By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Some new faces will be among many Connecticut cities’ top leadership spots, including New Haven and Stamford.
Democratic state Sen. Toni Harp on Tuesday became the first woman elected mayor of New Haven, defeating Alderman Justin Elicker, a Democrat who petitioned his way onto the ballot. She replaces retiring 20-year veteran Mayor John DeStefano, the longest serving chief executive in the city’s history.
And in Stamford, management consultant David Martin returned the mayor’s office to Democratic hands, defeating former Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele. Martin fills the job being vacated by Republican Michael Pavia, who decided not to seek a second term.
There was an upset in Norwich, where Democrat Deb Hinchey defeated incumbent Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom, a former state representative.
“Democrats under the leadership of Governor (Dannel) Malloy are moving Connecticut in the right direction,” said Nancy DiNardo, the state Democratic chairwoman. Malloy campaigned throughout the day with Democratic candidates, appearing with Harp for her victory speech.
While Democrats hailed the evening as a major success, citing other upsets in Derby and Norwalk, Republicans, who have held the majority of top local election offices in Connecticut, were thrilled with their results as well.
“It’s a huge night for our party. You can’t overstate it. Across the state tonight, we’ve witnessed sweeping victories for Republican candidates in Democrat strongholds like New Britain, Bristol, Branford,” said state GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr., adding how it marks “a momentous start in the race to defeat Dan Malloy and take back our state.”
Labriola was particularly pleased with the victory of 26-year-old Erin Stewart, the Republican candidate for mayor in New Britain. Stewart is the daughter of former Mayor Timothy Stewart. She was only 15 when her father was elected to his first term.
“A star is born,” Labriola said of the younger Stewart.
Erin Stewart attributed her victory over former Democratic state Rep. Timothy O’Brien to running a “true grassroots campaign” and knocking on doors and making phone calls in neighborhoods where Republicans traditionally aren’t successful.
“I think the message that I brought to the table, bringing bipartisanship to the city,” she said, when asked about the key to her success.
In Danbury, Republican Mayor Mark Boughton cruised to an easy victory with 70.5 percent of the vote. He now must decide whether to run for governor in 2014. He has formed an exploratory committee. And Republican Joseph Maturo Jr. won re-election as mayor of East Haven, a community still dealing with the effects of a police bias scandal.
Democratic Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary easily won a second term in office, while Democratic Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson garnered a third term.
Elsewhere in the state, some top elected offices were uncontested. The chief officials in Franklin, Plainfield, Salem and Woodstock _ all eastern Connecticut towns _ had no challengers, for example.
“There seem to be fewer contested races this year,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said. “I think it’s because of the hard economic times. There are fewer people who want to run for these positions, honestly. In bad times, you’re cutting budgets at the local level. It’s really not that much fun.”
Voter turnout was relatively low throughout the day. Merrill predicted the statewide turnout would be about 30 percent of registered voters.
She was pleased, however, that people across the state took advantage of a new state law that allowed them to register to vote on Election Day. At least 200 people in New Haven did so.
“It seems, across the board, almost every town, at least one person came in to register,” she said, adding that it looked like young people took advantage of the new law.
The new rule allows any U.S. citizen living in Connecticut who is 18 years or older and who is not already a registered voter to visit their local registrar of voters office on Election Day. Once there, they must provide proper identifying documents, register to vote and then cast a ballot at their city or town hall. If someone is already registered in another community, the registrar can call the other jurisdiction and have that voter removed from the other community’s voter list, Merrill said.
“It’s good that we have this year to get the process down,” said Merrill, adding that the option will also be available for voters in the 2014 election.
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