Norwalk Republicans look on the bright side


Republican mayoral candidate Kelly Straniti answers a question Tuesday at the League of Women Voters debate in City Hall.
Norwalk Republican mayoral candidate Kelly Straniti did a great job, Republicans say.
The aftermath
The aftermath

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Republicans on Wednesday talked electoral math in the aftermath of an election that was “not too bad,” in the words of one.

That was Republican Town Committee Chairman Pete Torrano, who said he will not seek another term as leader of the Norwalk party.

“Obviously I would have liked it if I had won but overall I feel really good. I ran a positive campaign and I feel really good,” said Kelly Straniti, whose attempt to topple Mayor Harry Rilling fell short.

Straniti had 36.3 percent of the vote, while Rilling garnered 62.1 percent in his successful drive for a second term. Norwalk Democrats took a decisive majority on the Common Council, winning 11 of 15 seats, but the political mix on the Board of Education remained the same.

“I think (Straniti) ran a magnificent race, I think she touched all the points she needed to,” Torrano said. “Unfortunately she lost and she lost by a relatively large number. But normally when somebody loses a race by a large number like that your party gets swept. If you think about it, we kept the Board of Ed seats that we had before. … Essentially if you look at it, the only real change is Harry is still there as mayor and he picked up three Council seats. We didn’t have an incumbent running in that seat. All things said and done, it wasn’t as bad as you think it was.”

If Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) had run for re-election he would have won, Torrano said, before allowing that he was “frankly stunned” by the margin of Straniti’s defeat.

“The response she got from a lot of people was extraordinary. I just wished there had been better voter turnout, which I told you was throughout the entire state, but I couldn’t be more proud of Kelly. My hope is that she considers doing this again in the future,” Torrano said.

“A loss is not fun but it makes it a lot easier when I get the unanimous support I have been getting all day, since last night,” Straniti said.

People had been calling her all day to tell her she did a great job and to thank her for stepping up for Norwalk Republicans, she said.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle going against a one-term incumbent mayor, somebody who is a nice guy and has a lot of popularity, like Harry Rilling,” Straniti said. “So I knew it was going to be an uphill battle all along, but I was, like I said before, willing to take on challenges, I like challenges. Overall I feel really good about it. It was a wonderful experience. I loved every minute of it, you know, the good and the bad. There were mostly good.”

She also looked at electoral math.

“I was really happy, even though it was not the victory that I was hoping for, with the amount of votes that I received, being only 13 percent short of the 50 percent that I would have needed to win,” Straniti said. “Especially since it was over a third of the vote and being my first city-wide race, because I was pretty much unknown outside of my district when I started. To be able to get that amount of votes in my first city-wide race against a one-term incumbent, I was really happy with that. I’m grateful for all the people on the street that voted for me and got to know me and put their confidence in me.”

“The feedback was that Kelly would do a lot better than what she did,” said Councilman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large), one of the four Republicans to win re-election. “Some of the Council seats are somewhat surprising, but not by the number differential. That is part of the statistical happenings of a mayoral race when there is that much of a divide in numbers. Am I disappointed and saddened by the loss of some of my teammates that are with me on the Council now? Absolutely. But it’s a tough gap to make up.”

Also re-elected were Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large), Councilwoman Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D) and Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C). Toppled were Councilman Glenn Iannaccone (R-At Large) and Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E). Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At-Large), who ran on the Republican line in 2013 and caucused with the GOP, giving them an 8-7 majority, made it know going into the race that he was back in the Democratic Party column now. Kimmel was re-elected.

None of the Republican newcomers won.

Typically, when a mayor wins that handily, the votes for at large candidates follow suit, Hempstead said. But the votes were split, meaning people didn’t just vote the party line, he said.

“I think what disgusts me the most is the lack of involvement by people not coming out to vote, period,” Hempstead said.

A record of votes cast in mayoral elections, according to the Registrar’s office:

  • 2015: 13,257 (Rilling over Straniti)
  • 2013: 16,761 (Rilling over Richard Moccia)
  • 2011: 14,345 (Moccia over Andy Garfunkel)
  • 2009: 13,238 (Moccia over Steve Serasis)
  • 2007: 13,290 (Moccia over Walter Briggs)
  • 2005: 16,690 (Moccia over Alex Knopp)
  • 2003: 15,473 (Knopp over Moccia)

“Harry did get some people across the board to vote Democrat,” Torrano said. “That’s going to hurt us, but to the voters’ credit a lot of people did came off the Democratic line and support other candidates and that is why we were able to maintain four seats on the Common Council and the Board of Education has not changed.”

Torrano expressed disappointment about District A, saying that both James Cahn and Darline Perpignan ran very active campaigns.

“Both of them hit so many doors and made so many personal contacts that I am quite frankly surprised they didn’t take a least one seat. Again, I hope both of those people will stay heavily involved with us and consider doing this again in the future because they bring so much to the table,” Torrano said.

“My gut reaction is that I’m disappointed,” Cahn said in a text message. “Anyone doing this has some element of adversarial competition to them. Right? There’s a winner and there’s a loser. That’s unavoidable. So, my reaction to being a loser is, ‘It feels crappy!’ As far as staying involved? My first priority was to improve Norwalk and I still am serious about that. So, I’m not just going quietly into the night. I connected with some amazing, dynamic people that I didn’t even know 6 months ago. It would be a shame to let that potential die untapped.”

He had good words for one of the District A winners, Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez.

Republican Common Council candidate James Cahn and Democratic incumbent Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez watch a League of Women Voters debate on Oct. 21.
Republican Common Council candidate James Cahn and Democratic incumbent Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez watch a League of Women Voters debate on Oct. 21.

“I’d add that, strictly speaking as the feminist father to a daughter, I’m happy with Eloisa Melendez’ victory and that’s not just political posturing,” Cahn wrote. “The fact that she’s a needed role model for our girls and young women is undeniable. That said, and with all good humor, I wouldn’t have minded if she ran in a different district. Maybe she’ll move. I hear District D is nice, Eloisa…”

Hempstead, whose service on the Council goes back more than 20 years, downplayed being one of four Republicans.

“I’ve been one of two” in the past, he said, amused.

“The four people I have been elected with on the Republican side are all native Norwalkers, so they know Norwalk very well,” he said, calling it a “good mix” and citing the age disparities.

“I would hope that after the last two years or four years of some of the individuals on the Democratic side, that they realize we are just about trying to get the business of the city done and trying to make Norwalk a better place,” Hempstead said. “It’s not about the D or R line. I hope we will work together and respect each other, which I feel is very important.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Bonenfant said. “I know all the councilmen. If I don’t know them that well I’ll get to know them. We work with anybody. Hopefully everybody has the best interests of Norwalk in mind and we’ll take it from there. …. Whatever knowledge I have I’ll be glad to contribute and help anybody else learn about the projects that we are in the middle of and the philosophies and the rules that you have to do by, you know, all the things you have to do.”

“I am sorry to see some that lost but there’s some new, exciting people on there. It’s going to be alright,” Republican Town Clerk Rick McQuaid said.

McQuaid was endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans. This might be a telling fact: McQuaid got 7,062 votes on the Democratic line and 5,158 votes on the Republican line, according to a tally made Tuesday by Democrats.

“Joe Perella ran a great race,” McQuaid said. “This is the process. I have been on both sides of the coin. I am excited for Doug getting back, and Michelle and Shannon, and Rich Bonenfant. I mean, they worked hard. I don’t know, I think some people need to learn how to run in elections. You’ve got to focus on different things and it is what it is.”

Straniti “stood up,” McQuaid said.

“She went through a lot of people and a lot of people now know who Kelly Straniti is,” McQuaid said. “I hope she stays in it and hopefully maybe her and the mayor can sit down, maybe there’s something for Kelly along the way. Who knows, but this is it.”

Now, about the future.

“I have already announced back in September to the Party that, because my life is taking a different turn, I will not be running for the Party’s chairmanship again and I will be actively looking for someone to replace me,” Torrano said.

It really is a fulltime job, though, he said, explaining, “I don’t see a lot of people stepping forward.”

“That has been rumored,” Hempstead said. “I think when he took the chairmanship it was just for a limited amount of time, so I don’t think anybody thought he was going to stay beyond this term.”

He had no inside information, although a lot of people worked hard for “excellent candidate” Straniti, he said.

“Things are the way they are, they happen for a reason, so here we are,” Hempstead said. “I always told somebody it’s way more fun to win than to lose. That’s a given. But at the same token you hope the leadership that is going to take over on the Democratic side, all the chairmanships and all of that, are respectful and … I hope everyone can say what they are saying and make sure everybody’s opinion counts.”

“Hopefully whoever takes it on after me will understand that and be able to stand behind it because we do have a very good party,” Torrano said. “I expect a major boost in the next election, so I wish them the best of luck whoever it may be and I support whoever it is.”

Yes, he meant the state election, he said.

“Sen. Duff will be targeted by the Connecticut Republican Party because of his destructive votes that have hurt Norwalk and the state, and supported the Malloy administration to the detriment of those that can’t afford to be hurt, the poorest people in the state,” Torrano said.

Rilling has been talking of late about Connecticut’s “antiquated” property tax structure.

“When you drive businesses out of the state of Connecticut, you have no option but to rely on property taxes and that is something that has been propagated by the Democrats and not by the Republicans,” Torrano said.

One voter said Tuesday she voted straight Democrat because she is disgusted by Republicans on the national level.

“I think that the local Republican Party have been hurt by the national level,” Torrano said. “People see us as ‘anti-this’ and ‘anti-that,’ when in fact we are not. Every town committee has its own views on things. We have a very large group of people who have different views on all kinds of different things, but we come together in unity when it comes to fiscal responsibility and love of country, love of city and love of state.”


5 responses to “Norwalk Republicans look on the bright side”

  1. Bruce Kimmel

    A small correction: While I agree Jerry Petrini would have probably won if he had run for re-election in District D, that would not have changed the composition of the new Council, as the story suggests. It would have meant Shannon O’Toole-Giandurco, another Republican, would have lost.

  2. Mike Mushak

    Congratulations to both the winners and losers on both sides of the aisle who stepped up to the plate with the passion and dedication to make Norwalk better.

    A certain District E Councilman made it a lot harder for many folks to vote Republican this time, by spoiling this election and the past 4 years with so many dirty tricks and nasty politics. Folks do not like bullies who take all the credit for everything that happens, stepping on friends and foes alike on their rise to power. Just ask Fred Wilms and Karen Lyons about how they feel about that.

    That is why Marco Rubio will never be president, as he threw so many under the bus making many enemies out of former allies along the way, rejecting those who once helped him rise quickly, a fact which will reveal itself with more scrutiny as he rises in the polls.

    As far as the national GOP is concerned, I can never support a party both locally and on a state and national level that has a majority of members, yes, over 50%, who want to establish Christianity as a national religion, who still believe Obama is a Muslim, and who don’t believe in evolution or climate change science; that still has a major plank in their platform even in 2015 to support a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality; opposes sensible gun control (as they are completely controlled by the gun industry and the NRA); opposes Planned Parenthood that saves thousands of women’s lives every year with cancer screenings; opposes much needed immigration reform; opposes maintaining clean air and water regulations that have save millions of lives and improved the quality of our air and our own Long Island Sound; opposes equal pay for women and minimum wage laws; opposes healthcare reform; opposes a strong social safety net (that ironically benefits red states and poor white folks with temporary bad luck even more than the widespread misconception that it is just for minorities in blue states), while at the same time supporting tax cuts for the wealthy who don’t need them to pay for the cuts in the safety nets; opposes the Voting Rights Act by instituting voting restrictions that disproportionately affect women, minorities, and students even though they cant produce any evidence of voter fraud, all because they cant win elections fairly anymore in a rapidly changing country; and opposes consumer protections in favor of corporations. The list goes on but the choice is so clear to me.

    Don’t even get me started on the bizarre hypocrisy of so-called “pro-life” folks being for the death penalty, a popular position of many Republicans, or the fact that the economy has always expanded under Democratic presidents and built up unsustainable debt under GOP presidents, proving their “voodoo” supply-side economic theories simply do not work.

    I just look at my local Republican friends with a perplexed awe that they be in such denial over their own party’s positions supporting failed economic theories that always favor the wealthiest 1% over the rest of us 99%, and their party’s positions against basic science, human equality, religious freedom, and social justice, all while pretending that their support of their party does not support all of that backwards and ignorant nonsense. “Oh, thats not me!” they declare. My response: “Then why even belong to the club that supports all of that?”

    All that said, I can still manage to find some humor in all of it, and I will share a favorite old joke amongst us gay folks referring to when the GOP used fear of gays to win elections (and still do, by the way):

    “I don’t hate Republicans at all, I just don’t want them ever teaching my children!”

  3. sofaman

    Torrano said. “People see us as ‘anti-this’ and ‘anti-that,’ when in fact we are not.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The environment, health care, individual equality, equal pay, women’s rights, blocking financial reform, I can’t think of a major policy that the Republicans have been on the right side of.

    How anyone can say they are not “anti” when their spoken-out-loud policy has been to always object to and block any policy put forward by the other side of the aisle. I’m quite familiar with the concept of the good old “loyal opposition” but the Party of NO has worked hard to earn their 14% approval rating in the congress.

    On a more positive note, Straniti should be congratulated for running such a good campaign. She has a great record of involvement with the city, has proven she can build a business here in Norwalk, and seems to have genuine concerned with the average town citizen. She has a bright political future ahead of her, if she can manage to ignore the advise of the old republican guard.

  4. non-native Norwalker

    “The four people I have been elected with on the Republican side are all native Norwalkers, so they know Norwalk very well,” he said, calling it a “good mix” and citing the age disparities.

    Just wondering how long one needs to live in Norwalk before passing into the “knowing Norwalk very well” category.

    Also wondering if there might be other attributes or credentials more relevant to governing the 6th largest city in Conecticut than place of birth.

  5. Michael DePalma

    I met Kelly standing at Ponus on Election Day, and I was extremely impressed by her both as a candidate and as a person. She was very engaging with the voters as they walked in, and had detailed, thoughtful answers to their questions. Most towns in Connecticut would love to have one strong candidate; Norwalk was fortunate enough to have two. I agree with Mr. McQuaid in hoping Kelly stays involved. She’s an asset to Norwalk and to District D.

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