Editorial: Primaries deliver pivot in CT leadership

Stamford incumbent Mayor David Martin chats with a voter outside Dolan Middle School on Primary Election Day in Stamford, Conn. Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

Stamford incumbent Mayor David Martin chats with a voter outside Dolan Middle School on Primary Election Day in Stamford, Conn. Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Gov. Ned Lamont draws most of the acclaim, along with the inevitable slights, for how Connecticut leaders have marshalled residents through the pandemic.

There has been relatively little fanfare for mayors and first selectmen on the front lines of the local battlefields. Many have been in lock-step formation with Lamont, some were even stricter in introducing mandates and a few tilted toward the resistance more common in some Southern states.

After 18 months of this war, there will be a change in leadership in several key municipalities come Election Day. Typically, a new local leader would be greeted with the likes of “Congratulations, now get to work, the clock is ticking to get the next budget ready.”

The Nov. 3, 2021 version of that will be more along the lines of “Welcome, do you want to change any COVID-19 policies?”

The biggest political news to come out of Tuesday’s primaries was the end of Democrat David Martin’s eight-year tenure as mayor of Stamford. Martin was aggressive in tackling the pandemic from the beginning, proactively pivoting in recent weeks as the delta variant threatened a new surge in his city

That, and leading Connecticut’s jewel city, wasn’t enough to elevate Martin. He was soundly defeated Tuesday by state Rep. Caroline Simmons, who would become the city’s first female mayor with a win in November.

Simmons has formidable competition in former New York Mets Manager Bobby Valentine, who has drawn national attention to his hometown during this campaign as an unaffiliated candidate.

Regardless of the outcome, Stamford will be among a few municipalities with new leadership in 2022.

As Simmons defeated Martin by claiming every one of the city’s districts, Hamden Democrats chose Lauren Garrett by a similar 2-1 margin over three-term incumbent mayor Curt Leng (along with third candidate Peter Cyr).

It was a replay with a decidedly different outcome, as Garrett challenged Leng in a primary two years ago. She will now face Republican Ron Gambardella and Independent Party candidate Albert Lotto in the general election.

Not all changes are the result of primaries. As the longest-serving mayor in Danbury’s history — 20 years — Mark Boughton’s name is still synonymous with the city. After Lamont appointed Boughton as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services in December, Joe Cavo took the mayor’s seat before declaring he would not seek election. That leaves City Councilman Roberto Alves to try to claim the office for the Democrats for the first time in two decades. He faces Dean Esposito, who has served as chief of staff to the mayor for five years. Back in 2005, Esposito tried to unseat Boughton before changing parties from Democrat to Republican.

The ouster of two veteran mayors in primaries would be news in any election year. When it occurs during a historic pandemic, it underscores that this Land of Steady Habits is as anxious for change as the rest of the nation.

One thing that remains evergreen is that the passage of the primaries signals the start of election season for many voters. There will soon be new faces in local offices. Hopefully, there will be some at the polls as well.