Former Stratford DTC chair is now a Republican
Updated 6:10 pm, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
STRATFORD — One of the most powerful Democrats in town has jumped ship.
Leonard Petruccelli, a former chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and a mayoral hopeful this summer, has changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
The split reflects the deep division that has taken hold in the Democratic Town Committee over that last two years.
One faction is loyal to DTC Chairwoman Stephanie Philips and the other is aligned with Beth Daponte, whose stint on the Town Council will end Monday night when the newly elected members are sworn in.
Philips was also the endorsed Democratic mayoral candidate; she lost to Republican Laura Hoydick, 5,738 to 5,126.
Relations between the two camps have become frosty, and the two sides are barely talking to one another.
“I’ve been thinking about this ever since Stephanie took over,” Petruccelli said. “Bottom line it’s how you did in the election — and they did terrible in the November election.”
Republicans triumphed on Nov. 7, winning seven council seats as well as Hoydick winning the mayor’s seat.
But Philips said that Petruccelli has not signed on to her party’s “new, progressive ideas” and that he “left the party a long time ago.” The two were opponents in a three-way Democratic primary for mayor on Sept. 12 that Philips won handily. Joe Paul was the third candidate.
Philips, a former town councilwoman and a member of the Zoning Commission, took over the DTC in March 2016. Petruccelli led the DTC from 2014 to 2016.
“We are a big tent, but for that to work people must be willing to listen to others; embrace diversity, and welcome new people,” Philips said.
But those not in the Philips camp say that under her leadership, she failed to help out incumbents not to her liking — most notably Daponte and Dist. 4 councilman David Harden. Philips backed Harden’s ex-wife, Indiana Susaña in a primary that Harden won. The two had a messy divorce earlier this year.
But those loyal to Philips have been heard calling her detractors as “Republicans in disguise.” And Joe Paul has even accused them of being “Republican implants.”
“The gig’s up and you know who you are,” Paul said. “This is a Republican party strategy — to infiltrate and destroy.”
Democrats friendly to Petruccelli say that they’ll miss him and were hoping that he could have been part of an effort to pull the DTC away from Philips’ grasp.
“My observations in these last two years have made this an easy decision,” Petruccelli said. “It’s evident that the party is in serious trouble with no end in sight.”
Petruccelli’s term on the Board of Education will end next week.