By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut Democrats proclaimed victory in Tuesday’s municipal elections, capturing the top seats in Waterbury, Middletown, New Britain and New London and retaining control of the state’s largest cities.
“This just shows folks are frustrated with politicians not fighting for them and putting themselves first,” said Eric Hyers, the executive director of the state Democratic Party. He said he also believes that how incumbent Democratic leaders handled the aftermath of the recent snow storm resonated with voters, and suggested the victories were an endorsement of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s policies.
But state Republicans still hold the majority of municipal leadership posts in Connecticut and also picked up some wins, said GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola. He maintains the party is ready to take on Democrats in the 2012 election.
“I believe right now, everything in Connecticut is in play, from president all the way down to state representative and we are absolutely well-positioned to turn things around here in Connecticut,” Labriola said.
Tuesday’s results, however, were a marked contrast to the 2009 municipal elections, when the GOP picked up or held onto seats in Democratic-heavy cities and towns such as Norwich, New Britain and Middletown.
Officials statewide reported that the elections ran smoothly a little more than a week after the freak autumn snow storm wreaked havoc in the state, causing widespread damage and lingering power outages that forced them to move some polling places. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said voter turnout would likely end up being about the same as normal municipal election, about 20 to 30 percent of registered voters casting their ballots.
“We have had very few problems of any kind, so that’s wonderful news,” said Merrill, who admitted she was surprised the turnout was not worse, given the days of power outages and challenges facing voters.
“People wanted to get out of the house,” she said. “They’ve probably been holed up for days.”
Some of Tuesday’s races attracted a lot of attention _ and voters.
In Waterbury, Democratic former police chief Neil O’Leary beat five-term incumbent Mayor Michael Jarjura, who was running as a Republican after the Democratic party rejected him and backed O’Leary instead. Independent candidate Larry DePillo was also in the race.
“I think the voters in Waterbury were ready for change, I just think that the city has been suffering a little bit economically and people were looking for a different vision,” O’Leary told The Associated Press after he won.
In Middletown, Democrat Dan Drew beat incumbent Republican Mayor Sebastian Giuliano by about 600 votes, according to unofficial results. Malloy went to Middletown to personally congratulate Drew, and he and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman also traveled to Waterbury to congratulate O’Leary.
A recount was scheduled for Saturday in East Haven, where early results showed Democratic Mayor April Capone trailing Republican Joe Maturo. Four years ago, Capone was in the similar situation, but was ahead before the recount and ultimately won.
“It looks like we’re a little bit down,” she said.
In Bridgeport, freshman Democratic Mayor Bill Finch won a second term by beating Republican businessman Rick Torres and independent Jeff Kohut. Finch said he believes the voters had validated his administration’s vision for the city. Meanwhile, Democratic New Haven Mayor John DeStefano beat independent newcomer Jeffrey Kerekes, winning a 10th term and making him the longest-serving mayor in city history. The race was relatively close, with DeStefano winning 55 percent of the vote.
“I’ve been here before, once or twice,” DeStefano said. “It’s like the first time all over again.”
In Hartford, Pedro Segarra, who took over as the capital city’s mayor after former Mayor Eddie Perez was convicted on corruption charges, won in a landslide. He had been endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans. He faced challenges from three petitioning candidates.
Segarra said he was proud that Hartford voters supported an openly gay, Hispanic candidate.
After a charter change in New London, Democrat Daryl Finizio became the city’s first elected mayor in decades. Republican Mayor Mark Boughton was re-elected in Danbury.
Elsewhere in the state, it appeared voting may not have been a priority for some who spent days without power. Voters in 164 cities and towns cast ballots for local candidates, including mayors and first selectmen.
“A lot of people aren’t showing up. I don’t think it’s a physical thing. Today is a beautiful day,” said Edward Leary, the Republican registrar of voters in Farmington. He said many voters in his hard-hit town have likely been paying more attention over the past 10 days to making sure their pipes didn’t freeze or that their children had a babysitter rather than who was running for local offices such as school board and first selectman.
As of 2:30 p.m., only 13 percent of registered voters in Farmington had cast ballots. Turnout for the town’s municipal elections is typically 30 to 35 percent, he said. The town still had about 300 homes without power. Statewide voter turnout for local elections is usually 20 to 30 percent.
In eight towns _ Avon, Farmington, Newington, Plymouth, Simsbury, South Windsor, Stafford and Vernon _ regular polling places had to be moved or consolidated because they had no power, were too heavily damaged or were being used as shelters.
Av Harris, a spokesman Merrill, said there had been no major problems as of early evening. He said frequent conference calls among state and local election officials in recent days likely helped the process.
Besides mayors and first selectmen, other local offices were up for grabs, such as school and zoning boards.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)