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Derby mayoral candidate's Jan. 6 legal woes greeted with mixed local reception

A large group of pro-Trump protesters stand on the East steps of the Capitol Building after storming its grounds on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
Jon Cherry
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Getty Images North America
A large group of pro-Trump protesters stand on the East steps of the Capitol Building after storming its grounds on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

How do Derby residents feel now that alderman and mayoral candidate Gino DiGiovanni is facing federal charges for trespassing in the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot?

According to locals, it’s mixed. Sal Coppola, an unaffiliated Derby voter, said DiGiovanni, a man he has known since he was a boy, didn’t mean to do anything wrong.

“I think it's unfortunate he went down there. But I think he also went down there with good intentions, and certainly not to break the law in any way,” Coppola said.

DiGiovanni declined to comment when reached and referred questions to his attorney. But some other residents in the state’s smallest city, which narrowly reelected a Republican mayor in 2021, defended him.

Even those who didn’t defend his actions, say his actions were misguided, including the Democratic challenger for the mayoral seat, Joe DiMartino. Yet others outside the city are less than forgiving.

DiGiovanni entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to a recently unsealed statement of facts by the District of Connecticut.

According to the document, DiGiovanni, along with others, entered the Capitol by the upper west terrace door at 2:20 p.m. He walked inside the rotunda and the sanctuary hall before leaving at 2:45 p.m. The statement states it appears DiGiovanni documented his activities with a smartphone.

He’s now facing two separate charges by the federal government, but his attorney, Martin J. Minnella, says they’re misdemeanor charges. He’s figuring out next steps.

“I got to look at all the discovery in the case, and including any films that the government may have, and make an evaluation if we're going to attempt to plea bargain the case or go to trial,” Minella said.

Yet, little of this matters to some Republican voters in the city. Sam Pollastro, the city’s Republican Town Committee vice chair said the party stands by him.

“His commitment and his dedication to this town and to the city of Derby and his countless community involvement, his work ethic, his 25 years of experience as a business owner hasn't changed,” Pollastro said. “He is unwavered, and so is our support of him.”

DiGiovanni, who was endorsed by the RTC, is now challenging Republican incumbent Rich Dziekan in a September primary. Whoever wins will face off against Democratic candidate Joe DiMartino who narrowly lost to Dziekan in 2021.

Other Derby residents registered as Democrats declined to comment, but attacked DiGiovanni on social media. Others outside the local Democratic Party leadership, such as U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and Sen. Chris Murphy, were all reached for comment, but did not immediately respond on Wednesday.

Nancy DiNardo, who is Connecticut’s Democratic state chair, expressed dismay that some Republicans continue to support him.

“It just highlights the dysfunction that you see in the Republican Party, particularly in Derby that the members can't seem to be willing to denounce someone who participated in this insurrection, to overturn a fair election,” DiNardo said.

Even Joe DiMartino didn’t attack him on partisan lines.

“I have known Gino since he was a young kid and wish this had never happened. Clearly, it’s the wrong way to deal with a losing election,” DiMartino said. “The right way is to learn from mistakes, focus on the public good, and give it another try.”

But DiGiovanni has support outside the local party leadership as well. A little under half of the city’s electorate voted for Trump in the 2020 elections, and social media pages catering to Derby residents on Facebook were filled with comments expressing their continued support for him.

But according to the city clerk’s office, unaffiliated voters are now the biggest block of voters at 2,891, followed by Democrats which count 2,320 and Republicans at 1,241 registered voters.

Coppola said while he doesn’t believe the election was stolen, and he has trust in the criminal justice system, he knows others in the city who continue to believe the election was stolen.

It wasn’t stolen, and numerous legal challenges from Trump’s campaign, and his allies, taking issue with the vote results have all failed.

“There's some legitimate concerns at some stage of the process. But I'm not one of those that questions the outcome,” Coppola said.

But while many Derby officials and residents expressed strong feelings one way or the other, one Derby official seemed more reserved.

Mayor Richard Dziekan, who previously said DiGiovanni is being targeted due to being an elected official, expressed a wait and see approach.

“These are distractions. Like I said, he has to handle this on his own. My thing is innocent till proven guilty, the court system is handling this right now. And that's basically all I have to say for it,” Dziekan said. “And I just want to see Derby moving forward.”

Dziekan initially made those comments in 2022, when DiGiovanni was still just an alderman. He finished the interview discussing redevelopment projects going on around the city, asking residents to pick him as mayor.

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