Camillo wins reelection

November 9, 2016

GREENWICH — Republican Fred Camillo won reelection over a newcomer whose first political outing resulted in a strong showing despite being the underdog.

Unofficial results showed Camillo with 5,650 votes versus Dita Bhargava with 4,456 votes.

Chants of “Freddy, Freddy,” came from the crowd as he walked on the stage.

“It can be a lonely thing to run for office, but when I walk in the headquarters and see all the smiling faces, it picks up you,” he said.

“In a presidential year in Connecticut, we usually lose seats. Boy, we are set up for 2018 to take over, I truly believe in 2018 the house will be in republican control,” he said.

Democrat contender Bhargava said she found the race “a fantastic experience.”

“I’m not disappointed because we have given it our best,” Bhargava said. “The best part of running for office was being able to knock on so many doors and meet as many people as I can.

“I come out a winner no matter what, because I’ve met so many people in this town and had the opportunity to hear from a lot of people,” she said. “I’ve had a fantastic, very dedicated team. We did everything we could.”

The race was a study of similarities and contrasts.

Both candidates espoused a fiscally conservative path forward for the state, without new or raised taxes.

Camillo ran on a record of opposing Democratic budgets that he said have caused Connecticut to lose businesses and residents to less-taxed locales. Bhargava worked to sell voters on her 20-plus years of experience in the financial sector.

Personally, however, each took a very different path to Election Night.

Camillo grew up on Orchard Street in Cos Cob in a house his father built. Now living in Old Greenwich, he has long been involved in town sports leagues and civic organizations. Camillo knew most of the people who answered doors he knocked on during the campaign season — and they knew him.

Bhargava, on the other hand, has lived in Greenwich for nine years. She has been active in public life — including as co-founder of The Parity Partnership, a Greenwich-based organization supporting gender equality — but Bhargava was very much a political newcomer at the start of the campaign, and knocked on close to 4,000 doors, trying to close a recognition gap, and a political one, running in a district that has not elected a Democrat in more than a century.

DTC Chairman Jeff Ramer praised Bhargava, noting the challenge she faced in running as a Democrat in what have long been traditionally Republican districts.

“It is never easy to be the minority party,” Ramer said. “I had a couple of terrific candidates who were extremely hard working, bright people who brought some refreshing ideas. One of the tasks of the minority party is to frame some issues and in framing issues to inform the public. That happens independently of whether you’re successful at getting your people elected.”

Bhargava said she has been encouraged by a lot of the people she met to run for office again.

“I have to digest all of what I’ve experienced and really think about what I want to do next,” she said. “It certainly will be something where I can have an impact on people’s lives and where I can make a positive change.”

The race turned contentious at times, and there was ugliness in the form of an anonymous letter that arrived in Bhargava’s mailbox last week telling her to “Go back where you came from.”

Bhargava is of Indian descent.

Camillo criticized the letter, but he also has accused his opponent of negative campaigning throughout the race.

“Historically, we are known as a town that has civil debates on the issues, so I hope that we never see the likes of a campaign waged like this again,” he said last week.

Of particular contention was Bhargava’s attempts to tie Camillo to Donald Trump.

She elicited loud boos and heckling from Republicans in the audience when she brought up Trump during their League of Women Voters debate in October at Town Hall.

And Bhargava mailed out an ad that quoted Camillo as saying, “Trump is spot on” from an August story in Greenwich Time. Camillo blasted the mailer, saying it took his quote out of context, giving the impression he supports Trump in all things.

Camillo’s full quote in the newspaper was regarding remarks Trump recently had made about Second Amendment supporters and Clinton.

“In today’s world, candidates have to think hard before speaking,” Camillo said in the article. “I am not speaking about being politically correct, which I think Trump is spot on about, but am referring to using common sense that the standard bearer for a major political party should possess and exhibit when speaking.”

Camillo supported other Republican candidates throughout the primary process, but once Trump won the nomination, he said he would vote for Trump over Clinton, though he condemned some of Trump’s statements and behavior.

Among the legislation Camillo is responsible for during his first four terms, he wrote and introduced the Volunteer Protection and Indemnification Act, which protects volunteer firefighters and fire police from being sued for actions at emergency scenes; wrote and introduced legislation to fight puppy mills, punish animal cruelty, stop distracted driving, expand recycling and end price gouging. He also has written and introduced the Learn Here, Live Here law that provides incentives to Connecticut college students to stay in the state after school.

pfrissell@hearstmediact.com; @PeregrineFriss