Republicans: City party needs ‘a coup’
STAMFORD — For city Republicans gathered at party headquarters on election night, the results were grim.
Their candidate in state Senate District 27, Gerald Bosak Jr., won half the number of votes as Democratic incumbent Carlo Leone.
In Senate District 36, which covers Greenwich — a GOP bastion — plus a sliver of Stamford, Republican incumbent Scott Frantz lost to a Greenwich newcomer, Democrat Alexandra Bergstein.
In state House of Representatives District 147, which is mostly Stamford and part of Darien, Stamford Republican Anzelmo Graziosi lost to another newcomer, Democrat Matt Blumenthal by 2,000 votes.
In races for House seats in districts 145, 146 and 148, Democrats bested Republicans by huge margins. Some of the Republicans were ballot placeholders who did little or no campaigning. In District 144, Republicans did not put up a challenger against Democratic incumbent Caroline Simmons.
In the only municipal races on the ballot — three seats on the Board of Education — Republican incumbents Mike Altamura and Frank Cerasoli would have lost if it had not been for the minority representation rule.
It mandates that no more than six of the nine school board members belong to the same political party, which meant that only one Democrat could be elected this year, and the two remaining open seats were for other parties.
But the Republicans got so few votes that one nearly was beaten by Green Party candidate Michael Schmidt, who ran at the last minute and did not campaign at all.
Altamura believes it’s because he and Cerasoli were listed as petitioning candidates, putting their names low on the ballot where voters may have missed them. It happened after party officials missed a filing deadline that would have gotten their names at the top of the ballot as Republicans.
“In the last election, I got 12,000 or 13,000 votes. Enough people turned out for this election to beat that, but I got only 5,000 votes,” Altamura said. “There was nobody to vote for on the Republican line.”
It’s indicative of the state of the Stamford GOP, said Jim Rubino, a longtime city Republican who has served on three elected boards.
“I’ve been through a lot of cycles in the Republican party, and what is needed now is a coup,” Rubino said. “We need a movement like the one in the Democratic party.”
Democratic candidates with a group called Reform Stamford ran last year hoping to fix what they called an “entrenched political system.” They won nearly a quarter of the seats on the Board of Representatives.
“No one is going to give you power. You have to take it, and you have to take it against the will of the people in power,” Rubino said. “Movements like that have emerged and caused the pendulum to swing the other way. I don’t see the pendulum swinging now without a coup.”
The party is led by the Republican Town Committee, which like its counterpart, the Democratic City Committee, decides who runs for public office in Stamford. But Republicans said all the RTC does is endorse candidates to get them on the party ticket. After that, candidates are on their own.
“There’s no organization to help us campaign,” Altamura said. “We need new membership — people who want to work hard. The old wood needs to be put in the fireplace and burned.”
RTC Chairman Fritz Blau said there was heavy turnout for registered Republicans on Tuesday. But Democrats voted Democratic, and the numbers do not favor Republicans.
According to the registrars’ office, there are about 28,600 registered Democrats and 26,200 unaffiliated voters. Trailing far behind both is the number of Republicans — 13,600.
There are other problems, Blau said.
“There’s the RTC and then there are groups of Republicans who do not work within the RTC. They only work toward their own fortunes,” Blau said. “They don’t join the RTC. It’s no different than it’s been for years.”
And not much different from Democrats, he said.
“They have factions that don’t like each other, but Democrats vote ‘D,’” Blau said. “Republicans don’t coalesce around the cause.”
Graziosi said the Stamford GOP “is fractured — people don’t trust each other,” but on his Stamford-Darien campaign trail, he ran into another problem.
“I met a lot of Trump haters, even in Darien, which is so Republican,” Graziosi said. “They would ask me, ‘You’re a Republican?’ I’d say, ‘yes’ and they didn’t want to hear any more. The acute problem now is Donald Trump; he’s caused quite a bit of trouble for the party.”
But party shouldn’t matter, he said. It should be about the candidates. Graziosi, who represents District 13 on the Stamford Board of Representatives, said he wants to start a discussion about eliminating party affiliation for candidates running for city office. That is the practice in a number of villages where he’s from on Long Island, and in Scarsdale, N.Y., and elsewhere.
“There are so many unaffiliated voters in Stamford, I think it’s a good idea,” Graziosi said. “If people would start looking only at candidates, they would find Democrats and Republicans who are pro-choice, who want sensible gun legislation and fiscal discipline.”
No party should dominate, he said.
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Graziosi said. “There is room for Republicans in Stamford. People can’t be 100 percent happy with the Democratic Party. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a Reform Stamford.”
Republican Board of Finance member Sal Gabriele said his party has a lot of work to do.
“We need to reach out to minority communities,” he said. “I have not seen that done since I’ve been involved.”
Rubino said the city would be helped by a healthy two-party system.
“Everything is better when both parties have some modicum of power,” he said.
If Republicans put their ideas out there, voters may find they agree, Blau said.
“I still believe that less government is better,” Blau said. “I altruistically carry that message.”