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Why is so much vitriol aimed at Aundre Bumgardner?

Aundré Bumgardner won the Groton City Democratic primary for mayor fair and square, albeit with a very slim margin.

Yet by the fire hose of criticism aimed at him since, some of it mean and personal, you would think that he somehow cheated.

I can't remember a local election — defeated Democratic Mayor Keith Hedrick is now running a write-in campaign to try to keep his job — marked by as much vitriol as this one.

A former city deputy mayor noted in one of the many letters to the editor about this race that Mayor Hedrick's supporters "have focused on tearing down the other candidate," while Bumgardner's have "stayed positive and talked about his qualifications and vision for the city."

I couldn't agree more.

The last time I remember anything near the level of personal attack directed at Bumgardner this year was when Daryl Finizio ran to become the first full-time mayor of New London, also a young man challenging the establishment.

I certainly hope the fact that Finizio was gay and Bumgardner is a person of color are not the reasons for all the personal attacks.

In all the criticism aimed at Bumgardner, I have not seen any directed at his policy ideas for Groton or his substantial record as a state legislator or Groton town councilor. Those are all fair targets.

Instead, his opponents focus on what they believe to be his lack of qualifications, the fact that he doesn't own a house.

The one that seems especially absurd is the observation that he is unemployed, suggesting that he is some kind of drug-crazed drifter who has never had a job.

Bumgardner apparently chose, after leaving his last job, to focus on pursuing a passion for public service, running for an office that actually pays only a pittance of a salary.

After all, Ned Lamont was unemployed, too, when he ran for governor. No one tried to rub his nose in it.

You could certainly argue that Bumgardner has more government experience than Lamont did when he ran for governor.

They also complain he hasn't finished his college degree. I hate to tell everyone this, but there are lots of Connecticut politicians without college degrees and no one attacks them viciously for it.

Another common attack on Bumgardner, laughable if it weren't so sad, is that his door knocking was not fair because Mayor Hedrick was busy working and couldn't campaign so hard. This is some bizarre new theory, I guess, that incumbents don't have to campaign and automatically win their party's nomination.

One of the nastier public attacks — I worry how mean the discourse must be in private — was in a letter to the editor in which the writer claimed, with zero proof or explanation, that Bumgardner "lies out of both sides" of his mouth.

The writer went on to complain about Bumgardner's "lack of maturity, social intelligence and responsibility" and said he sets a bad example for our children.

Wow. There are a lot of politicians I disagree with and I am never shy about criticizing them. But this level of meanness and personal attack makes me wince, especially aimed at someone I find to be principled, caring and disciplined.

One policy issue that Hedrick supporters have raised is misleading. They say the mayor lowered taxes when what he did was move sewer finances out of the main city budget, so that higher fees replaced some taxes.

I think one of the reasons that Democrats, who turned out in the primary at a rate of more than 35%, chose Bumgardner over Hedrick was because they finally had some choice.

Let's be honest, the great potential of charming Thames Street has never been realized and it is as forlorn today as when Hedrick took office. Many voters blame Hedrick for being part of the establishment that sold the city's cable franchise on the cheap.

Bumgardner's supporters do indeed seem to focus on Hedrick's policies, not his personality.

The state's leading Democrats have endorsed Bumgardner as their party's choice, the primary winner who followed the rules and won the nomination. Hedrick has, however, remained chairman of the party's political committee in the city, even as he challenges the party's candidate with a write-in campaign.

State party leaders should address this injustice and move to censure a Democratic committee chairman who has refused to accept the wishes of a majority of voters in his party.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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