Democratic Party leader declines recount in Stamford primary loss
Updated 6:30 pm, Wednesday, October 4, 2017
STAMFORD — Democratic Majority Leader Elaine Mitchell will not ask for a recount in the District 2 primary — the second in less than a month — that she lost Tuesday by eight votes.
Town Clerk Donna Loglisci said Mitchell Wednesday waived her right to a recount, which is automatic when vote tallies are that close.
Mitchell did go ahead with a recount of the original Sept. 12 primary, which she lost by one vote. The recount determined Mitchell and her opponent, political newcomer Ines Saftic, were locked in a tie, which spurred Tuesday’s repeat primary.
Saftic is a member of a Democratic coalition called Reform Stamford that is challenging the party establishment, including Mitchell, a 31-year Board of Representatives incumbent.
All five Reform Stamford candidates who faced primaries upset board incumbents. Three other reform candidates were not challenged in a primary and are running in the Nov. 7 election.
Membership in Reform Stamford may be growing, said Nina Sherwood, a leader of the coalition who won last month’s primary in District 8.
“We are a group of eight Democrats, so far, who see a fundamental problem with the way city government works. It’s too influenced by special interests; it’s not working for the people,” Sherwood said. “The people of Stamford are seeing that message and believing it because they are coming out to vote for us.”
Saftic said she and her supporters knocked on many doors in District 2, which includes Waterside and part of the West Side.
“We did not see Mitchell’s people out there when we were out there the first time,” Saftic said. “We were thinking, ‘What is their strategy?’ Maybe they were making phone calls more than knocking on doors.”
A message left with Mitchell Wednesday requesting comment was not returned.
Campaigning for the second primary “was tough,” Saftic said. “Both teams worked harder and more people came out to vote.”
Democratic Registrar of Voters Ron Malloy said 287 voters came out for last month’s District 2 primary, and 360 on Tuesday, a 25 percent increase.
“People told us about their concerns about traffic, taxes, bad streets. They want to be heard,” Saftic said. “People want a better grasp of what is being decided for their neighborhood and how they can have input.”
She said her party was behind Mitchell.
“Mayor (David) Martin was at the polling place with Elaine Mitchell but he did not come over to say hello to us,” Saftic said. “I don’t know why he didn’t. He did during the first primary, but not this time.”
Messages left Wednesday with Martin’s assistant requesting comment were not returned.
“From what I’ve been told, a lot of the established Democrats were making calls on Mitchell’s behalf,” Sherwood said. “We think even some established Republicans were working for her. But it wasn’t enough. I think it’s proof that established individuals in both parties are working together toward the same agenda, and that agenda is in many ways not serving the people of Stamford.”
This year’s election will shake up the Board of Representatives, Stamford’s ruling body. Mitchell is out along with Democratic Board President Randall Skigen of District 19, a 22-year incumbent who decided not to run. The same is true for a prominent Republican, Harry Day of District 13, on the board for 18 years. In District 8, Democrat Eileen Heaphy, with 12 years on the board, was defeated by Sherwood and another reform candidate, Anabel Figueroa.
“It’s the message that the people have an option between the status quo and something new,” Sherwood said. “We are told we are making enemies among the establishment, but we are not doing what is best for us politically. We are not career politicians. We are working-class people who are struggling to live in this city and want to make it better. We have to do what’s best for the people.”
That message drew Democratic newcomer Chris Woodside into the Reform Stamford coalition.
“They have been working on issues I care about,” said Woodside, who is from District 18. “They are standing up against tax breaks for big developers, which lead to more traffic, parking congestion and other quality-of-life problems. When developers and corporations get tax breaks, our taxes go up.”
Members of his family have lived in Stamford since the 1920s, Woodside said, “but my parents won’t be able to retire here because they won’t be able to afford it. I think the city’s policies toward development are hurting families.”
It helped him decide to join the Reform Stamford coalition shortly before last month’s primary, Woodside said.
“I thought, ‘If I go to the Board of Representatives, would I work with the established party, which sides with itself, or with a group that stands up for the needs of residents?’” Woodside said. “I think Reform Stamford has the right message.”