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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    2021 could bring Groton City a person of color as mayor

    Then state Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, R-41st District, during a panel discussion on youth in politics Oct. 21, 2016, at Connecticut College in New London. Bumgardner, now a Democratic Groton town councilor, has announced he will run for Groton City mayor. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

    I don't know Aundré Bumgardner well, but I know enough about him to be certain that he would make an excellent mayor of the City of Groton.

    It got lost a little bit in the fire hose of news over the past week, but Bumgardner, a town councilor, announced that he will run for the office of mayor in the city, likely triggering a Democratic primary with incumbent Keith Hedrick.

    We will see what those campaigns and the final election will bring, hopefully a fulsome look at the candidates and their approaches to the issues, and I look forward to watching them unfold.

    I am pleased to see Bumgardner, who is of Puerto Rican, Panamanian and African American heritage, stretching his political legs in a year in which so many of us are hungry for more diversity in community leadership.

    He also brings an interesting resume to the campaign, a lot of experience given his youth.

    I remember a quite young Bumgardner working hard in New London to make Republican Rob Pero the city's first full-time mayor. His enthusiasm and political intuition was then on full display, even on the fringes of that busy election, which Pero lost.

    It's not often you see someone in their teens devoting so much time to volunteer in politics.

    Just a few years later, in 2014, Bumgardner became the youngest member of the General Assembly, sworn in as a representative for New London and Groton at the age of 20.

    He beat a longtime Democratic incumbent, part of a political dynasty in town, and I remember well his saying at the time he did it with a lot of shoe leather, knocking on many, many doors.

    He lost his next race and was an especially good loser, eventually driving the winner, Rep. Joe de la Cruz, to Hartford to show him around the General Assembly. They became and remain friends.

    Whenever I saw Rep. Bumgardner in the legislature, he was thoroughly engaged, a diligent participant in hearings, asking probing questions, taking notes, clearly prepared for the issue at hand. He always seemed interested, no matter how boring the topic.

    He had a health scare while serving in the General Assembly and kept private the fact he underwent surgery for a tumor under his scalp. But he never missed a vote.

    I like Bumgardner's commitment to some of the things that are important to me: shoreline public access, open space and controlling climate change.

    His experience in Hartford and the Town of Groton government would serve city voters well.

    It is curious that Bumgardner announced his new ambition the same week that the Donald Trump presidency finally flamed out, since it was his rejection of Trumpism that has helped shape his political identity.

    Bumgardner switched parties after Donald Trump declared, after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that there is "blame on both sides."

    "He compared Black Lives Matters to neo-Nazis," Bumgardner said about Trump at the time, adding that he was disheartened that more Republicans didn't object to the comments.

    Groton Republicans appeared to retaliate for Bumgardner's defection during last year's presidential campaign, demanding the town councilor's resignation after he called out Trump and his supporters on social media for their racism. Trump had told the hate group Proud Boys to "stand by" during a debate.

    Given the insurrection we saw in Washington from the Proud Boys, the day after Bumgardner announced his campaign for Groton City mayor, the young politician's rejection of fellow Republicans who wouldn't call out the racist president now seems especially prescient.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

    Then state Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, R-41st District, left, and Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-38th District, right, chat June 3, 2015, in the House chambers of the state Capitol in Hartford. Bumgardner, now a Democratic Groton town councilor, has announced he will run for Groton City mayor. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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