Some cite Trump, others study numbers in Norwalk Democratic rout

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, left, and Barbara Smyth, newly-elected to the Common Council, celebrate Tuesday in the Hilton Garden Inn.

Update 1 p.m.: Copy edit, additional information.

NORWALK, Conn. – Opinions vary regarding Tuesday’s Democratic domination of Norwalk electoral victories.

While Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho said that Democrats won nearly every seat available because of, “Excellent candidates and hard work,” others cited a variety of reasons, including a weak top of the Republican ticket combined with a strong independent mayoral candidate, positive opinions about the direction the city is headed in under Democratic Mayor Harry Rilling and a backlash against President Donald Trump.

“I think that people are pretty happy with the way things are going. I think that Harry had some pretty strong coattails this time,” Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King said Wednesday.



Council incumbent Doug Hempstead is the lone Republican winner Tuesday, but that’s not certain yet.

There will be a recount Monday of District D’s results with the second-place finisher, Hempstead, less than 20 votes ahead of Democratic newcomer William Pappa, Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said Wednesday.

A recount “rarely changes more than a couple because the tabulator is pretty good,” Wells said.

“District D is supposed to be a Republican stronghold and if we can get newcomers doing that well – Pappa is a good guy but he’s a complete unknown, obviously a new guy, and if he had Doug on the ropes – to me the big story is how come Republicans didn’t turn it out that much at all? Was there something overall?” Wells said.

Hempstead on Saturday said that Lisa Brinton Thomson’s independent mayoral candidacy could change the results up and down the process.

On Wednesday, he returned to that theme.

“It’s funny, I had discussions a week and half ago, it could be 15-0,” he said, referring to a Democratic sweep of Council seats. “Some people couldn’t figure it out.”

“I would assume most of her votes would be Democratic votes, they are probably protest votes,” he said, of his pre-election analysis.

Protest Democrat votes, people who don’t normally vote, would probably mean more Democratic Council votes, he said, offering some analysis of Tuesday’s results.

Usually, a mayor will win with 500 more votes than the top at-large Council candidate, he said, pointing out that this time, Barbara Smyth, a newcomer Democrat, is only four votes behind Rilling.

“Usually, there’s a drop off,” Hempstead said. “… I think most of the Lisa votes, if they voted for Council or Board of Ed, that’s where they went.”

Another tell – Town Clerk Rick McQuaid, who was endorsed by both parties, got 8,244 votes on the Democratic line and 4,545 votes on the Republican line, according to Wells’ Tuesday figures.

The about-4,500 Republican votes are the Republican base, Hempstead said. Republican mayoral candidate Andy Conroy “just didn’t even come close to getting half of the base vote,” with his 2,201 votes, Hempstead said.

“I’m going to give credit where credit is due: I guess people are happy with the way things are going,” Hempstead said, commenting that Rilling’s win is “not a landslide, but it’s certainly a mandate. He got over 55 percent of the vote in a four-way race, that’s pretty impressive. Hats off to them.”

He’s very disappointed that some of the Republican candidates didn’t win, especially District D rep Shannon O’Toole Giandurco, he said, pointing out that O’Toole Giandurco is a millennial who has worked hard for the district.

District D Council member-elect George Tsiranides, who was endorsed by Democrats, is “very affable, we get along,” Hempstead said.

Tsiranides was listed as a Republican when he was appointed to the Planning Commission in August 2016. He’s never been registered as a Democrat, Wells said Thursday.

Hempstead said that in his many years on the Council, he’s never been the sole member of a party.

At least there will be no discussions over who gets to be minority leader, no internal fighting about committees – technically, he’ll have to be on all of them, he said.

“Obviously, I can’t meet a schedule commitment of that type,” Hempstead said, commenting that he won’t need to use the caucus room, he can just sit in a car and talk to himself.

“Maybe he should switch parties,” King said. “We like Doug, we’d take him.”


Brinton Thomson

“I think the Republican Party underperformed. It’s nice they give me a lot of credit,” Brinton Thomson said, expressing an opinion that Conroy was a weak candidate, not a strong presence for the top of the Republican ticket.

The state Democratic machine got behind Rilling, with late-inning robo calls from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich), she said.

“I think there were a lot of things at play,” she said. “The Democrats were nervous, so they rushed to get the vote out. There was not a strong candidate at the top of the (Republican) ticket. I think Republicans stayed home. I think it came from all over the place, disaffected Democrats, unaffiliateds. … I think Harry was nervous. I don’t think he had to invoke the state response in his last bid for reelection.”

“Everyone has their own take on it, and when we get to look at the results I think we’ll know better,” she said.

“I am very pleased with the message that we sent. It’s up to Harry and the Council now, they pretty much control everything. Sometimes that can be a poison chalice,” Brinton Thomson said.



A mid-September poll

The Rilling campaign did a poll in mid-September, King said, echoing comments Rilling made to NancyOnNorwalk before the election.

“It was pretty right on,” King said. “I am pretty impressed.”

The poll said:

  • Harry Rilling, 41 percent
  • Andy Conroy, 17 percent
  • Lisa Brinton Thomson, 15 percent
  • Bruce Morris, 2 percent
  • Undecided, 25 percent


“We were figuring that at least half of the 25 percent would go toward Harry and that’s what happened,” King said. “We weren’t too worried.”

It would be very difficult for Conroy and Brinton Thomson to make up 15 percent, she said.

National politics might have played into the Democratic almost-sweep, as what both Conroy and Brinton Thomson were doing was reminiscent of the way President Donald Trump acts, she said, citing misleading information and negativity.

“I think there are so many positive things happening in Norwalk,” King said. “It’s one of the only cities in the state that people are moving into, one of the only cities where investors are investing money to build housing. It’s a fantastic place. I think what was really clear is there’s no appetite for change, people are happy with the way things are going. I mean, there’s always going to be a small group of unhappy people. When you have people that are just always negative… that is not a good way to lead, it’s not what people want to hear.”


Rilling’s promise to ‘do right’

It might have been a reaction to national politics, Rilling said Tuesday, but, “The Democrats have the values that are supportive of the community like Norwalk. We have such diversity. People who are living in poverty. People who are struggling to find jobs. We have people that are living in shelters. They recognize the fact the Democrats care for them and that we want to help them.”

“I think we have started a whole new kind of Democratic platform,” Rilling said. “We don’t want to increase taxes unless there was a necessary reason for doing that. We have kept taxes historically low by being very frugal in the past four years. We were able to navigate the very challenging waters of the state budget crisis – we are not going have to send out a supplemental tax bill. People recognize the fact that we’ve had to make some very challenging and tough decisions, and they respect that. The decisions we make a not always going to be popular but they are necessary and we are going to make sure we do that.”

Again, with 14 Democratic Council members, “We are going to be held accountable because we have no excuses if something doesn’t go right. So we want to make sure we do right by the city,” he said.

Smyth – inspired by Trump

Carlos Moreno, Interim State Director of Connecticut Working Families Party, linked the state-wide success of Working Families Party candidates to “resistance to Trumpism at the local level.”

In Norwalk, 17 of 18 WFP-endorsed candidates won.

Moreno, in an emailed statement, said:

“The night was quickly defined by a trend of first-time progressive candidates, energized and motivated to come out against a hostile, right-wing political climate, running and winning. The results are dramatic, with 18 towns across the state flipping from red to blue. It’s clear that voters want change, and the results are a testament to the will for progressive ideas and alternatives to anti-worker austerity and Trump-era cruelty.”

“Since Trump’s election, progressives have known that defeating Trump’s politics of division would begin from the ground up in local elections. That came to fruition last night. We are excited to see so many first time candidates who won local elections from Norwalk to Willimantic and in between.”

“I cannot comment with certainty at how candidates ran in other towns, but our local Republican candidates ran on their own merits, as proven advocates for Norwalk families and local business interests,” Conroy campaign chairman Rick Joslyn said in an email. “They campaigned with respect and integrity, and I have not heard anything differently from their opponents. It would be a shame and a disservice to Norwalk’s future to make this past election about anything other than the issues that impact people here locally.”

Smyth, the top-vote getting Council candidate, has said she was inspired to run for office by the Woman’s March in January.

In a Wednesday email, she confirmed that she is a a first time progressive candidate, as described by Moreno.

Smyth said:

“I agree with this characterization of what happened in Norwalk last night.  I think people are angry and scared about what is happening in Washington and have come to realize that shoring up our local government with progressive candidates is the best protection we have.

“I knew I would feel honored to be elected, but I find myself moved to have received the highest number of at large votes.  Although I’m still absorbing this, I can contribute it to several factors.  Yes, there is a wave of voters who want change and a fresh perspective. Many want more women in government.

“At the root of it all, though, my party believed in me, my students and their families believed in me, and my fellow NHS band parents believed in me.  My voters have trusted me with their kids for years and I think they trust me to serve Norwalk and all of our citizens.  They know I care.”



More from Wells

Democratic District E incumbents Tom Livingston and John Igneri were worried about Republican challenger Ernie DesRochers because “McCarthy and that crowd” tend to do well at Fox Run Elementary Schools, Wells said.

Unofficial results obtained by the Democratic Party on Tuesday showed that Livingston and Igneri had easily won the vote at Fox Run, more than 200 votes ahead of DesRochers.

“As soon as I saw that I said, ‘It’s going to be a sad night for Republicans,’ because if they can’t do better up there in an area where they have traditionally done well, then they have problems,” Wells said.

Democrats were pretty confident Rilling would win because Morris wasn’t eroding Democratic votes away from him, and, “Clearly Lisa and Andy were fighting for a lot of the same voters, so that was going to make both of their roads very tough,” Wells said.

If Republicans had consolidated behind Brinton Thomson, if she caught on and if Morris was doing better, then conceivably it could have gone another way but, “I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Wells said. “When you only have half the party members as the Democrats to begin with, it’s a sure way to lose. It’s the math.”


John Levin November 9, 2017 at 8:07 am

I don’t think that people fully appreciate the damage that Donald Trump has done to the Republican party, and to its brand. And on the flip side, what has happened to participation on the part of formerly complacent voters. I think an illustration of this is the Virginia House of Delegates, where dominant Republican control 66-34 was vaporized on Tuesday, with the Democrats now leading 49-47, and with the remaining 4 seats too close and subject to recount. Republicans have controlled the chamber since 2000, and had gerrymandered state districts to their (formerly overwhelming) advantage in 2010.

The Congressional elections of 2018 will be interesting to watch. As a registered republican, I struggle to see how the party can recover from Trump. Continuing to defend his behavior and actions pounds nails into our collective coffin.

That said, I hope the Democrats in Norwalk are up to the task of governing our city effectively. I know many of the people and I expect they will do a good job. It’s not easy, but I expect they are up to it.

Piberman November 9, 2017 at 11:27 am

Popular Mayors in Norwalk and elsewhere typically lead their Party to victory. When the opposing Party “sits out” the victory becomes a rout. No mystery here. Ms. Brinton’s showing suggests future opportunities especially if a 3rd Party is formed. GOP has been in “Siesta mode” that’s likely to continue.
Always help remembering Dems have 38% of registered voters, equal to the unaffiliated and the GOP just 19%. (Source: Wikipedia). Mayor Rilling continues to surprise those who questioned the abilities of a political “novice” 4 years ago. Upending the “Old Boy” City method of choosing candidates. He’s now the City’s most popular Mayor since former Frank Esposito. That’s impressive in anyone’s language.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 9, 2017 at 2:26 pm

@Pam Parkington, at last count four different versions of how Mayor Rilling handled the 2014 letter from Firetree, Ltd. The last version was part of Rilling’s interview with Bob Welsh for NoN. Mayor Rilling did not tell the truth about the contents of that letter. And though I supplied the actual words here in the comments section and though Bob put up a link, it wasn’t enough to sway voters.

Lisa Brinton Thomson November 9, 2017 at 2:31 pm

@Laoise King… Trump-like ‘misleading and negative information’ ? I would have expected better from you 🙂

Just make sure Harry or YOU:

1. Gets Norwalk its just compensation from the state for the Walk Bridge.
2. Cleans up the illegal apartments that short-change the city’s tax rolls and devalues neighborhoods- making us look like Bridgeport.
3. Reform planning & zoning and redevelopment, so there is some vague relevance to the POCD – maybe redo the LDA for POKO, so the Wall Street core has a fighting chance.
4. Streamline the permitting process for just about everything at City Hall, so businesses want to come to Norwalk.
5. Remind and refer Harry and the common council to page 51 of the 2017-18 budget (Mayor’s Section) and get on with revising the charter so the city can generally run more efficiently for everyone.


There are no excuses for not getting on with these extremely important issues. As I have always said, there is no Democrat or Republican way to run this city. If calling out the issues that 45% of the city wants dealt with is being negative – then so be it!

Education101 November 9, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Mayor Rilling is a class act and a rarity in the now hard left, progressive, “we want socialism now” modern democratic party. The Trump effect has less to do with his popularity and more to do with the lesser of two evils. The democrats should not read too much in the national election day sweeps in predominantly blue states and understand that unless their party moderates, Trump will be a two term president.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 9, 2017 at 4:37 pm

I’m curious about what Ms. King would qualify as misleading information about the Mayor. I’ve said things that are 100% true about how the Mayor dropped the ball on Firetree, and I’ve been told by “insiders” a variety of stories are that either misleading or untrue. These stories pop up in press releases and interviews. And that’s just one topic. We need to be clear that there is a difference between deliberately misleading the public and advocating for the public by reminding them of the truth. I believe it is the latter activity that Ms. King has characterized as “negative” and belonging to “unhappy people”. Maybe we just want something better for this wonderful city.

Paul Lanning November 9, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Hey “101” whoever you are: Trump’s victory was caused by approximately 77,000 voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, most of whom regard him as a weapon against those who have ignored their plight. Hillary’s platform wasn’t “socialist”, it was moderate. The angry rust belt voters who decided the election’s outcome disregarded the facts, and they continue to do so.

Education101 November 9, 2017 at 8:38 pm

@Paul. Thanks for making my point. . . how far the the party has veered to label Hillary a moderate. Perhaps moderate in disguise only. Hillary Care in the 90s, involvement in Communist front groups in the 1970s, idealizing Saul Alinsky, proponent for massive wealth redistrubution . . . hardly moderate?

Tysen Canevari November 9, 2017 at 9:18 pm

I think the sad part of all this is that an overwhelming majority of Norwalk’s registered voters don’t get to the polls. It is the one privilege we all have as citizens of the US to take advantage of and have your voice counted. Also, the majority that didn’t vote will be the ones to give their opinions on whats wrong with Norwalk.

Paul Lanning November 9, 2017 at 10:17 pm

Yes, she would have governed as a moderate.

When 1% of the population owns 90% of the money and resources, it’s not radical to advocate wealth redistribution.

Hillary’s failed 1993 healthcare proposal attempted to do what the ACA finally achieved: treating health care as a human right, not a privilege, bringing the U.S. in line with every other developed country on the planet.

In 1970, she interned at a law firm that litigated civil rights cases including the Black Panthers. At least one member of the firm was a Communist Party member. Is that the “Communist Front Groups” you refer to?

In 1969 she wrote her undergrad thesis detailing-and fundamentally disagreeing with-Alinsky’s anti-poverty strategy.

In 2016, most Trump voters were unaware of what she stood for; Trump called her “crooked’ and that’s all they cared to hear.

Paul Lanning November 9, 2017 at 10:31 pm

When 1% of the population owns 90% of the money and resources, wealth redistribution can indeed be considered moderate.

Viewing healthcare as a human right and national necessity rather than a privilege doesn’t imply lack of moderation.

What front groups? In summer of 1970, fresh out of college, she interned at a law firm that took on civil rights cases including Black Panthers, and where at least one employee was a member of the Communist Party. Is that the “front groups?”

Her undergrad thesis (1969) spoke kindly of Alinsky, but clearly disagreed with the fundamentals of his anti-poverty strategy.

Most Trump voters hadn’t a clue what she stood for. He called her “crooked” and that’s all they heard.

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