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As two Democrats face off in unprecedented Groton City election, Republicans say they will remain neutral

Groton — Two Democrats — one the party nominee and the other the incumbent running as a write-in candidate — and both former Republicans, are vying for the city's top office in the May general election, without a Republican opponent.

In the unprecedented and contentious race, the City of Groton Republican Committee chairman said the committee plans to stay neutral, even if individual members support either candidate.

Meanwhile, some Democrats in the city are supporting Town Councilor and former state Rep. Aundré Bumgardner, who won the Democratic primary after he challenged Mayor Keith Hedrick, while others are backing Hedrick, who is the chairman of the city's Democratic Committee and is running as a write-in candidate after losing the primary by five votes.

The City of Groton Republican Committee, which did not put forward a slate of candidates after citing a hostile political climate for Republicans, recently issued a news release that the committee "is not involved, supports, favors or endorses in any way either individual candidate in this process."

"Any statement to the contrary is false and misleading," the release states.

Republican Chairman Robert Zuliani said by phone that while he, as an individual, is supporting Hedrick, the committee is not involved. Zuliani said he issued the news release after Bumgardner made statements in a campaign fundraising email that his opponent "decided to put personal ambition and love for power ahead of what it means to be a Democrat. He has announced a write-in campaign led by the leadership of the Groton Republican City Committee." Bumgardner added that his "opponent refused to concede, turned his back on the Democratic Party, and is now working with Republicans."

Bumgardner also posted on Twitter: ".@GrotonDems, I heard we won the Democratic primary for Groton City mayor. Why is our Dem leadership, including (Democratic Town Committee) Chair Conrad Heede, promoting the candidacy of a write-in candidate now colluding with the local GOP City Committee? Asking for 100s of Democratic voters in our city."

In a phone interview, Bumgardner cited that Hedrick's campaign treasurer is Irma Streeter, a member of the city's Republican committee. Hedrick said Streeter brings experience, and Irma and her husband, Jim, who are Republican committee members and longtime volunteers in Groton, said they are supporting Hedrick as individuals.

Zuliani said he is not sure whom the other members of the 11-person committee are supporting individually, and he thinks at least one is supporting Bumgardner. He said they have not discussed it as a committee and the committee has never endorsed a Democrat in the general election. Jim Streeter and Zuliani said they are supporting Hedrick as individuals because they feel he is the best candidate.

Zuliani said he was disappointed with the accusation of "colluding." He said there are Democrats and Republicans supporting both candidates and there's nothing wrong with that.

Hedrick said he is a registered Democrat and is running a grassroots campaign with support from hundreds of people across the city, including Democrats, unaffiliated voters, independents, Green Party members and Republicans. He said he is running as a write-in candidate because voters asked him to get back in the race so they could have a choice, and his campaign is not about "partisan politics."

"The race is about the residents of the City of Groton and about who is qualified to lead the City of Groton for the next two years," Hedrick said.

Bumgardner said that while individuals in the community are entitled to support the individuals of their choice, he committed to supporting the Democratic candidate if he lost the primary. He said Hedrick, as chair of the city's Democratic committee, "is obligated to support the entire Democratic slate, just as I have committed to doing."

"I would challenge Mr. Hedrick to reassess his involvement with the Democratic committee, considering he is chair of the very committee that has an endorsed Democratic slate, and he has now launched a write-in candidacy against the top of the ticket of the Democratic slate," Bumgardner added.

Hedrick said individuals on the committee can make their own decisions about whom they support in the election and don't need to be "in lockstep." He also pointed out that the Democratic slate of councilors and city clerk are running unopposed.

"The race is between me and my opponent," Hedrick said. "There is no need to drive the Groton City Democratic Committee into this. They can support who they want to support and once the election is over, then the Groton City Democratic Committee will need to determine where they will go in the future."

The town committees also said they are staying out of the city elections.

The Groton Republican Town Committee responded on its Facebook page to campaign text messages sent by Bumgardner "stating that the Republicans are working with his opponent. WE ARE NOT. People working with Keith Hedrick, who may or may not be Democrats, are doing so as individuals and their efforts do not represent Groton Republicans in any way shape or form."

Meanwhile, Heede, chair of the Groton Democratic Town Committee, said that committee has "never endorsed candidates for City elections. Since the only two candidates competing in the May election are both Democrats, we expect some of our members will support one or the other candidate."

k.drelich@theday.com

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