Write-in campaigns and May elections
City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick pulled off a rare political feat last Monday when he waged a successful write-in campaign to defeat Aundré Bumgardner, a member of the Town Council, 952-811.
It is not easy to win when your name is not listed.
City of Groton voters were handed ballots showing everyone running uncontested — Bumgardner, the six City Council candidates, and city clerk candidate Megan Peters, all Democrats. The Republicans did not field any candidates. Hedrick supporters had to find the oval for a write-in candidate, fill it in and add Hedrick’s name.
Bumgardner had defeated Hedrick in the Democratic primary by five votes, his surprise challenge catching the two-term incumbent off guard. Bumgardner’s door-to-door effort brought new voters to the polls in the primary. If Republicans had fielded a candidate in the general election, I suspect Bumgardner would have won that, too. The incumbent benefitted by Republicans and unaffiliated voters having only a binary choice.
The last serious write-in effort in these parts was across the Thames River in New London in 2011, the first race for mayor since voters had approved a charter change to a strong-mayor system. City Councilor Michael Buscetto III pursued a write-in campaign after losing the Democratic primary to Daryl Justin Finizio, who had moved to the city 18 months earlier.
Unlike the two-man City of Groton mayoral race, five candidates were competing. Buscetto did well for a write-in candidate, finishing second with 1,153 votes, but was easily defeated by Finizio, who received 2,185. Finizio would serve one term, losing the 2015 Democratic primary to current Mayor Michael Passero.
The other successful write-in mayoral candidacy I can recall was that of Michael J. Jarjura in Waterbury in 2005. The script was the same. Jarjura had lost the Democratic primary, in his case to the former tax collector, Karen M. Mulcahy, whom he had fired in 2004 (according to her, unfairly).
On Election Day the Jarjura campaign team handed out hundreds of pencils with his name on them at polling places. He ended up winning by about 2,200 votes and would go on to win two more terms before losing in 2011.
As interesting as the City of Groton election ended up being, on the whole the results across the region Monday once again brought into question these archaic political subdivisions and the process and timing of electing officials to lead them.
The City of Groton is a government within the government of the Town of Groton. In May of odd-numbered years, city voters elect their city leaders. In November of odd years, they elect their town leaders. Property owners living in the city pay taxes to the city and the town. The city’s biggest asset, by far, is Groton Utilities.
While 1,763 voters, 34% of those registered in the city, may not seem like much of a turnout, it was a strong one by the standard of these odd May elections — and considering only one race was contested.
Elections were also held, sort of, in the Borough of Stonington and the Borough of Jewett City, subdivisions located within the towns of Stonington and Griswold, respectively. The Borough of Stonington has charm and affluence. The Borough of Jewett City, like Groton City, has a municipal utility.
In the Borough of Stonington all candidates ran unopposed, and 99 folks voted. In Jewett City, five people ran for four burgess seats, with 83 folks casting ballots.
Based on the lack of candidate participation and voter disinterest, it appears these government oddities have outlived their usefulness. But in our Land of Steady Habits, don’t expect anything to change.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.