Local Stamford Party Races Attract Out-of-Town Attention and Money

Recent campaign mailers in Stamford for the DCC races (CT Examiner)


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STAMFORD – On Feb. 9, Mayor Caroline Simmons emailed her supporters urging them to contribute to the campaigns of a slate of preferred candidates running Tuesday for seats on the divided Democratic City Committee.

In the email, titled, “Urgent Stamford election – need your support!” Simmons wrote, “Contribution amounts are unlimited … and any amount is greatly appreciated!”

Her message hit its marks. 

Campaign finance filings show that, as of Feb. 25, the Simmons faction of the DCC raised $88,886, a large amount for an election that, historically, attracts few Stamford voters. Many don’t even know about party elections, which take place in March every other year.

But Simmons’ preferred slate of candidates has attracted the support of out-of-town donors, among its biggest contributors, even though the Democratic City Committee is limited to running Stamford’s Democratic Party.

The 40-member committee nominates Democrats to run for office. And because the party dominates local politics, candidates who win the DCC endorsement usually end up in the mayor’s office, with seats on the city’s governing bodies, and among Stamford’s state delegation to Hartford.

But this year, Simmons’ establishment faction, calling itself Democrats United for Stamford, is trying to fend off a challenge from a rival faction calling itself Stamford Dems for Responsive Government, whose members say they are squelched if they don’t toe the party line.

Already, the challengers outnumber establishment Democrats on the Board of Representatives, Stamford’s legislative body. 

Whoever wins a seat in Tuesday’s election will help choose the nominee for mayor and other crucial city seats in 2025, so the stakes are high.

Out-of-city money

Campaign filings show that some of the most generous of the 152 contributors to the DCC’s establishment faction, Democrats United for Stamford, are from New York, Florida, Chevy Chase, Md., Westport and Greenwich, which is Simmons’ hometown.

Among the 30 contributors who gave $1,000 or more to Democrats United for Stamford, 16 together gave $46,500, or 52 percent of the total contributions.

The top contributor was David McDonough of New York, an executive with Yahoo Finance who gave $10,000, campaign filings show.

That faction of the DCC received $5,000 each from Alfonso Costa of Boca Raton, Fla., an executive with real estate firm Magna Associates; Erica Hess of New York City, who listed her occupation as homemaker; Michael Steed of Chevy Chase, Md., an investor with Paladin Capital Group; James Grunberger of Stamford, head of Bull’s Head Realty and a member of the Stamford Board of Representatives; and Caroline Simmons’ brother, Clifford Simmons of New York, CEO of Tiger Tracks.

The mayor’s other brother, Nicholas Simmons, contributed $3,500 to Democrats United for Stamford, campaign filings show. Nicholas Simmons listed his occupation as unemployed. Until recently he was deputy chief of staff to Gov. Ned Lamont. Nicholas Simmons has announced that he is running for the state Senate in District 36, which includes Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan. City property records show he bought a house in Stamford about 10 months ago. 

The next-largest contributor was Caroline Simmons’ father, Steven Simmons of Greenwich, a cable entrepreneur and head of Patriot Media Communications. Steve Simmons contributed $3,000, according to campaign filings.

Lamont, a cable entrepreneur from Greenwich like Steve Simmons, is a close family friend.

‘Networks’ of contributors

After Steve Simmons, the next-highest contributions were $2,500 from Garrett Moran, a retiree from Greenwich; $2,000 from Peter Sachs, a retiree from North Stamford; $2,000 from Tom Rogers, executive chairman of Oorbit Gaming & Entertainment, who gave a New York address; and $2,000 from Jann Wenner, who listed his occupation as self-employed and gave a New York address matching that of the founder of Rolling Stone magazine.

Among those who contributed $1,000 to the city’s establishment Democrats are Stew Leonard of Westport, CEO of Stew Leonard’s grocery stores; Gabriel Stacy of Albany, N.Y., CEO of Acture Solutions; Martin Bernstein of Stamford, an investor with Amberhill Capital; Stephen Hoffman of Greenwich, an executive with Hoffman Investment Partners; attorney David Golub of Stamford, a longtime Democratic operative; Bill Hennessey of Stamford, a land-use attorney with Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey; and Scott Conley of Stamford, a land-use attorney with Redniss & Mead.

Michael Hyman, deputy treasurer of the DCC, a member of the Board of Education, and campaign chair of Democrats United for Stamford, said Thursday the group’s campaign donations “came from the candidates, their families, friends, supporters, and their personal and professional networks.”

“Some of these people reside outside our city,” Hyman said.

Money raised was spent on mailers created by GDA Wins of Washington, D.C., $17,465; lawn signs created by Alphagrahics of Stamford, $9,155; postcards and palm cards used during campaigning, created by Alphagraphics, $3,772; mailers created by Midstate Printing of Stamford, $1,923; and more, the filings show.

A lot of stamps

The opposing faction, Stamford Dems for Responsive Government, has had a tougher time getting its word out.

The total raised by that faction’s 128 contributors was about a third of the establishment total.

Stamford Dems for Responsive Government raised $30,535 as of Feb. 26, campaign finance reports show.

Top contributions include $5,000 from Stamford attorney and Board of Education member Joshua Esses. The next-largest contribution, $3,600, came from Megan Cottrell, a teacher and member of the Board of Representatives. That is followed by $3,000 from Stamford attorney Steve Loeb.

Marc Moorash of Brookfield, Conn., treasurer of Stamford Dems for Responsive Government, contributed $2,225. Donald Cole of Stamford, a DCC candidate from District 18, gave $1,500; and Stamford author Sven Erlandson contributed $1,200.

The eight contributors of $1,000 or more gave a total of $18,300. The two top donors from out of town gave a total of $3,225.

Nina Sherwood, majority leader of the Board of Representatives and leader of Stamford Dems for Responsive Government, said her grassroots effort cannot compete with the fundraising power of the powerful and connected.

“What you have in Stamford is campaigns financed by huge special interests from all over the country. They’re doing it as favors. They are powerful people with global connections – they don’t have the interests of Stamford at heart,” Sherwood said Thursday. “They’re going up against small donors from Stamford who would like to have a bigger say about what’s happening in their city.”

Democrats United for Stamford have mailed several large full-color postcards and planted lawn signs, while Stamford Dems for Responsive Government sent one 6×9 mailer and hand-addressed letters to voters, Sherwood said. 

“Most of our money is spent on stamps,” she said.

The group is trying to get out a second mailer before Tuesday but it will depend on the post office.

“We just raised the money for them, so we’re late,” Sherwood said. “We had to put our own first-class stamps on them. We stamped 16,000 mailers Wednesday night; now we’re hoping they get there in time.”

Campaign finance filings show Stamford United for Democrats spent $35,954 as of Feb. 25, and still had $52,931 on hand.

Stamford Dems for Responsive Government spent $17,320 and had $13,214 on hand as of Feb. 26, filings show.

Lauren Meyer, special assistant to the mayor, referred questions to Hyman.

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.