Local Republicans took a shellacking Tuesday, up and down the ballot. The result — which included a massive defeat of their 2-person Board of Education slate by a write-in candidate — surprised even longtime Westport political watchers.
Rick Himes — a Westporter for over 20 years, and parent of 2 Staples High School students — took a deep dive into the numbers, and posted his analysis on social media yesterday. It’s worth a look here. Rick says:
I’m no political expert, but here’s what I see in the results. (Spoiler alert: It was a massive rebuke to the local Republican Town Committee.)
But I’m not here to gloat. Please read on.
Turnout appeared to be about 7,400 voters.
Democrats outpolled Republicans 2 to 1 across the field. In the Board of Education race, Republicans were outpolled 3 to 1. A BOE write-in candidate outpolled both Republican candidates by more than 2 to 1.
This “landslide” held even in races where there were more seats open than Democrats running — for example, the Planning & Zoning Commission, where Paul Lebowitz received 5,907 votes, while no Republican received even half of that total.
Someone can check my math, but I think that means Lebowitz received one vote from 80% of voters. The closest Republican (Michael Calise) pulled a vote from only 43% of voters.
For the Zoning Board of Appeals, the numbers were nearly identical, 80% voted for the only Democrat, but only 43% for each of the Republicans in a race that allowed voters to vote for all the candidates.
The ZBA race allowed voters to choose 3 candidates – and there were 3 candidates. That means in a race for a town board where, let’s face it, most of us don’t really know the candidates or the major debate topics, Westport voters withheld their votes for any Republican.
Other numbers are similar. Joseph Sledge, running unopposed for Board of Assessment Appeals, only received a vote from 50% of voters. That means half of the off-cycle voters would rather vote for nobody than vote for any Republican, even an incumbent in a down ticket race.
I can’t say for sure whether the Board of Ed race was the root cause, but the results for write-in candidate Jill Dillon sure make it look that way. She received more votes than either Republican candidate did in 2021.
And in 2021, Republicans Robert Harrington and Dorie Hordon each received nearly twice as many votes as either Camilo Riano or Jamie Fitzgerald did in this cycle. (Turnout was larger in 2021, as best I can figure, but those are still large numbers.)
The Republican Town Committee has the right to nominate candidates. But that comes with the responsibility to field candidates who are not so divisive, out of step with the town, or manifestly unqualified that they, for example, help elect unvetted write-in candidates in numbers that a major party nominee would drool for.
Or cause down-ticket effects like unopposed, non-divisive candidates receiving less than 50% of the vote.
As for sitting elected Republicans: 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker beat Jonathan Steinberg in 2021 by fewer than 100 votes. Anybody want to handicap that race if it were held Tuesday?
We live in a 2- party system. We need the push/pull of different viewpoints for the system to work. Compromise between those viewpoints is how all of our views are represented, and it is critical for a functioning government at any level — but particularly at the local level where pure partisanship, tribalism and the resultant gridlock has almost immediate effects on our daily lives. Nobody runs the table in a functioning 2-party system.
So what happens next? I suppose it depends on what the RTC was actually thinking when they nominated their BoE candidates.
If they are true believers in the culture war, it may be curtains for Westport Republicans up and down the ticket. If voters are willing to withhold votes for unopposed candidates on non-partisan boards, based purely on their party affiliation, we are likely to see more centrist write-in options — who will be more successful — up and down the ticket.
If the RTC doubles down, there will be a multiple-cycle shadow effect, and I think people will start sussing out the partisan leanings of even the non-partisan RTM candidates.
If the RTC was just floating Mr. Riano as some kind of favor or test balloon, they may pull back. But they’ve done a huge amount of damage that voters won’t soon forget. At least they may have a path out of the crater.
Either way, their next cocktail party should be interesting…
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