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Who will get the bullet points in Dem runoff?

(No one. There are only two candidates.)

The John Kydes signs in East Norwalk easily outnumbered the ones for opponents Jenn McMurrer and Tyler Fairbairn, just ahead of the Sept. 14 primary. Only a few yards with Kydes signs also had one for his running mate, Jennifer McAllister.

The 2021 Election is Nov. 2. A second District C Democratic primary is scheduled for Oct. 5.

NORWALK, Conn. — It was unusual to the point of not having happened in current memory: District C had a primary.

Now comes the even more improbable follow-up, a run-off for second place. Common Council member John Kydes (D-District C) – a lifelong Norwalker – is in a fight for his reelection, tied with newcomer Tyler Fairbairn, Community Development Administrator for Greenwich, who didn’t live here when Kydes began his first term on the Council in 2013.

And Democrats are buzzing about another unusual twist: if not for “bullet voting,” Kydes’ running mate Jennifer McAllister would have come in second, they say. There would be no runoff and Kydes would be out.

Round two of the district’s electoral follies is scheduled for Oct. 5 at the same two voting locations: Marvin Elementary School and Nathan Hale Middle school. It’s an “adjourned primary” and is only open to voters who were registered Democrat on the date of primary phase I, Norwalk Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said.

The winner will run with primary victor Jenn McMurrer against Republican candidate Read Auerbach, Third Taxing District treasurer and another Norwalk lifer, and independent candidate Scott Goodwin, who has lived in Norwalk for 15 years.

Lifelong residents generally have a leg up in elections. McMurrer also didn’t live here when Kydes set out on his Council career. McAllister has been a Norwalk resident for 15 years.

The District C Democratic primary may have its origins in an unusual announcement in April: Kydes, Council Majority Leader, said he was running for Mayor in two years, ahead of being reelected this fall or even endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee for the post.

By elevating himself to a Mayoral candidate Kydes heightened the scrutiny he’s subject to for the duration of that campaign. In addition, his actions as a Council member can be viewed as being more important, given that he’s not just one of a pack of 15, he’s potentially someone who will wield more power.

Upset that Kydes led the Council to cut an additional $1 million from the Board of Education’s budget request in February, Fairbairn and Jenn McMurrer decided to run against him. They say Kydes didn’t answer their emails on the topic.

Rebuffed by the Democratic Town Committee, McMurrer and Fairbairn secured enough signatures to force a primary, even if door knocking in a pandemic was a challenge.

District C DTC member Brenda Penn-Williams objects to the upstarts.

I just don’t think it’s fair for people to come and start running for these primaries and running to be a candidate when they don’t even come to the district meetings. And I just don’t think that’s right. Yes, you can do it. But I don’t think it’s right,” she said at last week’s DTC meeting.

In 2015, Penn-Williams supported Rhonda Teel and Jalin Sead for District A Common Council over incumbents Council member Eloisa Melendez and Steve Serasis. At the time, then-District A Council member David Watts said Teel’s candidacy was scraped together the afternoon of the DTC nominating meeting. Teel was a newcomer.

Penn-Williams could not cast votes for Teel and Sead, as a District C member, but spoke up in their favor at multiple DTC meetings. She also sat outside a District A poll on primary day, opposite Melendez.

Serasis and Melendez, now Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman, won that primary. Sead has since unsuccessfully challenged Penn-Williams twice for the NAACP Presidency.

Last week, NancyOnNorwalk asked Penn-Williams why she is supporting Kydes.

“When my husband passed away, John was right here for me,” she said. So was Mayor Harry Rilling. Both of them called her weekly, and, “I don’t care if people don’t like Harry… I don’t have anything to do with that. I know what they did for me.”

She said she’s lived in District C for 25-30 years and she doesn’t remember there ever being a primary there.

Norwalk Democrats have a public process for candidate nominations, though few pay attention to it. Anyone can attend a district committee meeting and once you attend enough of them, you can vote. The committee discusses issues and when there’s an election approaching, votes to recommend candidates to the larger body, the DTC, and then the DTC votes to endorse them. In recent years, the practice is for the DTC to honor the district committee’s wishes; in addition, there’s overlap, as the DTC district members can also attend the committee’s get-togethers and vote there.

You get onto the DTC via an election in January, and, again, there’s little interest. Typically, far less than 100 people cast ballots in a district vote for DTC members. It is however more difficult to develop a power base as the DTC changed its rules in 2015 to expand its membership from 35 to 55, allowing 11 members per district instead of seven.

So a candidate needs six DTC votes to be endorsed as an in-district candidate. Kydes and his wife are DTC members; he is also chairman of the district committee. Penn-Williams is a member, as is Kydes’ 2019 running mate, George Theodoridis, a Kydes recruit who has said nothing publicly as a Council member beyond acknowledging that he’s present at meetings.

Beyond those four votes, the remaining DTC District C members are State Rep. Stephanie Thomas, Jennifer Balliett, Linda Langston, Pam Parkington, Beth Siegelbaum, Johnnie Mae Weldon and McAllister.

So McMurrer and Fairbairn forced a primary, resulting in a tie for second place. Wells had predicted about 200 voters would turn out; instead, 392 ballots were cast.

The recount didn’t change the vote totals but it did reveal a pattern. There were 26 ballots that only had one oval marked off, meaning only one candidate got a vote.

The single vote ballot tally was:

  • John Kydes 21
  • Jennifer McAllister 2
  • Tyler Fairbairn 2
  • Jenn McMurrer 1

 

Wikipedia explains:

Bullet voting, also known as single-shot voting and plump voting, is a voting tactic, usually in multiple-winner elections, where a voter is entitled to vote for more than one candidate, but instead votes for only one candidate.

“A voter might do this either because it is easier than evaluating all the candidates, or as a form of tactical voting. This tactic can be used to maximize the chance that the voter’s favourite candidate will be elected, while increasing the risk that other favoured candidates will lose. A group of voters using this tactic consistently has a better chance for one favourite candidate to be elected.”

 

 

While it’s possible that some voters simply didn’t want to vote for anyone but Kydes or voted only for the familiar name, multiple Norwalk Democrats suspect that Kydes told people to vote only for him and not his running mate, McAllister. They’re angry.

Kydes denied the allegation. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

McAllister’s name was next to Kydes, on the top line of the ballot.  She didn’t respond to an email asking for comment.

The tally in the primary, confirmed in last week’s recount, was:

  • McMurrer 208
  • Kydes 188
  • Fairbairn 188
  • McAllister 175

 

If McAllister had 14 more votes, she’d be in second place.

It’s not the first time Kydes has been accused of not supporting a running mate. John Metsopoulos, a 2015 District C Democratic Council candidate, said recently that when he was going door-to-door in that campaign he heard voters say, in Greek, that Kydes had told them not to vote for him. He also had some tell him that directly and he heard Kydes tell voters that.

Asked Tuesday about the allegation of bullet voting in this year’s primary, Metsopoulos said, “Of course it is true, he did that to me in the election.”

Fairbairn said, “I’m familiar with bullet voting as a strategy, but have no idea if that was a deliberate part of Mr. Kydes’ campaign. Jenn McMurrer and I are a team and are asking all of our supporters to vote for us together.”

McMurrer said, “If Mr. Kydes turned his back on his own running mate I think it’s appalling. And I feel badly that it turned out the way it did for Jennifer McAllister. I have a lot of respect for her and no one should be treated this way, especially by a teammate.”

If you’re thinking you could compare the ballot counts to previous primaries to see if the single-vote ballots are unusual, that’s not possible, according to Wells.

Wells wrote:

“Basically, there is nothing comparable. State/Federal primaries are single opening offices. The only thing that would be comparable would be another In-District Common Council primary.

“The 2017 primary in District A was a one-against-two primary and it would not be remarkable for the candidate without a running mate to get a lot of bullet ballot votes – and I don’t have the breakdown in any event.

“The 2015 District A and B primaries were two against two, but there were additional races in both cases. Someone may have voted only for candidates in the other races, which would result in two blanks recorded in the Common Council primary – and again I don’t have the breakdown.”

 

What happens if there’s a tie in next week’s runoff?

“We actually draw lots or flip a coin,” Norwalk Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said.

There may be a recount in any event because with such a low-turnout election, the margin is unlikely to be wide enough, he added. That would happen quickly because ballots need to be printed for the Nov. 2 election.

Bryan Meek, a Republican, has said that the City charter requires a runoff to be held the Tuesday after a recount.

“I haven’t looked at the city charter. We follow state election laws. There are things in the charter that don’t match that, this wouldn’t be a first,” Wells said.

Plus, it would be impossible to hold a runoff that quickly, Wells said. You have to print ballots and obviously, registrars didn’t know if the results would change until the recount, which was only three days ahead of when Meek suggested the runoff should be.

Information added, 2:05 p.m.

9 comments

Joseph Oliveri September 27, 2021 at 5:43 am

They are both named Jennifer and their last names start with Mc. Doesn’t this seem like a logical reason why people didn’t know who to vote for? This is all too confusing and makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to get involved in politics.

Stuart Wells September 27, 2021 at 6:23 am

Connecticut Statutes Sec. 9-446 Tie Votes: (b) If two or more candidates obtain the same number of votes at a primary held to nominate candidates for a municipal office, other than the municipal office of state senator or state representative, or to elect members of a town committee, or if two or more slates of candidates obtain the same number of votes at a primary held for justices of the peace, and a tie vote thereby occurs, any of such candidates, or the town chairman of the political party, may apply for a recanvass of the returns in the manner provided in section 9-445. If no such application is made, or if any such recanvass results in a tie vote, such primary shall stand adjourned for three weeks at the same hour at which the first primary was held. …
Stuart Wells, Democratic Registrar

David T McCarthy September 27, 2021 at 1:53 pm

Good job of pointing out hypocrisy here. The Democrat Town Committee in Norwalk is not representative of everyday people in Norwalk, and while the process is the process, for someone to insist that one needs to be a part of this clique to participate in local government is laughable. The usual suspects show up all the time to position themselves and they are rarely, if ever, the best ones for the job. They do their best to discourage widespread participation, and that is to the city’s detriment.

Justin matley September 27, 2021 at 3:16 pm

While I see value in participating in party organizational meetings to get your name out and build a supportive base and fundraising tools, I think people generally are turned off to the idea that you must be a charter member in some exclusive club to amass support and hold a seat. I’m glad Jenn won the say she did, and fully support Tyler in his quest to do the same.

Stannis September 27, 2021 at 5:12 pm

David: The correct name of the body is the Democratic Town Committee. To consistently and deliberately refer to a person or a group of people by the wrong name is pointlessly rude.

Bobby Lamb September 27, 2021 at 6:27 pm

I think the democrats have made it pretty clear they don’t like the Kydes brand of politics. They successfully managed to oust his posse of like minded council people – it’s not mistake that his band of brothers all lost the DTCs endorsement in favor of more progressive forward thinking candidates. Ignoring constituents while doing favors for friends (including trying to get them city jobs), playing fast and lose with campaign finance rules and pulling dirty politics like the bullet voting is clearly not ok with the Democrats in this town. The only reason he got the endorsement is because he stacked his district committee with his cronies. Ask around – many seasoned democrats are quietly supporting Tyler. Next Tuesday will be telling …

longtimedem September 27, 2021 at 9:21 pm

I don’t know John Kydes, and I have no opinion about him, good or bad. But if you are going to report on the inside baseball of the Democratic Town Committee, it would be better to not run with people’s suspicions or the fact that “they” (whoever “they” are) are “angry” unless at least one of them is willing to go on the record. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up to be the megaphone for any whisper campaign to undermine one candidate or the other.

(I recognize the apparent contradiction of a pseudonymous commenter suggesting that people go on the record. However, I am what I am, (h/t Popeye): just someone commenting as an individual, rather than being reported as part of the “news”.)

You may also want to point out that not one person appears to have stated that John Kydes actually encouraged them to bullet vote.

Nor should you so blithely toss off the idea that there were plenty of voters who cast votes for just for John Kydes for not-so-nefarious reasons. As I drive around Norwalk east of the river, I see innumerable signs for John Kydes. I expect many of them may have been recycled from prior campaigns, and I am all for recycling. But you can’t dispute that these signs, in addition to the fact that Mr. Kydes has served in the Council for a while, may have raised his name recognition to the point where there might be people who vote for him, and just him.

Likewise, one of the cardinal rules of hyper-local politics is to get your friends and family out to vote for you. In a council district primary, and particularly if you are a life-long resident, this can be enough to get you tied for second place, in spite of a late-hit website news story (originally triggered by yet another anonymous source) accusing you of committing an “uncommon practice”. If Mr. Kydes asked his friends and family to come out to vote for him, is it a sin for them not to ask “John, who is your running mate, so I can vote for them too?”

If I had been eligible to vote in this primary, I would have likely voted for the challengers. (It’s always good to shake things up a bit.) But it is hard to read your coverage of Mr. Kydes and his campaigns (for Council? for Mayor?) without getting the sense that you have a beef with him.

MyTwoCents September 28, 2021 at 6:33 am

Yet another article loaded against Mr. Kydes.

My opinion on what’s happening here: Kydes stepped out of line and challenged Rilling, so Rilling is mobilizing the entire party apparatus to smear Mr. Kydes. Last month there was the fake outrage about Mr. Kydes daring to recommend someone for a job, and now this.

Politics is a dirty game.

Jim Tru September 29, 2021 at 12:38 pm

@MyTwoCents

You hit the nail on the head. The entire party is very quick to forget the past few years of their total domination of council and BOE seats.

Let’s be honest, John Kydes was a huge part of recruiting and establishing the party. They are very quick to throw him under the bus and it’s going to come back to bite them.

Lot’s of competition from Republicans and Independents this election cycle. While Harry will win again, he’s not going to have the swan song he would hope for.

Eloisa is no Ed and it will fall directly on her as head of the party.

If John Kydes loses this Primary run-off and runs as an independent he is going to mop the floor with your candidates in District C.

Voters are turning on the Democratic Party, you don’t need to have liberal views and still be a Democrat. The tides are turning.

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