By Mark Zaretsky,
WEST HAVEN >> Victorious Democratic mayoral candidate Nancy Rossi and Mayor Ed O’Brien both were still adjusting to the new reality of West Haven politics Wednesday, one day after Rossi’s stunning Tuesday primary upset, as the shape of the Democratic Party’s blended slate in the Nov. 7 election became clearer.
“I’m still ... I’m very pleased — numb!” said Rossi, who defeated O’Brien by 136 votes, 2,383 to 2,247. The 4,630 votes cast represented a 29.5 percent turnout of the city’s 15,667 registered Democrats.
Rossi, who will now face Republican City Councilman David Riccio in the General Election Nov. 7, spoke to a series of television and newspaper reporters on the West Haven Green Wednesday afternoon even as O’Brien was speaking to some up in his third-floor office.
Throughout the day, “I’ve been getting a lot of well-wishes, phone calls — some of which I haven’t returned yet,” as well as Facebook messages and texts, she said.
“The sad note was that not all of my team members prevailed,” Rossi said.
Depending on how recounts go, it appears as if the City Council slate that goes before voters on Nov. 7 will have five candidates who ran with Rossi and seven candidates who ran with the mayor on the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsed slate.
They are: Rossi ally Bridgette J. Hoskie in the 1st District, incumbent Nicholas Ruickoldt in the 2nd, endorsed slate member Aaron Charney in the 3rd, Rossi ally former councilman Mitchell Gallignano in the 4th, unopposed incumbent Rossi ally Robbin Watt Hamilton in the 5th, Rossi ally Peter Massaro in the 6th, Rossi ally Portia Bias in the 7th, incumbent Tracy Morrissey in the 8th, incumbent Sean Ronan in the 9th and incumbent Louise Martone in the 10th.
Voters also chose to keep party-endorsed incumbents Ronald Quagliani and David Forsyth on the ballot in November, with Forsyth edging out former Council chairman Nick Pascale and Joseph W. Harvey III.
Recounts will take place in three of the 10 City Council districts, said Democratic Registrar of Voters Sherri Lepper.
Those include the 1st District, where Hoskie appears to have defeated incumbent Russell Aldrich Jr. by 7 votes, the 4th, where Gallignano appears to have edged out incumbent Stacy Riccio by just 2 votes, and the 9th, where incumbent Sean Ronan appeared to have defeated former Democratic registrar of voters Patricia Horvath by 12 votes.
Rossi pointed out that Horvath appears to have won on the machine totals but lost because of absentee ballots, just as she did in last year’s registrar race.
In the Board of Education races, incumbent Board of Education Chairman (and Democratic Town Chairman) James Morrissey won, along with party-endorsed incumbent Rosemary Russo and Rossi ally Lauren Aceto.
In other citywide races, Rossi campaign manager Michael Last defeated Robert Grady for city treasurer, Rossi ally Dorothy Chambrelli defeated incumbent Tax Collector Eric Murillo and party-endorsed Joseph Palmucci and Rossi ally Richard Standish won the two Board of Assessment Appeals slots.
O’Brien said that “after looking at all the numbers,” he came to the conclusion that “people thought we were doing a good job” but may have gotten complacent and didn’t think they needed to come out and vote.
“I think we did everything we could have done. ... People just didn’t get out to vote,” O’Brien said. “They didn’t think they needed to.”
Asked whether he would work with Rossi, he said, “If she asks me to work with her, I’ll work with her.”
He said that, already, “I got offered a couple of job offers” and if he wants to, “I can go back to GoldWorks, which is a company I founded 30 years ago,” but he said he didn’t yet know what he would do when he leaves office in early December.
But “it’s kind of a very exciting time,” he said, adding he will be fine.
Asked whether he would actively support either candidate in November, O’Brien said, “I don’t know at this point,” but added, “I’m a true Democrat.”
When asked what he thought of Rossi’s assessment that despite several high-visibility economic development projects that O’Brien’s administration had been working on — including The Haven, the Atwood in Allingtown and the recent sale of the former Acorn/Sursum Corda site off Route 34 to Yale New Haven Health Services — people were concerned about the city’s financial situation, O’Brien said, “If the financing cost me the election, I think it was because of the misinformation reported by the New Haven Register.”
He said he was referring to suggestions by the Rossi campaign that the city’s cumulative deficit was continuing to grow and had essentially doubled to $16 million while O’Brien was in office. He pointed out that a balance sheet from the June 30, 2014, audit refers to a “total fund balances” deficit of $16.67 million — the same amount the Rossi campaign was saying the city’s deficit is now.
That figure includes the city’s General Fund, as well as the Allingtown Fire District Fund, the city’s Capital Improvement Fund and other governmental funds.
The General Fund deficit at that time was $8,493,995, according to the balance sheet O’Brien provided. The June 30, 2016, audit reported that “at the end of the current fiscal year, fund balance (deficit) for the general fund was a deficit of ($16,736,064) and that “this deficit increased by $6,538,967.”
That means that between June 30, 2014, and June 30, 2016, the General Fund fund balance deficit increased — nearly doubling — from $8.49 million to $16.74 million, an increase of $8.24 million, according to the two audits. The most recent audit shows the “total fund balances” deficit as having grown to $17.8 million.
Republican candidate Riccio said he wasn’t surprised by Rossi’s win because “the responses that I’ve been getting going door to door for the last couple of months were that people wanted a different face. ... Whether I walked in West Shore, the Center or Allingtown, there was a constant feeling that they’re getting tired of business as usual in West Haven.”
For Riccio, “there are some pluses and minuses” to Rossi winning, he said. “Any incumbent has a record that you can go on.” But now, “we have two (mayoral) newcomers in this race. I feel that it will be vision versus vision ... and which candidate can make West Haven a better place to live, and more affordable.”
Editor’s note: The original version of this story omitted the names of party-endorsed incumbents Ronald Quagliani and David Forsyth, who won the primary for the two at-large City Council slots on the ballot.