Herbst loss may highlight unhappiness with negative campaigning in Trumbull
As Trumbull Democrats celebrated a landslide win at the polls Tuesday night, party insiders agreed the voters had sent a strong message.
But just exactly what the message was depended on who was speculating.
Town Treasurer Anthony Musto said he thought the results were a statement that the town’s voters had repudiated Michael Herbst and the attack mentality that characterized his campaign and those of his son, former First Selectman Tim Herbst.
Democratic Town Committee Chairman Tom Kelly had a similar take.
“It’s clear that Republicans and other voters came out and supported the rest of the candidates, but held the top of the ticket responsible for the campaign,” he said.
An examination of voting results from Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office shows an obvious difference between people who voted for Republicans in general, and those who voted for Republicans and Herbst.
Herbst received 4,289 votes, about 37.8 percent of the turnout, in his loss to Democrat Vicki Tesoro. Those numbers are lower than any other Republican in a town-wide race.
Republican Edna Colucci received 4,766 votes, or 42.6 percent, in her loss to Democrat Mary Markham. Town Treasurer candidate Jeffrey Craw, who lost to Musto, garnered 4,714 votes, about 42 percent.
For comparison, in 2015, the year Tesoro lost to Tim Herbst by 352 votes, she pulled in 48.1 percent of the tally. Of the other Democratic candidates for town-wide office in town that year, Cynthia Katske received 45.1 percent of the vote in her loss to multiple time incumbent Town Clerk Suzanne Burr Monaco. Musto received 49.3 percent of the vote in his win over former Town Treasurer John Ponzio.
The 2017 results are not directly comparable because both Tesoro and Republican first selectman candidate Paul Lavoie received far fewer votes than their fellow town-wide candidates because of a strong showing (14.6 percent) by petition candidate Michael Redgate.
Early in the municipal elections campaign, Republicans had said Michael Herbst’s name recognition and his long tenure as a teacher and athletic director at Trumbull High would be a plus. Former educators tend to have a built-in base of support and annually pull in high vote numbers.
But Herbst’s campaign struggled for traction, issuing campaign statements that were denounced by bipartisan town commissions and then being forced to cancel a public meet-and-greet twice over concerns that the event could land the host in trouble with the IRS.
For their part, Trumbull Republicans congratulated Tesoro for her win, and said they would take the opportunity to reflect on their losses. State Rep. David Rutigliano (R-123rd), a vice chairman of the Trumbull Republican Town Committee, issued a statement Thursday morning on behalf of the RTC leadership congratulating Tesoro and suggesting the party could take an introspective look at the results.
“While Tuesday’s election results were not what many of us hoped they would be, we would like to thank our outstanding candidates, citizens and volunteers that stepped up to run for office,” wrote Rutliano. “We as a party will take a step back and reflect on what happened.”
The local GOP vowed to continue promoting “fiscal restraint, personal responsibility and reasonable development,” Rutigliano wrote.
“Just like in Hartford, Trumbull Democrats now have total control of our local government,” he wrote. “While one party rule is not always what is best for the people, Trumbull Republicans stand ready to help in any way possible for the betterment of Trumbull.”
Allison Weiss Yao, one of the voters that the GOP had hoped to capture on Tuesday, summed up her feelings in a post on the Facebook page Keep Trumbull Real.
“I have a special place in my heart for Mike ‘Coach’ Herbst, due to an extraordinary kindness when I was his student in Madison Junior High at the time during my parents divorce,” Yao wrote. “In fact, I credit him and two other staff members with changing my life for the better at a difficult time in my young life.”
Yao was a middle schooler in the 1970s when she was a student in Michael Herbst’s science class. She said he was supportive and understanding during a time of emotional turmoil.
“I remember one day, I was feeling unusually sad, and he came out of his classroom and sat next to me,” she said. “He kept me positive, told me that I didn’t have to be defined by what my parents had done.”
Yao said she was a voter who could have been convinced to vote for Herbst, but ultimately could not do so.
“I really wanted to, but could not,” she wrote. “I followed his campaign to see how it would run. I had hope that he would run a clean campaign. I have been disappointed in the demeanor, negative attacks and the continued ‘games’ to spin things. I just want to see Trumbull go back to being respectful, politically.”
Cindy Penkoff, a staunch Republican and former outspoken supporter of Tim Herbst, slammed Michael Herbst’s comments on the cost of educating the children living at The Royce at Trumbull apartment complex. Michael Herbst had posted that Trumbull taxpayers subsidize students living at The Royce and attending Trumbull schools, then vowed to oppose apartments in town.
“We subsidize EVERY kid in the school system,” Penkoff wrote. “And what you just wrote above is disgusting, rude and disparaging to the residents of that community. Shame on you, especially as an educator.”
On the apartment topic, which Democrats had denounced as fear mongering, Kelly said that tactic had been “rejected and repudiated” by voters.
“That was their one issue, but even that wasn’t described truthfully,” Kelly said. “Democrats controlled the (Planning and Zoning Commission) for just 11 months, and even if (Tesoro) was first selectman when the apartments were approved, she has no control over P and Z decisions.”