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A 'delicious' mayoral contest in City of Groton

Aundré Bumgardner certainly has made this City of Groton election far more interesting, I’ll give him that.

When the Republican City Committee announced it would not run any candidates because some Trump critics might be really mean to them, it appeared Mayor Keith Hedrick would stroll back into office May 3 along with his slate of fellow Democrats on the council.

But Hedrick got blindsided when Bumgardner, a town council member, primaried him, outworked him in a door-to-door effort, got his own supporters to the polls, and secured a five-vote victory March 8.

Now Hedrick is betting on a write-in candidacy to retain his seat as mayor in the May 3 general election.

These unusual campaign ingredients have produced an absolutely delicious political dish, spiced up with all sorts of political subplots. Hedrick, 61, is flummoxed over how he finds himself fighting for his political life against the 26-year-old Bumgardner, a challenger who sees himself as a vehicle of generational change and a “pragmatic progressive.”

On experience, it would seem no contest. Hedrick has earned The Day’s endorsement for effectively leading the city for two terms, with its $90 million budget — $20 million for city government, $70 million for Groton Utilities. Property taxes have gone down during his time in office (though Bumgardner notes sewage fees have gone up, “a hidden tax”).

The mayor holds an MBA from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, while Bumgardner has taken some community college courses. Elected in 2014, Bumgardner did serve one term as a state representative, the youngest in the legislature. He was a Republican then. Hedrick is also a former Republican. More subplots.

As for campaigning, Bumgardner has run circles around the huffing, puffing incumbent, tirelessly knocking on doors and burying him in fundraising. The April 7 campaign filings showed Bumgardner raising about $15,000, Hedrick having raised zero, but owing around $2,000 for campaign signs and other election paraphernalia. Most of the money comes from Bumgardner’s political friends elsewhere, with only four of the 42 donors listed as City of Groton residents.

Bumgardner was hoping Hedrick would just rollover after the primary. He knows he faces a far tougher challenge in winning over unaffiliated and Republican voters than he did with the Democrats who could vote in the closed primary. Many unaffiliated and Republican voters will be more enamored with Hedrick’s ability to reduce taxes and with his managerial skills than with Bumgardner’s emphasis on using Groton Utilities to confront climate change and preparing the community for rising seas.

Hedrick recognizes these unaffiliated and Republican voters hold the key to his victory. If he can again roughly split the Democratic vote with Bumgardner, but prevail handily with unaffiliated and Republican voters, he wins — that is if enough folks bother to write in his name.

Bumgardner is trying to fire up and boost the Democratic vote, alleging in fundraising emails that Hedrick is conspiring with city Republicans. There is no real evidence of that. And Bumgardner has charged Hedrick with abusing his position as chairman of the City Democratic Committee by refusing to hold the April meeting, inhibiting Bumgardner’s ability to work with his fellow council Democrats on the ticket. Hedrick points out none of them have opponents.

While Bumgardner was trying to tar Hedrick with Republican collusion, he was accepting a $1,000 campaign donation from former Republican state Sen. Art Linares, the maximum gift allowed by law. Linares is a friend, he explained. And, he added, Linares is married to a Democrat — state Rep. Caroline Simmons of Stamford. Oh, that explains it! Simmons is not listed as a donor.

Linares apparently was not terribly offended by a comment Bumgardner made during the 2020 presidential campaign, but I suspect plenty of City of Groton Republican voters still are.

In the lead up to the presidential election, Bumgardner stated on his Twitter feed and Facebook page: “(Trump) is a racist, and he doesn’t even care to hide it. If you vote for him, so are you.”

It was a strong statement. It so angered the Republican Town Committee Chairman John Scott that he called for an apology and Bumgardner’s resignation from the council. In an editorial, we defended Bumgardner’s right to take such a stand and argued that was no reason he should resign.

But Republicans who disagree with Mr. Bumgardner, who feel his broad-brush condemnation dismissed other reasons a Republican may have supported Trump — reasons such as the role of government, the makeup of the federal courts, foreign and economic policy — now have their say.

That’s how it works when you can’t get into office by just winning a primary.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.


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