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Stonington Democrats let their town turn red

In the aftermath of the dismal election returns in Stonington for Democrats, it is hard to begin to lay blame, since the Democratic Town Committee seems to be hunkered down in perpetual hiding.

I guess I would want to hide, too, if I had to defend their sad record.

I discovered this past week that the Stonington Democratic Town Committee doesn't even have a website, the most basic way of communicating to the public policies, goals, leadership structure and membership and providing routine transparency on things like meeting schedules and agendas.

Most pizza joints today have websites. To think that, in 2020, a local political party that wants to influence public policy would not take such a simple step toward transparency seems especially lame. A Facebook page doesn't cut it.

After searching, I did find some other Connecticut town committees without websites, but none I found have such an indefensible losing streak at the polls as Stonington Democrats.

It's hard to imagine how Stonington Democrats fared so badly in the momentous election of 2020, with a hated Republican at the head of the ticket, driving record turnout around the country.

After all, registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in town, and they did manage to turn out a Biden win. But the party lost both important races for the state legislature, despite the fact that there were two good Democrats, candidates from Stonington, on the ballot, including an incumbent.

I realize Greg Howard, the Republican who won the 43rd House District, is a popular youth leader in town and ran successfully as a fresh newcomer. Sen. Heather Somers has been aggressively running for reelection since she was first seated in the 18th District, powerfully leveraging incumbency in each successive election.

Surely the Democratic Town Committee could have done more to make the case that, however popular those Republican candidates may be, they will continue to pursue an agenda — against things like minimum wage increases, family leave and gun control — that should worry the clear majority of Democratic voters in town.

The Democratic legislative candidates squeaked out town wins by narrow margins in Stonington, but they needed help to do much better on home turf, a pivotal town in both districts, to fend off challenges in surrounding towns.

Alas, the most recent debacle at the polls is only the latest grand failure of Stonington's Democratic Town Committee.

After all, it lay down and did little of consequence while management of the town was turned over for years to a prominent Republican, a Trumpist who makes no secret of his scorn for Democrats' agenda.

Worse, when the Republican first selectman they were unable to defeat in successive elections finally retired, the town committee chose, instead of endorsing a genuine Democrat, to back the unaffiliated candidate Danielle Chesebrough, a political novice.

Chesebrough has since made this Democrat cringe, first in her enabling a Pawcatuck barber in a Trumpian protest against Gov. Ned Lamont's shutdown orders at the beginning of the pandemic.

Worse, the freshman first selectwoman refused to censure a member of the town's Board of Police Commissioners, retired state Trooper Robert O'Shaughnessy, after he posted hateful things on Facebook, telling gays they shouldn't shove their chosen sexual identity down his throat and insulting the transgendered and immigrants, dismissing "illegal gang bangers" coming across the border.

The response of the first selectwoman endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee is that town residents should get to know the commissioner better. I took a pass on that one.

He was just made chairman of the police commission, rubbing more salt in the wounds of people of color, immigrants and gays, and of course all decent people in Stonington.

It's time for leadership change at the town committee, although it's hard to know who needs to be thrown out, since they are busy hiding.

I can't imagine how a town predominately made up of Democrats, one with a rich history of progressive leadership in the arts and politics and a robust and fair-minded working middle class, could take such a wrong turn.

When Democrats can point to only one Democrat representing their interests in running local and state government, I'd say their town has drifted from blue to red.

I know some of those great talents buried in poet's corner in Stonington Cemetery must be wildly spinning in their graves this month, as their beloved town now burns as bright a red as any on the Connecticut shoreline, in the time of Trump no less.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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