With first win, Waterford Green Party optimistic

Two years ago, the members of the Waterford Green Party were trying to just get candidates from their party on to the town’s ballot.

By the end of Election Day 2015, the small but determined group had successfully run a candidate for a townwide office — albeit in an uncontested race — and drummed up thousands of votes for the four candidates on the ballot.

They’re small victories, but town party co-chair Joshua Kelly, a 20-year old Wheaton College student, said they indicate a growing support for alternative candidates in the town.

Kelly was elected Tuesday as an alternate member of the Waterford Zoning Board of Appeals.

“We’re reaching people,” Kelly said. “It means that people want a new voice in the government.”

The main challenge for the Waterford Greens, which became an official chapter of the state party in 2014, has been name recognition.

Kelly and many of the party’s approximately 40 registered members spent this election cycle knocking on doors, handing out fliers and introducing themselves to Waterford voters who he says likely didn’t realize they had a choice beyond Democrat or Republican.

Kelly knows the party, whose members stand to the left of the Democratic Party on most issues, has an uphill battle in a town that just re-elected a Republican First Selectman, Daniel Steward.

“I definitely think that some people won’t like our message,” he said. “But you can’t get 100 percent of the people on your side.”

Besides, he said, even Republicans have a lot to agree with the Green Party on, including gun control and civil liberties.

“We see ourselves at least as different form the Democrats as the Democrats are different from Republicans,” he said. “We just want to make sure the conversation is being had.”

Four of the Green Party candidates for local offices in Connecticut, including Kelly, were elected Tuesday.

New London Green Party school board member Mirna Martinez was re-elected, and John Amarilios and Hector Lopez were elected in an uncontested race to serve as one of seven constables in New Canaan.

Of the 14 Green Party candidates statewide, five were in Waterford.

All four are part of the same two families: 1,191 people voted for Kelly’s father, Kevin Kelly, for a spot on the Waterford school board, and his mother, Deborah R. Kelly, got 343 votes in her run for Representative Town Meeting.

Baird Welch-Collins, a Connecticut College junior and the Waterford Green Party co-chair, got 393 votes for Representative Town Meeting. His father, Billy Gene Collins, got 286 votes in his bid for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

State Green Party co-chair Linda Thompson said the high proportion of Waterford candidates on the Green Party roster is a result of the work that Kelly and Welch-Collins, both Waterford High School graduates, have done.

“It’s mainly due to the young people,” Thompson said. “Their dynamism has made that group grow and their influence grow.”

The Waterford Green Party, now about 40 members strong, faces the challenge of actually winning contested races.

Welch-Collins said he sees that happening by the next town elections, in 2017.

“I think the big lesson that we learned is that people are ready for an alternative,” he said. “The results we saw were very promising.”

The party has applied to the town to create a party commission, which will allow it to nominate candidates without petitioning.

Waterford Green party members said they will spend the next two years meeting, recruiting new candidates and reminding the people of Waterford that they have another choice.

m.shanahan@theday.com

Twitter: @martha_shan

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