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Derby elects first Democratic mayor since 2015

Democrat Joseph DiMartino will serve as the next mayor of Derby after winning the election Nov 7, 2023
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Democrat Joseph DiMartino will serve as the next mayor of Derby after winning the election Nov 7, 2023

Second time’s the charm for Democrat Joe DiMartino who won Derby’s mayoral race after a narrow loss in 2021.

DiMartino said it felt good as campaign volunteers packed up and shuttered his campaign headquarters on Minerva Street, just across the street from his future office at City Hall.

“I'm proud of the campaign we ran. And I'm proud of the results we got tonight and I'm just really happy and proud,” DiMartino said.

DiMartino has good reason to be proud. The local Democratic Party in Derby swept through the down ballot races as well, and his campaign manager, Linda Fusco, explained it partly had to do with his chief opponent, Gino DiGiovanni’s ongoing legal troubles stemming from his participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

She’s not alone. Gayle Alberda, a Fairfield University political science professor, said a number of factors, from higher voter engagement, to voter concerns over DiGiovanni and a split conservative vote, all led to DiMartino’s win on election night.

The race gained national attention after DiGiovanni won the September primary. It was revealed in 2022 that he attended the insurrection in 2021.

But DiMartino said Derby voters wanted to change direction, disappointed by the current administration’s mismanagement of city finances.

“My message to them, that we wanted to bring change to Derby. We wanted to get Derby back to the way it used to be,” he said.

DiMartino didn’t mention DiGiovanni all that much during his campaign, even as the state Democratic Party attacked DiGiovanni for allegedly trespassing at the Capitol that day. Fusco said however, voters did have that on their minds when they voted.

But they carved out another attack angle, owing to perceiving DiGiovanni’s control over his campaign as a weakness. She was actually more concerned about current mayor Richard Dziekan, who ran as a petitioning candidate and came in second at 727 votes.

DiGiovanni is popular with many residents in the small city of a little over 12,000, making personal attacks a tricky proposition.

DiMartino was DiGiovanni’s wrestling coach in high school.

So the campaign touched on that but only as part of their overall message.

“We didn't dwell on that; we stayed respectful,” Fusco said. “We put out a couple of flyers that just said he was under federal indictment. We didn't go after Gino.”

Yet Jan. 6 loomed large in the Derby mayoral race. Alberda said DiGiovanni’s involvement in the event cuts both ways.

Voters, she said, came out at higher rates to oppose and support DiGiovanni because of his involvement. DiGiovanni previously said in interviews with Connecticut Public he didn’t feel the charges hurt him in the runup to the election.

And according to Alberda, the vote was split between DiGiovanni and Dziekan; had Dziekan dropped out, DiGiovanni could have won. But many people opposed DiGiovanni, making that hard to prove, and the insurrection likely swayed voters to come out.

“Given the vote totals, it appears that voters opposed to DiGiovanni were very motivated to cast a ballot,” she said.

It wasn’t just locals swayed to come out. State and federal Democratic elected officials also came out to support DiMartino’s run in the last weeks before Election Day, but DiMartino said it probably had to do with noticing how close the race was last time, instead of worries over DiGiovanni’s potential win.

As for DiGiovanni; he’s still facing several federal charges over trespassing at the U.S Capitol due to Jan. 6, where supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to stop Congress from counting the electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election. Five people were killed, or died, as a result of the violence on that day.

DiGiovanni is due in court Thursday.

But running for office was worth the scrutiny, since he helped put Derby on the national map, according to him.

“Joe will go out and seek money from the federal government and the state and they'll know exactly where Derby is,” DiGiovanni said. “Derby is on the map big time. And if I had a part in that by going through the media coverage, then I'll accept that, all day every day.”

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