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Republican delegates say they were largely unaware of allegations against endorsed candidate Tom Gilmer

Local Republicans who voted to endorse Tom Gilmer in the race for the 2nd Congressional District said they were largely unaware of the domestic violence allegations against him before the nominating convention in May, with some expressing concern over how party leadership handled the situation and others questioning why Gilmer’s opponent, Justin Anderson, waited so long to turn over video evidence of the allegations to law enforcement.

In interviews with The Day, many of the Republican delegates said they first learned of the allegations against Gilmer when the news broke earlier this week that he’d been arrested on charges of second-degree strangulation and first-degree unlawful restraint stemming from a 2017 assault on a former girlfriend.

The race between Gilmer, 29, a commercial roofer, and Justin Anderson, 49, a lieutenant colonel in the Connecticut National Guard, was still undecided Thursday night and the possibility of a recount loomed.

Unofficial results from the secretary of the state’s website at 8:30 p.m. showed Gilmer leading by 25 votes with more than 98% of precincts reporting. During a primary election, a recount happens when the difference in the number of votes received by the two highest vote-getters is either less than 0.5% of the total number of votes cast for the office but no more than 1,000 votes, or less than 20.

Shortly after his arrest Monday night, Gilmer, whom Republicans overwhelmingly endorsed by a vote of 234 to 50, announced that he was withdrawing from the race, but as of Thursday night he had yet to formally notify the secretary of the state of his intent to do so.

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman of East Lyme, a delegate, who received an award from Safe Futures in 2018 for her efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence, said she had “absolutely no clue” about the allegations against Gilmer when she voted to nominate him at the convention. Cheeseman said she supported Gilmer over Anderson at the convention because she found him to be more polished and articulate.

She said she was “very disappointed” with the way the situation was handled by party chair J.R. Romano, who was informed by Anderson in April that he had received a video of the assault from the victim.

“If he had credible evidence of allegations, he should’ve looked out for the best interest of the convention delegates, and every Republican in the 2nd District, as well as Republicans across the state, and done more due diligence,” she said. “I would urge him to carefully evaluate the situation and whether it is in the best interest of the party for him to step down.”

Romano said in an interview with The Day earlier this week that he told Anderson to turn over the video to law enforcement so that the incident could be properly investigated and gave Anderson information for a domestic violence specialist to pass along to the victim.

Anderson said in interviews this week that the victim told him he could show the video to Republican Party leaders so that they were aware of the allegations but was adamant that she did not want to go to the authorities and wanted to remain anonymous. Romano refused the offer to see the video, saying if it revealed a criminal act, then he would have been put in a position where he couldn’t say anything or notify the authorities, per the victim’s request.

State Rep. Devin Carney of Old Lyme, a delegate, said he was not aware of the claims against Gilmer when he voted to endorse him at the convention. Carney said he did not vote for Gilmer, who “deserves to be in jail,” during the primary election.

He also questioned whether the situation was handled properly by leaders in his party.

“If there are questions about a particular candidate of this nature, they need to be taken extremely seriously and people need to know about them,” Carney said, adding that the state Republican Party should “really consider changing whatever vetting processes that are currently in place.”

Michael Meadows, chairman of the Republican Town Committee in Sprague and a delegate, said he was informed of the allegations against Gilmer by a member of the Republican Party, whose identity he did not disclose, hours before the convention.

“There was rumors that came roughly two hours before the convention that something was circulating or that Mr. Anderson had something in his possession that could be abuse by Mr. Gilmer,” he said. “That was the first time it came to my attention so I continued on with the endorsement.”

Asked whether he still supports Gilmer’s candidacy, Meadows said if the allegations against him are true, “absolutely not.”

“He has a lot of explaining to do as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I would think the same goes for Mr. Anderson. If you have a tape in your possession that is evidence in what sounds like a violent crime against a woman, why he did not bring that to law enforcement immediately is beyond me. Before you go to the state party chairman, or any delegates, the first thing to do is go to police with it.”

While Meadows voted in the primary election, he said he did not cast a vote in the 2nd District race. "This whole race thoroughly disgusts me at this point," he said.

Anderson told The Day he eventually decided to give the video to Wethersfield police on July 22, after he received other evidence from the victim, and after the allegations began circulating on social media.

The video, which lasts 30 seconds and was taken from a security camera inside a home in Wethersfield, shows Gilmer attacking the victim, including attempts to choke her and multiple closed-fist punches to her face, according to the arrest warrant for Gilmer.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, a Republican from North Haven, who said he also was made aware of the domestic violence claims against Gilmer by news reports, said after speaking with Romano this week he’s not sure he could have handled the situation differently.

"I don’t think he had a choice. If a person is saying the victim doesn’t want people to know and the guy with evidence isn’t going to the police," Fasano said, adding that Romano told him Gilmer threatened to sue people who made domestic violence allegations against him, "That’s a very difficult position to be in. In my opinion, it’s incumbent on Justin (Anderson) who got the evidence to turn it over to police.”

Fasano said he knows of members of the news media who also knew about the allegations for months but decided not to report them publicly until Gilmer's arrest this week.

"I don’t think either one of these people should be candidates for political office," Fasano said, explaining that Gilmer should drop out given his arrest and the allegations against him, and Anderson should withdraw for "holding the tape for political gain."

j.bergman@theday.com

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