Fairfield election analysis: Issues trumped party loyalty with Kupchick’s win
FAIRFIELD — Winning Democratic districts was the key to Republican Brenda Kupchick’s 16-point victory in the first selectman race on Nov. 5.
Capturing these Democratic voters was an unusual feat that fits into the current national conversation about the prioritization of local issues over party politics. Leaders attribute the win to Kupchick’s bipartisan appeal and the fill pile scandal that weakened eight-year incumbent Mike Tetreau’s platform.
While she swept typically Republican-voting neighborhoods, such as Greenfield Hill (District 1) and Southport (District 10), Kupchick also managed to pull off narrow wins in districts on the east side of town that consistently vote Democrat in local races, including Districts 5, 6 and 7.
According to the Registrar of Voters, Kupchick won every district except District 4, which encompasses the Stratfield neighborhood.
This was a surprising development in Fairfield, where party politics usually reign supreme.
Notably, voters did not depart from their usual party lines in other races. Democrats swept the Representative Town Meeting in Districts 5, 6 and 7, earning 13, 21 and 7 percentage points more of the votes, respectively.
For Kupchick to narrowly win these three districts by 3, 2 and 8 percentage points, some typical Democratic voters — who continued to vote Democrat this year otherwise — likely jumped ship for only the first selectman race.
Republican Town Committee chair Jamie Millington said although they had been optimistic about Kupchick’s chances, even his team was shocked by her victories in some districts.
“I would never have projected her to win in some of those Democratic districts,” Millington said. “I was hoping she would maybe cut in half the losses that we usually have in some of those districts, but it was absolutely amazing that she carried them.”
Millington attributed this feat to Kupchick’s history of bipartisanship, both locally and in the state Legislature, and her dedication to getting her message out to all voters.
“Brenda has always been a candidate that has such broad appeal,” Millington said. “While oftentimes Republican candidates focus on Republican districts to churn out the base, she wanted to focus on all the voters. She campaigned in districts that are heavily Democratic, and it showed in the results.”
Kupchick’s uphill battle to win blue voters was made slightly less steep by the town’s fill pile scandal, which Millington speculated caused some voters to lose faith in Tetreau.
“I think it was Tetreau’s handling of the issue that definitely gave her some added votes,” Millington said.
Tetreau came under fire in August for his handling of the town’s public works pile, the subject of an ongoing criminal case that has charged two town employees with illegal dumping and bribery.
Joseph Michelangelo, who served as the town’s public works director since 2012, is accused of conspiring with Scott Bartlett, the town’s superintendent of public works, and Jason Julian to allow Julian Enterprises to dump truck loads of contaminated waste into the pile.
Julian then resold some of the contaminated soil as clean fill for construction projects in the town. After testing 60 sites at parks, fields and playgrounds, the town identified eight areas that need to be cleaned up, a million-dollar process.
Republicans seized upon the scandal, saying Tetreau’s lack of oversight of the Public Works Department allowed this to happen under his watch.
Reached for comment, Democratic Town Committee chair Steve Sheinberg gave his perspective on Kupchick’s defeat of Tetreau.
“It is not unusual is politics that after eight years in office the voters are ready for a change, despite the incumbent’s positive performance,” Sheinberg said.
In addition to the victory’s local relevance, Kupchick’s win of otherwise Democratic-voting Fairfielders contributes to the larger national conversation about the competing appeals of local issues and party politics.
Kentucky’s gubernatorial race recently made national news, as pundits took Democrat Andy Beshear’s victory in the reliably red state as a sign of voters’ willingness to prioritize local issues over partisanship heading into the 2020 election.
In choosing Kupchick over Tetreau, some could argue Fairfield Democrats showed the issues affecting their everyday lives might ultimately take precedence over party loyalty.
Kupchick will be sworn into office on Nov. 25.