A big election. No, not that one.
The 2019 local elections began over the past week as town committees across our region met to pick their candidates. Most people didn't notice.
Local elections, held in Connecticut in odd years, have always been the overlooked stepchild to the even-year elections that feature races for state and national offices. But the 2019 election will be operating in a particularly long shadow.
It is less than nine months since the state elected a new governor and state legislature. Yet here we go again as voters will be asked to start considering their choices for mayor, council, selectmen, boards of education and various other locally elected boards.
Adding to the sense of political disorientation is the early start to the 2020 election, with a preposterously large slate of Democrats competing for the presidential nomination that will be awarded about a year from now in Milwaukee, Wisc., at the party's national convention.
More than once I've started talking to someone about this year's election only to get a perplexed look as the individual tries to reconcile what I am saying with the only election they've thought about — the one in 2020 that decides whether Donald Trump remains president.
Ironically, the decisions made in local elections — the ones the fewest people participate in — can have the biggest impact on their lives, affecting the property taxes they pay, the development their town might experience, and the quality of the schools their kids go to, for example.
A few towns will see a change in the chief executive position.
Robert Congdon, the Republican who has led the town of Preston as first selectman since its founding in 1687, is not running for re-election. (OK, I exaggerate. Congdon's been first selectman for 24 years).
In a weird twist, both candidates to replace him are named Gauthier. Sandra Allyn-Gauthier, a Board of Finance member is the Democratic nominee. Edward Gauthier, a member of the Board of Education, is the Republican candidate. They are not related.
In this fiscally conservative town — the townspeople feel they are not doing their job if they do not reject the budget at least twice at referendum — the Republican Gauthier must be considered the favorite. But Congdon's stepping aside does provide the Democrat with a potential opening.
There will be a change at the top in Waterford, too, where Republican First Selectman Dan Steward is set to retire after 14 years of service, which Congdon would describe as a brief time in office. Waterford also tends Republican, but Democratic Town Committee chair and experienced political organizer Beth Sabilia can be expected to make a strong showing. The Republican candidate is Rob Brule, now a selectman.
In Stonington, long-time politician but relatively short-time serving First Selectman Rob Simmons — he is completing his second two-year term — has opted not to run again. This town has perhaps the highest likelihood of seeing a partisan shift in its top office. Republican Selectman John Prue will face a strong Democratic nominee in Board of Finance member Danielle Chesebrough. She has opted to remain unaffiliated. That could prove an asset.
Simmons, a Republican, is a former congressman. It is too his credit that after holding that lofty office he returned to serve his town at the local level. And he still may. Now age 76, he is running for Board of Education.
It will be interesting to see if any of the anti-Trump angst that fueled a strong turnout for the Democrats in 2018, helping Ned Lamont become governor and enlarging the party's majorities in the House and Senate, will surface again in 2019.
My guess is it won't. Instead, it will resurface in 2020, the election more people are paying attention to.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.
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