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Republicans earn nod from Independent Party

August 30, 2018

GREENWICH — At Greenwich’s first-ever caucus for the Connecticut Independent Party, two incumbent Republicans earned the party’s nominations during a controversial and chaotic event on Wednesday night.

There were complaints about the long wait times to sign in as a voter, the amount of time candidates were given to speak and how the caucus itself was organized. But by the end of the night, voting went smoothly.

In the race for the 36th Senate District, state Sen. L. Scott Frantz outpolled his Democratic challenger Alexandra Bergstein by a vote of 20-9. In the 151st House District, state Rep. Fred Camillo topped his Democratic challenger Laura Kostin, 14-3.

With the party’s nominations, Frantz and Camillo will both appear twice on the November ballot — on both the Republican and Independent lines.

On Thursday, Bergstein expressed anger over the process, calling the caucus a “circus” and “a sham.” But Frantz celebrated his win, repeating his claim that as a Republican in Hartford, he has been able to be much more independent than the Democrats.

“The Independent Party represents independent thinking,” Frantz said. “When voters take into account that the majority party in Hartford does not let their members vote independently and discourages independent thinking, they much prefer someone who is able and very willing to think and vote independently, especially on important issues such as fiscal management, debt levels, improving gun control, women’s health and tax structure, amongst others.”

A former registered member of the Independent Party, Bergstein had hoped for support, but voters instead went for Frantz, a five-term incumbent, results she downplayed Thursday.

“The Independent Party in Connecticut has historically endorsed the most conservative Republicans, and last night was no different,” Bergstein said. “At a caucus, which should have been a slam dunk for my opponent, almost a third of the Independents voted for me, which reaffirms that voters are distancing themselves from a Republican Party that is more extreme and divisive than ever.”

The caucus attracted a large crowd Wednesday, but it was only open to registered members of the Connecticut Independent Party, not for Republicans, Democrats or unaffiliated voters. A voter was required to have been registered with the Independent Party for 90 days before the caucus to be eligible to cast a ballot.

The overflow crowd of more than 50 spilled out from the small meeting room at Cos Cob Library. Members of both of the town’s major parties were in attendance, including Republican Town Committee Chair Richard DiPreta and Democratic Town Committee Chair Tony Turner.

Mike Telesca, chairman of the Connecticut Independent Party, tried to empty the overcrowded room a few times. He wanted to limit it to only valid members of the Connecticut Independent Party to check voters’ registration and status.

It was confusing at times with voters unclear about the rules and process, leading to some heated back and forths between party members and Telesca over how long speakers could talk and how the caucus was run.

Independent Party member Ginger Chapin was upset by how the caucus was run, saying that it was “extremely disorganized” and that the long wait caused supporters of Bergstein and Kostin to leave. Chapin, who nominated Kostin after other supporters had left, said speakers should have been given more time after Telesca cut speeches short. Chapin also called his conduct toward Bergstein sexist for trying to get her to end her speech.

“The entire process was extremely confusing and embarrassing,” Chapin said. “I walked out of there thinking I didn’t want to be a member of this party anymore. I will probably change my registration to Libertarian now. I was disgusted by what I saw.”

The caucus was swiftly put together after Frantz, Bergstein, Camillo and Kostin put in petitions to be considered for the party’s nomination. Last week, a court ruling settled a long-running dispute between two factions of the Independent Party, one in Waterbury and one in Danbury, over whose nominations would be on the ballot.

The court’s ruling, which had not been expected until later in the year, mandated that Secretary of the State Denise Merrill can only accept the endorsements of the Waterbury based Independent Party of Connecticut, which is the one Telesca oversees.

In her race, Kostin said that her expectations had been low. She congratulated Camillo for gaining the endorsement while also saying the caucus was “a little chaotic.”

Kostin also noted the Connecticut Independent Party’s history of endorsing Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski at a time when an independent candidate, Oz Griebel, is also running.

“I think it reflects poorly on a party that didn’t even endorse the independent candidate running for governor to endorse the Republicans,” Kostin said. “It’s odd, but I don’t have any problem with the results. Fred turned out more people. He knows more people, and the results are what they are.”

On Thursday, Camillo said he was honored to have the Connecticut Independent Party’s support by such a wide margin.

“People, whether Republican, Democrat, Independent, or unaffiliated, know me here in town and know that I represent them all, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum,” he said. “Having this designation is in keeping with my record of working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and in my belief that having a solid rapport with colleagues and an open mind are critical to being a good legislator.”

Camillo said that since it was the Independent Party’s “first crack” at holding a caucus in Greenwich, he was confident it would go more smoothly in future years — especially if held in a larger room.

Frantz agreed a bigger room would be needed in the future and gave the party credit for organizing the caucus on such short notice.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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