Reflecting on Tuesday's election results

I offer a few observations on the recent local elections.

Democrats remain dominant in the cities of New London and Norwich.

Democratic Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, the first mayor elected since the city switched from the council-city manager form of government, had more than his share of controversies during the first two years of his four-year term. Budget fights, disputes over police staffing and canine units, questions over hires and fires and tussles over council versus mayoral authority, among them.

The Democrats controlled six of seven council seats. Surely, the blame for all this discontent sat squarely with them.

So the Republicans ran against the mayor. They made the case that a balanced council, with Republicans, was necessary to check the actions of the young, inexperienced mayor. They voiced optimism that discontent in the neighborhoods would translate into votes for GOP candidates even in this traditionally Democratic city.

When they counted the votes Tuesday, Democrats still controlled six of seven seats.

Even for a New London Republican Party accustomed to disappointment, that had to hurt.

What now?

A constant critic of the mayor since his election two years ago, Democrat Marie Friess-McSparran felt the sting of party politics when the Democratic Town Committee denied her its endorsement for re-election. Her obvious choice would have been to wage a primary. Her law-and-order, anti-Finizio persona could well have earned her a place on the Democratic ticket.

Instead, she opted to accept a Republican invitation to run on its ticket. That was not a politically wise move. Friess-McSparran finished 10th, losing her council seat on the council.

Spurned by the Democrats and failing as a Republicrat, she may be a woman without a party.

So long, Peter

In Norwich, Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom could not overcome the combination of Democratic registration dominance and modern campaigning. Democratic alderwoman, and now mayor-elect, Deberey Hinchey defeated him by a surprisingly solid margin - 2,077-1,859.

A moderate, Nystrom's ability to win votes in this Democratic city has always been impressive, winning him nine terms as a state representative and two stints on the City Council. But his traditional approach, advertising in local publications and on radio and hitting the streets, did not work this time.

On the issues, the two candidates were not terribly different. Hinchey, however, raised more money and hired a professional campaign-consulting firm, the Vinci Group, to organize her successful primary and general election campaigns. Such consultants employ data-driven strategies that target the type of voters a candidate needs to reach and focuses resources on them.

It worked and the phenomenon will probably expand in both local and state legislative elections. Somehow, it seems so bloodless and just not as much fun as the old fashioned, less sophisticated approaches to winning elections.

As for Democratic dominance, the party continues to control five of seven seats on the Norwich council, the most allowed under minority representation rules.

Groton referenda

It is harder to get bond issues approved in Groton than it used to be. There was a time when voters there were open to investments intended to encourage development or maintain infrastructure.

That no longer appears to be the case. Perhaps there is less security about the town's tax base, what with Pfizer shrinking and tearing down buildings. Or maybe the wounds inflicted by the Great Recession have contributed to a greater reluctance to say yes to borrowing. Whatever the reasons, it appears the town has taken a more fiscal conservative bent on such matters.

On Tuesday, two bond-issue proposals were defeated. That was not shocking, but the margins were. A $9.9 million plan to extend utilities to land zoned for industrial use off Flanders Road, a plan that backers said could attract development, was defeated 3,606 to 1,229.

Also defeated was a $5.34 million package to make substantial upgrades to the Town of Groton police station, by a 3,167-1,669 margin.

Perhaps town leaders could have done a better job of educating the public about the need for borrowing, but given the size of the defeats, it would not have mattered.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.


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