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Local races bring Connecticut voters to the polls, with education, housing and public safety in the mix

Connecticut voters went to the polls to cast ballots for local candidates and ballot measures in nearly all of the state’s 169 municipalities Tuesday.

Polls closed at 8 p.m., and the secretary of the state's office says no major voting problems were reported. Connecticut Public had reporters tracking the major races of the day. Here’s the latest roundup.

Stamford

It was a sad election night for Bobby Valentine and his supporters as he conceded the race for Stamford mayor to Democrat Caroline Simmons. The race came down to absentee ballots and Valentine conceded shortly after midnight.

In his closing speech, Valentine commended Simmons on the win but not on the campaign her team ran.

“I can’t do that with an open heart and a clear mind,” he said. “So I’m just going to say, the campaign is over. There is a new mayor of Stamford. Hopefully the people that ran that campaign are not going to be the people that run our city, but congratulations.”

Despite the loss, he thanked his crowd of supporters that dwindled throughout the night in the South End of Stamford.

“I’m proud to say we got a lot of national coverage and regional coverage and that should help our business community expand,” Valentine said. “Once again, thank you all for everything you did.”

Simmons is the first woman to hold the title of mayor in the city of Stamford.

Bobby Valentine and Caroline Simmons Stamford Mayor’s Race 2021
Greg Miller / Connecticut Public
Bobby Valentine speaks to a crowd of supporters at The Village in Stamford's South End. Around 6,000 absentee ballots began being counted as the vote was too close to call at 9 p.m. ET on Nov. 2, 2021. Just after midnight, Valentine conceded the race to state Rep. Caroline Simmons.

Stamford is the state’s fastest-growing city, and it’s seen a major influx of newcomers during the pandemic. Tuesday’s battle was one of the highest-profile races in this year’s municipal elections.

And voters in the city’s South End said housing affordability was top of mind.

Russ Redgate, an IT consultant from Stamford, has rented in the city for over 10 years. As he pointed to several high-rise buildings in the distance, he said his biggest concern is the effects on long-term residents.

“I think people are being pushed out,” Redgate said. “That’s really something that needs to be addressed. Overbuilding is a concern. Infrastructure is a concern down here. And it needs to be addressed. Not just with a mind of ‘development is good.’ Development is good, but in moderation with controls, with thought and planning.”

Bobby Valentine and Caroline Simmons Stamford Mayor’s Race 2021
Greg Miller / Connecticut Public
Russ Redgate, after voting at Stamford's South End Community Center, Stamford's 3rd Polling District. "I think there's a lot of forces at work in the South End,” he said. “The emphasis is on development, I understand the city is growing, all of that is important, but those forces and that influx of money need to be balanced with a healthy concern for the existing residents and generations of people who have been here."

Mervin Johnson is also concerned about housing. He’s been a property owner in Stamford for over 20 years. And he says his property taxes have skyrocketed. He once paid around $5,000 a year, and now the bill is nearing $10,000.

“Property taxes just keep going through the roof,” Johnson said. “And you just think what’s left for us? Can I afford to live here anymore? No. If things [don’t] change, I will be driven out of Stamford.”

New Britain

Republican Erin Stewart says she defeated Democratic state Rep. Bobby Sanchez to secure a fifth term as mayor of New Britain.

After she spoke at a watch party at the Back Nine Tavern to about 80 supporters, Stewart told reporters she was looking for a bigger stake in education on the backs of three Republicans who won seats on the school board Tuesday night.

“We’re really in control mostly of school building renovation projects — we can’t tell them how to spend their money, but I hope that I can have a bigger piece in that and with a new board of education, which it’s looking like we might have tonight, I’m looking forward to doing that on a platform that’ll be a little bit friendlier,” she said.

Stewart also said she wanted to work on economic development and lowering taxes.

Stewart is the longest-serving female mayor in the history of her city. She’s also the youngest mayor New Britain has ever had.

Sanchez is the co-chair of the Connecticut General Assembly’s education committee, and education was a major issue in his campaign.

“I know our kids deserve better and when we have an achievement gap, when we still have students that are not graduating from our high schools, when we still have students that are being directed to the police station versus to a social worker, we need to change that,” Sanchez said in a recent in-person speech uploaded to Facebook.

Stewart addressed public education in her state of the city address back in March. Stewart said that she and the city’s common council “don’t have a say” in how education dollars are created and spent. She did promise to continue to make investments in school construction projects and took credit for a renovated school project completed in 2019 and another that’s underway.

“I will continue to do what I can within my purview of my position to improve education for our public school students,” Stewart said.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public
GOP Mayor Erin Stewart celebrates after winning her bid for reelection as the New Britain mayor at the Back Nine Tavern, Stanley Golf Course on Nov. 2, 2021, in New Britain, Connecticut.

Stewart then took a shot at the state of Connecticut’s Education Cost Sharing formula, saying she wouldn’t “blindly throw additional tax dollars into a massive bureaucracy that is failing our students.” And to support that, she said her district was 166th out of 166 municipal school districts in Connecticut in English/language arts, math and science.

On Tuesday, voters had their say.

Yalene Alicea was at Slade Middle School voting for the first time.

“I‘m currently in college for elementary ed, so I want to intake more on elementary education, make a change in it,” Alicea said.

Patricia Wyskiewicz, a teacher, also went to the polls at Slade with education on the brain.

“Making sure that the underserved communities are receiving the exact same type of education as other communities that are out there, making sure that we’re being able to reach the diverse population equally,” Wyskiewicz said.

Juvenile crime has also been a campaign focus for Stewart. Using high-profile crimes to rail on the state’s handling of juvenile offenders, Republican lawmakers initially banded together in July to get state Democrats to take up criminal justice reform in a special legislative session. Stewart was invited to the Capitol by House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora to talk about a 53-year-old New Britain man killed in a hit-and-run.

“He was hit by a vehicle that was stolen by a young man who had been arrested 13 times prior and went out and stole another vehicle and killed an innocent man,” Stewart said.

Stewart then said people in her city were afraid.

State Republican lawmakers have — among other things — advocated that judges be further equipped to identify repeat offenders at the point of arrest and also called for mandatory fingerprinting of juveniles for certain offenses.

Sanchez suggested a different approach when he spoke recently with the New Britain Herald.

“It’s not about locking them up right away,” Sanchez said. “It’s about finding what are the triggers, why are they acting this way? Let’s provide them with the services that they need.”

And the data also tells a story. A Connecticut Public investigation found that hundreds of juvenile delinquency cases stalled during the pandemic, making it harder for troubled teens to get help. Reporting from Connecticut Public’s Accountability Project shows that most people charged with stealing cars in Connecticut are over 18. And when there is recidivism among juvenile offenders, 63% of the charges filed against them were misdemeanors, violations and infractions.

There are 33,000 registered voters in New Britain. Alicea and Wyskiewicz, the voters at Slade Middle School, were a part of a 22% turnout there as of 1:45 p.m, according to a poll moderator.

Guilford

Meanwhile, voters in Guilford and a handful of other towns are faced with the question of how race should be taught in school. With critical race theory riding the forefront of many campaign platforms, residents took to the polls Tuesday to decide if the subject belongs in the classroom.

And in Guilford, the answer was clear. All five Republican candidates who campaigned on a platform opposed to critical race theory were defeated in a 2-1 margin by a mixed slate of Democrats and Independent candidates, according to unofficial results and the GOP candidates.

guilford.jpg
Guilford GOP
Unofficial vote totals from Guilford

After getting results from the polls, candidate Bill Maisano told a roomful of family and friends that while he congratulates the winners, this is not the end.

“This is the beginning,” he said. “Everybody’s awake now. They used to work in the shadows and now this town knows what’s going on.”

The five-member slate ran under a campaign platform organized in opposition to critical race theory. The theory is based on the idea that racism isn’t just the product of individual bias but that it is systematic. While the issue propelled the slate to victory in a GOP primary, Tuesday’s unofficial numbers show that they were defeated by a 2-1 margin.

It was a disappointing moment for candidates and supporters. But for candidate Danielle Scarpellino, it was important to show that parents will fight for their children.

“I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and I’ll be ready again,” she said. “And I will not let these people take my children from my home and raise them with me. They will not raise my child with me.”

Guilford school officials have repeatedly said that critical race theory isn’t actually taught in K-12 schools in town. Instead, they say that students are just learning that institutional racism is part of American history.

Voter Bob Lundgren says public education is an important area for him and believes the theory should be taught at the college level, not at the high school or grade school level.

“I think the issue here in town has been blown out of proportion, it’s got too much, it’s got too much,” he said at a polling site. “And it’s hurt a lot of feelings, and there’s been a lot of negative things said on both sides of the issue, which I don’t like.”

Guilford BOE Race Melissa Jones School
Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public
Guilford resident Bob Lundgren walks by political signs in front of the Melissa Jones School polling place after casting his ballot on Election Day. The Board of Education race in the small town has made national headlines after a group of five conservative parents ran on a platform against the teaching of critical race theory.

Lundgren says critical race theory should be taught, but it needs to be done right.

“At the right time and the right age, I think it’s good,” he said. “I think maybe people worry it’s being overdone. But I can’t believe this is being done in schools to the point that it should be a concern.”

Statewide

In West Haven, incumbent Democratic Mayor Nancy Rossi declared victory over Republican challenger Barry Cohen in a close race. A recount is possible there. At issue in that race: A state lawmaker who also worked for the city was recently charged with stealing more than $600,000 in pandemic relief funds from the city.

In Norwich, Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom beat back a challenge from Democratic Council President Mark Bettancourt. And, as expected, Democratic New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker declared victory. His party enjoyed a massive registration advantage over the GOP and its challenger, John Carlson.

Information from The Associated Press is included.

Updated: November 2, 2021 at 9:53 PM EDT
This story has been updated.