When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman entered the Emporium restaurant here last night the already jubilant crowd, high on preliminary election returns showing mayoral Democratic candidate Dan Drew with a comfortable lead, went wild.
They punctuated Malloy’s congratulatory victory speech with cheers and applause. Every one of the nearly 200 party loyalists gathered in the room were on their feet during the speech.
Malloy’s appearance on Drew’s behalf was testament to just how important state Democrats had viewed the Middletown’s mayoral race. It was one of several key battleground cities for the state’s Democratic party, part of an overall effort by the party machinery to win back traditionally Democratic cities that had, in recent years, voted in Republican mayors.
Democrats, who won back control of the governorship last year after about 20 years in abstentia, and who have long controlled the state legislature, decided to bring their power to bear on local races this municipal election season.
Middletown was a key race because Mayor Sebastian Giuliano was an entrenched Republican who was showing signs of weakness.
“Middletown was very important because of the contrast between the Democratic candidate and the Republican mayor,” said Nancy DiNardo, the state’s Democratic chairwoman. Giuliano, she said, “ran the city like it was his own little boy’s club. People were concerned about the direction the city was going in. Then you had a young man who ran two years ago and he came within 400 votes.”
The attention Malloy, himself a former city mayor, and other state Democrats paid Middletown helped cinch Drew’s election, said Elizabeth Santangelo, Middletown’s Democratic chairwoman.
Typically, state party leaders don’t directly throw their resources into cities and towns during municipal elections, but this year was different, Santangelo said.
“Malloy was willing to come and help candidates. Having the resources of state central was tremendously important for us.” Malloy weeks ago came to Middletown to endorse Drew.
The state party also helped organize the campaigns in other key cities where it wanted to take back or keep the top elected job and was successful in getting Democrats elected mayor in New Britain, Bristol, Waterbury, Hartford and East Hartford, along with Middletown.
Giuliano also appeared vulnerable to state Democrats, DiNardo said, because in the past year or so, he has become mired in local political discord, largely with school officials, even going to court over labor disagreements with the Board of Education and its superintendent. And about a month ago he demoted his acting police chief after allegations came to light that the chief drank alcohol in a local restaurant while carrying his gun and badge.
Local Republicans clearly were aware that Middletown was in the sights of state Democrats. They brought in a heavy-hitter to run Giuliano’s campaign, former state Republican Chairman Chris Healy. Under his leadership the campaign hammered away at Drew, accusing him of taking “dirty” campaign money and even unearthing an old news video in which Drew, then a college student and editor of his school’s newspaper, defended the first amendment rights of a student group accused of producing a television program that demeaned women.
Having a Democrat leading the city will help the community grow since Democrats also control top state offices, local and state party leaders said.
“Their goals will be consistent, and that’s important in this economy,” Santangelo said.
Malloy also hit on that theme during his speech Tuesday night.
“It’s nice to take your town back once in a while,” Malloy said, later adding, “We believe that the tide is coming in for this great community.”