DANBURY Boughton weighs his options
DANBURY — The third time was not the charm last week for Mark Boughton’s gubernatorial ambitions — and it likely will be his last statewide race.
The party-endorsed candidate’s unexpected loss in Tuesday’s Republican primary election to wealthy businessman Bob Stefanowski signals the end of Boughton’s decade-long quest to lead in Hartford.
Now the longest-serving mayor of Danbury is reckoning with the end of his political career beyond his own city limits and conceded he likely will not seek another higher office.
Affectionately known as “Mayor Mark” for his popular social media profiles, he will not become “Governor Mark.”
“Look, my golf game is the perfect example,” Boughton joked just 36 hours after the loss. “At some point, you have to recognize that some things just aren’t going to happen for you.
“God has a plan, and his plan is not for me to do that job,” he said. “Maybe his plan is just to be the mayor of Danbury, and that’s pretty darn good, too.”
Last, best shot
A somber Boughton reflected on his campaign and political future while on his way to a Vermont retreat for the weekend, unplugged from analysis of the race he had been expected to win.
The so-called Connecticut Comeback at the center of his campaign was meant to mirror his own personal comeback: From two unsuccessful bids for lieutenant governor and governor in 2010 and 2014 to his illness and brain surgery last year, to his eventual coronation as the party’s endorsement for governor at the convention this spring.
Tuesday was supposed to be the 54-year-old’s last, best shot to win the nomination and he led in the polls going into the final week, allies and party leaders said.
But Stefanowski, a Meriden businessman with no prior political experience, immediately jumped out to a lead as results trickled in Tuesday night and Boughton never caught up, stunning him and his supporters.
“When you go in as the party-endorsed candidate, you’re expected to be the favorite,” said Jack Knapp, who has worked with Boughton for years and serves as chairman of the Danbury Republican Town Committee. “It was very close at the convention and all things considered, it was close Tuesday.
“The way it was split up with five (candidates) — anybody can be a Monday morning quarterback and speculate on shoulda, coulda, woulda, but Bob did what he had to do to win and we didn’t,” he continued.
More than 78 percent of Republican voters in Danbury cast their ballots for Boughton, but he did not find widespread support across the central and eastern areas of the state, while Stefanowski won more than 100 towns across every county.
By the end of the night, Boughton was one of only two party-endorsed candidates to lose their races — the other being Democrat Mary Glassman, who was defeated by Jahanna Hayes for the party’s nomination for the 5th Congressional District.
Boughton has said he will support the Republican ticket and congratulated Stefanowski on his win on Tuesday night, but he said he will not actively support the campaign.
“I obviously support the entire ticket and if anybody wants to come to Danbury, we’ll be supportive of that,” he said. “But I have a job in Danbury to do and that’s where my focus will be.”
Stefanowski, who skipped the party convention and self-funded his campaign, already received the coveted tweet endorsement of President Donald Trump.
But Boughton remains skeptical the “businessman outsider” candidate can win in November.
“We keep running these folks and they keep losing, but let’s hope for a different outcome this fall,” he said. “I think there’s a new, very strong movement within the party that they don’t want anybody with elected office experience. That that’s actually a black mark against you. I disagree, but I respect it. You choose who you want.”
The rest of the GOP primary contenders also have fallen in line behind Stefanowski — even David Stemerman, who finished third in the primary and whose bitter sparring with the nominee punctuated the race.
Stemerman sold his multibillion-dollar hedge fund last year to enter the race and spent millions to self-fund his campaign, but he has not elaborated on what he will do now that his race is over. He did not return a call for comment on his next plans in politics or business.
Former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst has said he will support the Republican ticket, although he has not explicitly referenced Stefanowski, and attempts to reach him at the end of the week were unsuccessful.
Herbst has said he does not plan to run for another office and will return to practicing real estate law at Cohen and Wolf, one of Bridgeport’s largest law firms.
Westport tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik would only provide a statement of his support for Stefanowski and would not comment on his plans beyond the campaign.
Back to work
In his concession speech Tuesday night, Boughton promised to be back in City Hall the next day — and he was.
Just 10 hours later, he appeared to surprise city staff by appearing for his annual speech at the city’s V-J Day celebration and he worked for several hours in his office in City Hall before staff convinced him to take his pre-planned days off in Vermont. Although a palpable gloom hung over the city offices Wednesday, he tried to pep up staff members who had helped volunteer on his campaign on the weekends.
“Even from day one of his run for governor, it was second on his plate to Danbury,” said city Chief of Staff Dean Esposito, who once ran against Boughton for mayor and is one of his closest friends. “It was always like that.”
This week will return to business as usual as Boughton spearheads local initiatives like an upcoming $102 million bond for a new city wastewater treatment and his pet project to reclaim the 38-foot-tall Uncle Sam statue that once stood on the Great Danbury State Fair, he said.
The campaign has not slowed down city business, but it will be helpful to have the mayor’s full focus, said Tom Saadi, the Democratic minority leader on the City Council and commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s just the way politics work ... I don’t believe anything was specifically put off or delayed because of the campaign,” Saadi said. “It’s just that he’ll be physically present in Danbury more often just as a matter of act, since he won’t be campaigning, but I don’t think the council or city departments were in any way not functioning because of the campaign.”
Boughton — already on his record ninth term as mayor — will be up for reelection in 2019, but he has not decided whether he will seek another term.
He plans to work for at least another decade and is considering what other opportunities there are outside of City Hall, whether he could start a private business or even return to teaching, as he did at Danbury High School before his first successful run for office as a State Representative in 1998.
Even though he does not plan to run for another office, he hopes he can still play an active role in the party to at least help mentor young conservative candidates.
“I’ve been the longest serving mayor in the history of the city; elected and reelected time and time again by huge margins,” he said. “If that’s all my political career is, that’s pretty good. It’s something that no other Republican has ever been able to do and I’m proud of that.”