Big Win for Simmons Democrats in Stamford Party Elections


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STAMFORD – Establishment Democrats swept Tuesday’s races for seats on the Democratic City Committee in what is seen as a win for Mayor Caroline Simmons. Local party officials oversee the endorsement of candidates, including the mayor, who is up for reelection next year. 

Numbers from the registrar’s office show that 5,393 of Stamford’s 26,830 registered Democrats voted Tuesday. The turnout, at 20 percent, was about twice the number for a usual DCC election.

The Simmons faction, Democrats United for Stamford, won 29 of the 34 seats that went before voters in the DCC election, held in March every two years. Since Democrats are dominant in Stamford, the party faction that controls the DCC most likely chooses the candidates who run, and then are elected, to govern.

Seats in three DCC districts were uncontested, and all six went to Democrats United, giving Simmons supporters 35 of the 40 DCC seats.

Lauren Meyer, special assistant to the mayor, Wednesday issued a statement from Simmons reading, “I am grateful to all the committed candidates who stepped up to run and serve our community and be engaged in the democratic process. I also want to thank all the voters who came out to vote in this important election. The results showed that our city is on the right track, and I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of all Stamford residents for progress in our community and to create a more equitable, inclusive, affordable, and vibrant city where everyone can thrive.”

Nina Sherwood, leader of the opposing faction, Stamford Dems for Responsive Government, said on Wednesday the election boiled down to the $$88,886 raised by the Simmons Democrats, and malicious politics. 

“Big money, and a willingness to run negative campaigns, is how they won,” said Sherwood, who serves as majority leader for the city’s Board of Representatives. “They engaged in name calling on social media, in op-eds, in newspapers, and they made phone calls. It was a part of their campaign. We didn’t attack our neighbors, and we couldn’t compete with their money.”

Simmons supporters took in nearly triple the $30,535 raised by Sherwood’s faction — fundraising on a scale that is unusual for a local party election, which typically draws little interest from voters or contributors.

Campaign filings show that 52 percent of the establishment Democrats’ war chest as of the end of February came from 16 contributors, including residents of New York, Florida, Chevy Chase, Md., Westport, and Greenwich.

Sherwood charged that the outside money is an indication of goals beyond the interests of the people of Stamford. 

“They are selecting the candidates and telling the people who they should support, and what the issues are. They do not want the issues or the candidates to come from the ground up. They want that to come from party leadership, down,” Sherwood said. “I knocked on a lot of doors in this city, and people are not happy. But the small number who voted in this election have decided how this city will go for years to come.”

Marc Moorash, treasurer of Stamford Dems for Responsive Government, said Democrats United for Stamford know that the local party committee is where to attack their opposition.

“They clearly tried to take us out, and they took us out at the roots,” Moorash said. “It’s the most effective way. They had a lot of money and ran a campaign of fear. And that works.”

Moorash also pointed to the large number of unaffiliated voters — about 40 percent in Stamford — who cannot vote in primaries.

“A lot of unaffiliated voters used to be Democrats. They could have turned this in a different direction,” Moorash said. “Those people have been alienated by the Democratic Party. They have thrown up their hands and said, ‘Why bother?’”

Tuesday’s election was also the first time the registrar’s office had used Voter Checklist, software that allows live access to what’s going on at polling places. Voter Checklist provides voter names by polling place; hourly updates of whether they’ve voted; the vote tally by hour for each polling place; and other information.

It allows campaigns to search for the names of known supporters as the election is going on, see whether they’ve voted and, if not, call, text, email or pay a visit to get them to the polls.

“We found out on Friday, four days before the election, that they were implementing this real-time poll data system,” Moorash said. “Knowing Friday is too late. If we had known earlier, we would have spent our limited money differently. We would have had people checking the system and making calls. If you have tens of thousands of dollars on hand, like the other slate had, you can react to that over the course of a weekend. But me knowing on Friday was not a benefit.”

Democratic Deputy Registrar of Voters Monica Di Costanzo said Wednesday that the registrars began training poll workers on the program on Feb. 3, and she emailed letters to all candidates telling them about the program, along with reminders.

Meyer said the registrars’ office purchased the program on Jan. 4. The cost was $11,000, said the Republican registrar, Lucy Corelli. The program saves time and money and improves the efficiency of running an election, Corelli said.

Di Costanzo said the technology was new for the office and it took time to get things up to speed before Tuesday, which was to be a test run for subsequent elections.

“We would have loved to have gotten everybody advance notice,” Di Costanzo said. “But our main focus was getting [poll workers] up to speed.”

People knew about the program when “word got out because people who were trained were talking about it,” she said.

Di Costanzo stressed that the registrars’ office operated out of fairness.

“Everyone was told at the same time. There was no favoritism, no separate email to the DCC chair or the committee or the board. There was no conversation with anybody prior to it happening,” she said. “The DCC chair found out we were launching this last week, like everyone else.”

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.