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.
“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.”