Analyzing results of the 2019 local elections

Election Day 2019 in these parts was a day of big changes, new faces, and Trump traces. It also provided evidence that voters pay attention and can be discerning.

Voters in Old Lyme were paying attention when incumbent Democratic Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder got herself deeply entwined in the controversies surrounding the Connecticut Port Authority. It doesn’t look good when you resign from the chairmanship of an authority, as Reemsnyder did, because the governor, a member of your own party, is demanding it.

Try as she might to explain why she technically did not break any rules, abstaining as the authority approved purchasing her daughter’s artwork for the office, and that she should not be faulted for the CPA’s fiscal malfeasance, Reemsnyder could not allay the misgivings of the electorate. So they returned former Republican First Selectman Tim Griswold to that office. Griswold petitioned to get on the ballot to prevent Reemsnyder from returning to office unopposed.

Voters in Preston were paying attention when they elected Democrat Sandra Allyn-Gauthier by a 2-to-1 margin in her race against Republican Gregory Moran Sr. for the job of first selectman. The folks in that fiscally conservative town set aside party labels to pick the better qualified candidate.

Praise is due outgoing Republican First Selectman Bob Congdon who placed town over party in backing Allyn-Gauthier, citing her grasp of the issues, experience in banking and master’s degree in business administration. It is a fitting conclusion to the political career of a man who tried to serve his town as best he could during his 24 years as first selectman.

And voters were paying attention in New London when, on a day when they voted almost straight Democrat, they made one exception — opting not to give Democrat Jason Catala the votes necessary to return to the Board of Education. Catala, who Waterford police say admitted to opening credit cards in the name of his niece and running up $8,000, without her knowledge, is charged with second-degree identity theft, a felony, and illegal use of a credit card. Voters were not willing to ignore the behavior.

As for traces of a Trump factor, anger over the misuse of presidential power in foreign affairs by President Trump for political gain — and the refusal of Republicans on the national stage to acknowledge it — appeared to ramp up the Democratic base.

In Norwich, Democrats regained 4-3 control of the City Council, ending four years of Republican majorities and making life more difficult for Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom, who was not on the ballot and not up for re-election until 2021. Democrats also regained control of the Montville council, 4-3, erasing the 5-2 Republican majority. Local issues didn't appear to explain that outcome. In Groton, anti-Trump fervor may help explain continued Democratic dominance of the Town Council, with another clean sweep.

And it could explain the margin of victory for Danielle Chesebrough, an unaffiliated candidate endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee, in her 3,252 to 1,632 defeat of Republican Selectman John Prue. In dramatic fashion it ends four years of Republican control of the first selectman’s seat, held for two terms by former congressman Rob Simmons, who opted not to seek a third term. Chesebrough was certainly a strong candidate, a United Nations official with experience on the Stonington boards of finance and economic development, but she appeared to be riding a wave.

All three members of the Stonington Board of Selectmen (selectwomen?) will be women, with Democrat June Strunk and Republican Deborah Downie joining Chesebrough. Maybe someone will correct us, but that’s the first time we can remember that happening in this region. After years of seeing these boards dominated by men, how great — and a sign of changing times — is that?

Unlike Preston and Stonington, Waterford stayed in the Republican category with Selectman Rob Brule elected to succeed Dan Steward, retiring after 14 years on the job. Democrat Beth Sabilia, defeated by Brule, joins the board as a selectman. She vowed to be a “thorn in his side.” Poor choice of words, but we get the point — she will challenge Brule when she sees necessary.

Congratulations to all elected and a thank you to all willing to run and serve. Now it’s on to the challenge of governing.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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