Derby Democrats split on mayoral candidate.
DERBY-Anita Dugatto believes the office at 326 Derby Avenue is her good luck charm.
After all that’s where Dugatto received the 2013 results showing she upset incumbent Anthony Staffieri to become this city’s first female mayor.
“Look at this,” Dugatto said walking to a backroom. She points to a white board containing the words “Derby The Land We Love.”
“I wrote that in 2013,” she said.
So on July 13 almost exactly four years to the day, Dugatto reopened the headquarters. Other whiteboards already have dates and times that volunteers have committed to make phone calls and home visits.
She reminds the nearly 36 people gathered at the opening that her administration installed a state of art City Hall computer system after Hartford “blacklisted the old one for constantly infecting them with viruses;” settling the O’Sullivan Island clean-up costs; marshaling plans for a new downtown and convincing the state to revise some Route 34 improvements.
But this year Dugatto, who lives and works downtown not just as mayor but as a practicing dentist, is in a fight for her political life.
Earlier this year, Carmen DiCenso, a fellow Democrat who serves as the Board of Aldermen president, announced he’s seeking the nomination. And DiCenso, brings with him years of recognition as a football coach, owner of B & L Mens and Boys clothing store in Ansonia, maitre’d at the Italian Pavilion and the highest vote getter in the last three municipal elections.
If that wasn’t enough, DiCenso has the support of all but two of the city’s nine alderman— only Staffieri, now a third ward Republican and Art Gerckens, a second ward alderman are backing other candidates..
“Look around this room,” Gerckens said during Dugatto’s headquarters’ opening. “Do you see any other Alderman? Whatever happened to the word Team. We (the Democrats) have eight of the nine aldermen. We should be running like a smooth engine but the old guard wants to regain their power.”
“We should be a team,” DiCenso responded, “but there has been a lack of communication and a lack of leadership in this administration.”
As an example he said most aldermen were never made aware of meetings with the Department of Transportation in which Route 34 revisions were discussed.
“The party is split. If I’m the mayor there’ll be open communication with all the aldermen, the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and the Board of Education,” he said. “I cross the aisle more than anyone. People know my life and my heart is Derby.”
Come Tuesday night the smart betting is DiCenso will walk out of the Veterans Memorial hall as the Democratic nominee. Some of his supporters claim he has as many as 23 of the 36 town committee voters. Dugatto’s backers believe its closer and a few switches could tie it.
Whatever happens both candidates vowed a September primary.
But some of Dugatto’s supporters have gone a step further suggesting she run as a third party candidate if all else false.
Watching from afar a long-time political consultant is not surprised seeing a two-term democratic mayor getting the snub from party leaders. It happened not long ago to Marc Garofalo, who as the incumbent Democrat mayor, had to regain the party nomination through a primary vote.
“It’s the same way the (Derby) Democratic party has been for 40 years. They aren’t happy with success, they’d rather fight each other. Their idea of politics is forming a circular firing squad,” said the consultant asking not to be named.
So far Dugatto, who has strong support among Derby’s senior citizens, has outraised DiCenso $17,710 to $9,165. But the July 10 finance disclosure statements also shows she outspent him $8,451 to $1,115. Most of her expenditures were spent on hiring DNA Campaigns, LLC of Guilford to run her re-election bid.
Once you factor in the expenses, the money remaining in their warchests is much closer—Dugatto has $9,259 to DiCenso’s $8,150.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” said David Cassetti, the two-term Republican mayor of Ansonia—Derby’s next door neighbor. “But all this has to be good for Zeke.”
“Zeke” is Richard Dziekan, a retired Hamden police officer, lifelong Derby resident and on Wednesday he’ll get the Republican nomination for mayor. Dziekan lost by 112 votes to Dugatto in 2015 which is interesting considering registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 3 t0 1..
He spent the past year working as Cassetti’s director of constituent services.
“We share the same ideas,” Cassetti said. “If Zeke is elected I know we can do things together to benefit both cities. We can share services. There’s millions available if we regionalize things like public works, the WPCA...It’ll cut taxes and benefit our residents.”
Dziekan raised $6,715, spent $2,224 and has $4,490 available for his run.
He said he’s fortunate that Dugatto and DiCenso are spending time and money battling each other “since they are effectively splitting the Democratic party.”
“Good luck to the Mayor, I’m glad to see she is pushing hard to get re-elected, because that’s exactly the kind of effort the people of Derby deserve from their elected officials all the time, not just in the months leading up to an election,” he said.
He’ll open his campaign headquarters on Elizabeth Street this fall.
In the meantime Dzieken said he’s preparing to go “door to door to inform the citizens of Derby what I plan to do differently than the current Mayor. I think the failures of this administration have been pretty well documented, and anyone who considers Derby “in good shape” at this point after two terms with Anita and Carmen in charge, must not be paying attention.”
And the political consultant’s view?
“I’ve always believed the Republicans don’t win in Derby, the Democrats lose.”