GROTON — Portia Bordelon, a town councilor who petitioned for a spot on the Democratic primary ballot after she was not nominated for the slate by her party, was the top vote-getter in the primary Tuesday night.
“The community spoke tonight, not the Democratic committee. One of the things I ran on is to be the voice of the community and the constituents at large, and they spoke tonight,” said Bordelon, by phone Tuesday night.
While Bordelon came in first, incumbent Town Councilor Conrad Heede, chair of the Democratic Town Committee, earned the lowest number of votes and lost his place on the November ballot.
Joining her on the slate will be incumbents Aundré Bumgardner, Rachael Franco, Juan Melendez, and Juliette Parker, along with newcomers Melinda Cassiere, Edward Jacome, Bruce Jones and David McBride.
Bordelon, who has been a town councilor since 2019, has been criticized for withdrawing her support from the Mystic Oral School project during a Town Council meeting in May after town attorney Eric Callahan advised the councilors not to respond to public comments about the project. On Tuesday night, she said she saw her other strengths, rather than her opposition to the Oral School project, as driving her victory in the primary.
“It’s my transparency, my advocacy, my honesty, my availability, my willingness to speak up and not tow party line, and speak up against what I feel is right. I look at all different demographics, all different districts — district representation, that’s what spoke tonight,” she said.
Aundré Bumgardner, an incumbent Town Councilor, who earned the second-highest number of votes, said he was heartened by the direction of the party, especially after his disappointing loss in the Groton City mayoral election in May.
“I think it goes to show that the Democratic Party within the city and the rest of the town is yearning for bold progressive leadership in our community, and I think, obviously, Councilor Bordelon’s win is a testament to that,” he said.
He said he was the only member of the Row A team to “openly and fully endorse Councilor Bordelon’s reelection bid.”
“Councilor Bordelon has been just, again, an individual who will not conform to anyone in terms of the work she does on the Council. The voters spoke loud and clear that the Democratic Town Committee does not control the community electoral process — the people do,” he said.
Bumgardner said an unexpected “silver lining” of the Democratic ticket was that five of the nine candidates are minorities.
“That’s never happened before with the Democratic Party. That’s never happened before in the history of Groton. I think that this goes to show our Democratic Party’s incredibly diverse here in Groton,” he said. “We really need to heed their advice and direction in the months ahead because at the end of the day, we need to come together as a party and put our best foot forward to the voters this November.”
In a statement, Natalie Billing, vice chair of the Groton Democratic Town Committee, said that the primary showed that the party is “alive and well and thriving.”
“For the first time in my 30 years of involvement, we have more candidates for Town Council than we could run. That’s a first to be proud of. It’s the result of decades of long, hard work, growing and building the party by actively seeking greater diversity, appealing to youth and welcoming new members from all sections of town with diverse opinions,” she said in a statement.
She said that primaries are difficult because they cause divisions, which are damaging.
“The committee was united behind nine candidates and was divided over one. The Democratic voters told us to include the one. So, we will regroup, begin the slow process of healing the divisions and refocus our efforts on winning the Town Council Board of Education and RTM in November.”
She said all of the Row A candidates and Bordelon demonstrated dedication and determination by knocking on thousands of doors and meeting voters, and by volunteering their energy, passion and time to serve the community.
“Because there are real and serious differences between the Democrats and Republicans on COVID response, climate change, the environment, sustainability and resilience, quality education and services for families and children, seniors, the Human Services, we hope Democratic voters will unite behind our candidates on these critical issues in November.”
In a statement, Heede offered his congratulations to the nine Democratic Council candidates “who will go on to win the election in November.”
“I feel like I’ve helped accomplish a lot to help make Groton a better place for all of us and look forward to having my Tuesday nights off!” he said.
Bordelon said the fall campaign represented an important time for the Democratic Town Committee to consider its direction and values.
“The Democratic committee needs to look, and reach inside themselves and make sure that we are connected to the community and representing the Democrats, and their beliefs and their wishes. It’s an opportunity right now to reflect and reorient our beliefs as a Democratic Party and figure out ways to come together as a whole,” she said.
Bordelon thanked her husband, Ian Thomas, and her two sons, 15 and 18, whom she said have supported her throughout her political career. She said she was proud that her 18-year-old son had voted for the first time in the primary.
“If you have a little bit of faith and belief and you operate with genuine intent, anything is possible,” she said.
The unofficial vote counts of the primary were:
Portia Bordelon: 970
Aundré Bumgardner: 773
Melinda Cassiere: 763
Juan Melendez: 757
Juliette Parker: 739
Rachael Franco: 684
Bruce Jones: 673
Edward Jacome: 670
David McBride: 666
Conrad Heede: 607