New London, candidates gearing up for quick special election for 39th District seat

New London — Election preparations are underway in anticipation of the resignation next week of state Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London.

Soto’s announcement last month that he had accepted a position as legislative affairs director with Gov.-elect Ned Lamont's administration has sparked interest from prospective candidates in at least three political parties.

Democrats got an early jump in campaigning for the 39th District seat with a public show of support by Soto and party leaders for City Councilor Anthony Nolan, a New London police officer.

Republican Town Committee Chairman Rob Pero said Friday that two people from his party have expressed interest in running for the seat: Kat Goulart and Susan Gorra.

The New London Green Party has indicated it will seek a candidate and is likely to schedule a tentative date for a nominating convention at its regular meeting on Sunday, party Chairwoman Ronna Stuller said.

Candidates cannot form exploratory committees or start raising or spending money until there is officially a vacancy. Soto has said he plans to resign on Jan. 9, the day Lamont takes office.

Lamont has 10 days from the resignation to announce the special election. The election will be held 46 days after the announcement, though it cannot fall on a weekend.

Leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties said they expect to hold nominating conventions the week following Soto’s resignation.

There will be no primaries.

Candidates can apply for public funding through the Citizens Election Program. The amount of available money through the program is cut by 25 percent, to a maximum of $18,750. The amount of local donations needed to satisfy program requirements is likewise cut from 150 donations from New London residents to 113. Candidates must raise $3,750 rather than $5,000.

Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Martha Marx said she is excited about the prospect of a competitive race, despite the amount of work and the shortened time frame.

“You need to move quickly. It will be a challenge but if there are three people on the election ballot ... it’s going to be a fun 46 days,” Marx said.

Pero said Republicans have an opportunity to occupy a seat not held by a Republican for decades. He said Goulart, who made an unsuccessful run for a seat on the City Council, has a firm grasp of local issues, and Gorra understands the district and “thinks outside the mainstream to get things done.”

He said the low voter turnout typical of a special election lends itself to a close race.

While candidates jockey for position, Democratic Registrar of Voters Bill Giesing said behind-the-scenes election work has begun.

Voting equipment will be readied, polling place personnel notified and memory cards for voting machines reprogrammed by vendors, he said.

“We’re planning and doing what we normally would do ... with a shortened time frame,” Giesing said. “We want to be ready to go when (the secretary of the state) makes the announcement.”

City funds also will have to be appropriated for the election. Giesing estimates the cost of the special election to be between $6,000 and $8,000. Giesing said registrars also are performing a canvass to verify people have not moved since they last voted.

One of the logistical issues to be taken up is the polling places; Districts 1 and 2 are at schools likely to be open on the day of voting.

“It’s going to be challenging to say the least,” Giesing said.

g.smith@theday.com

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