progressive values, it is a victory for honesty and decency in politics.”
And it’s a view shared by at least one supporter, Cynthia Hayward.
"I worked on Ben Florsheim’s campaign because he has a conscience, he has a heart, he cares about the least of the people,” Hayward said. We need a government that cares about the people and is transparent. He wants to get rid of the old guard, the patronage where it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
In Hartford, Luke Bronin declared victory shortly after 10 p.m. In an interview, he said there’s work left to do in what will be his second term as mayor.
“You get as far as you can as fast as you can and that’s what we’re trying to do -- we’re trying to continue to see economic development and investment come in,” Bronin said. “We’re trying to continue to create opportunity through things like our Youth Service Corps, which has created hundreds of jobs for young people and our reentry welcome center.”
Earlier in the day, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said voter turnout across Connecticut was “slow but steady.”
An hour before the polls closed, turnout in many communities across the state was mixed. According to the secretary of the state, turnout in the bigger cities was in the low double digits at best. Turnout in some smaller towns made it to between 20% and 35%. Full statewide numbers are not yet complete.
Merrill said low turnout doesn’t surprise her in a municipal election year.
“Generally, I would say it’s a pretty sleepy election,” Merrill said Tuesday night. “I just think it’s a typical municipal election. People don’t tend to turn out unless there’s a very hot race and there are some interesting races where the turnout is coming in higher. Danbury is coming in higher. Middletown is coming in a little higher.”
While Merrill said voting went “smoothly” considering allegations of primary election irregularities in Bridgeport, she said the situation in that city highlights a problem the state faces.
“There are more and more third parties and write-in candidates,” she said. “And that’s putting us all to the test in a way because the ballots are getting more complicated, there’s lots more process that people are not familiar with, and it’s a little confusing for voters.”
In New London, Democratic mayor Michael Passero returns for a second four-year term, beating out both GOP and Green Party candidates. Thirteen of 14 seats on the city council and board of education in the town also went to Democrats. The only one of the party’s candidates not returned was Jason Catala, who had been arrested on charges of credit card fraud.
“We’re going to continue to build New London’s stature statewide, and we’re going to bring prosperity to the Whaling City,” Passero told his supporters.
And in Wallingford, official results show longtime Mayor William Dickinson won nearly 59 percent of the vote to stay in office -- one he has held since 1984.
People in both major parties tried to steer the narrative a bit as the results came in. Democratic party chair Nancy Wyman said in a statement that her party “had a strong day across Connecticut, holding cities and towns, including seats that were open and others where Republicans were favored to win.
“Democrats also flipped leadership in five towns and swept seats on undertickets across the state,” Wyman said. “Democrats worked hard and came out to vote.”
That was a theme Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy pointed out on Twitter.
Just like 2017, looks like Democrats in Connecticut flipped control of several high profile local governments tonight. Madison, East Haven, Litchfield, Colchester all went from R to D. More results coming.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) November 6, 2019
Republicans pushed back, highlighting races in which they won against Democrats.
Is that why @CTGOP has expanded our majority over municipalities throughout #Connecticut tonight? The people of #FairfieldCT didn’t want #ToxicTetreau. The people of Sprague didn’t want @CathyOsten. #ctpolitics #ElectionDay https://t.co/gdlAcoXBXH
— J.R. Romano (@CTGOPChair) November 6, 2019
At The Polls
In Middletown, Barbara Humble-Cousins cast her vote at the Macdonough School polling place Tuesday morning. She said she’s excited to see new leadership in the city, and she hoped it would mean more funding for the schools.
“Get the teachers more resources of what they need to teach our kids. Definitely, that’s a big one for me,” Humble-Cousins said. “They’re underpaid and they don’t have a lot of resources. And they’re coming out [of] their pocket for a lot of things.”
Olga Marano owns a towing business in the North End of Middletown. She said education is a concern for her, too -- along with taxes and the environment. But Marano said she’s a big believer that her vote can help make a difference in her community.
“And a lot of times people complain about certain candidates but they’re not even registered. You know, so it really doesn’t count,” Marano said.
In Hartford, resident Betty Jennings said she thinks the city is “doing pretty good” and felt motivated to vote in the mayoral race. But going to the polls “is something I usually do anyway,” Jennings said. “If it’s time to vote, it’s time for me to get out there.”
Hartford voters also got to choose among a crowded field of city council candidates. Javis Ferron drives tractor-trailers for a living and said he is supporting candidates endorsed by the Working Families Party.
Ferron, who moved from New York to Hartford in 2005, said he sees the city moving in the right direction. One highlight: the Hartford Promise college scholarship program for high school students.
“It actually helps my daughter to go to college,” Ferron said. “So that was something that motivated me to want to stay here. That’s why I’m participating in the election today.”
Connecticut Public reporters Vanessa de la Torre, Frankie Graziano, Harriet Jones, Ryan Lindsay, and Lori Mack contributed to this report, as did WSHU’s Cassandra Basler and Davis Dunavin. Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.