August 19, 2023 11:21 am
• Last Updated: August 19, 2023 11:21 am
It’s an odd year, literally as well as figuratively, and that means it is a local election year.
You might be thinking, “Another election? Didn’t we just have one?” Here in Connecticut, we don’t go a year without an election. State and national elections take place on the even years, municipal elections on the odd years. Lucky us.
Turnout will be low on November 7. Local elections always trail far behind presidential and gubernatorial election years in voter participation. The irony is that the decisions made by those holding municipal office have much influence on our daily lives, including the property taxes we pay, the quality of roads we traverse, our police and fire services, and the type of development that is welcomed, or unwelcomed.
The national press and the natterers on cable news and social media, from which most folks now consume their politics, care not a whit about our local elections. They’re focused on the 2024 national election. The disinterest in local politics is exacerbated by growing news deserts, defined as communities that no longer have local news coverage because newspapers have folded, or survived only by dramatically cutting news staffs.
You don’t have that excuse. The Day still provides much local reporting.
The ugliness of national politics, with its accompanying culture wars and the villainizing of political rivals, has not caused too much cross-contamination locally. But there is some spillover.
In the 2021 election, the national debate over racial inequities in police enforcement played out in some of our local election debates, which was a good thing. And some national problems, such as the plague of opioid addiction and overdoses and addressing mental health challenges in the wake of the pandemic, are also local problems.
This year the national movement among many Republican conservatives to attack what they characterize as a “woke culture” that pushes promiscuity and is causing gender confusion, played out in Old Lyme. Republicans there, including First Selectman Tim Griswold — who is not seeking re-election — pushed the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library to remove from the young adult section two books, meant to provide guidance and information on sexuality, arguing that they were too explicit and age inappropriate. Democrats pushed back against what they saw as intolerance and book banning. Martha Shoemaker, the Democratic candidate for first selectman, took part in a counter “Freedom to Read” rally.
In the end, the library board voted to keep the books on the young-adult shelves. Potentially the dust up could boost voter interest and turnout. Shoemaker, who faces Republican John Mesham in the race for first selectman, could benefit.
More than anything, the nastiness of national politics makes it tougher to find local candidates. While in times past folks saw running for public office as a noble exercise, many now see it as a miserable game they want nothing to do with. One-party dominance can also discourage candidates from coming forward.
In the City of Groton, Democratic Mayor Keith Hedrick and the party’s slate of candidates for council and city clerk will be unopposed. In Waterford, Republican First Selectman Rob Brule is also unopposed. The three members of the Preston Board of Selectmen will return to office unchallenged, though give Democratic First Selectwoman Sandra Allyn-Gauthier credit. Her moderate approach to town matters earned her the endorsement of the Democratic and Republican town committees.
Democrats will continue to dominate in New London, where Mayor Michael Passero, a seaman, will sail into a third term. He faces Republican Beloved Grace Carter and Green candidate Leon Long. Republicans are only offering token resistance in the council race. The main contest in New London takes place in the Sept. 12 primary, where eight Democrats will compete for seven ballot spots.
On the other extreme is Stonington, where eight candidates are competing for three seats. Incumbent First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough, twice elected as an unaffiliated candidate, is running as a member of the new Forward Party. She faces Democrat Laura Graham, Republican Brian Bentz, and petitioning candidate Michael Spellman.
Incumbent June Strunk, denied the Democratic nomination, is also running for the Forward Party. Incumbent Republican Deborah Downie seeks to return to office. Frank Todisco is a petitioning candidate. And Ben Tamsky is the Democratic nominee for selectman.
Other races to watch include Montville, where Democratic Mayor Ronald McDaniel has decided not to seek a fourth four-year term. To hold the seat, Democrats nominated for mayor retired Montville police officer, and current Councilor Lenny Bunnell. Councilor Tom McNally, twice defeated by McDaniel, is again the GOP nominee.
In Norwich, traditionally a Democratic city, Republicans will try to retain their City Council control, now 4-3. They have one seat locked up. Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom, a voting member of the council, is only two years into his four-year term.
Paul Choiniere is the former editorial page editor of The Day, now retired. He can be reached at email@example.com.