By Josh LaBella
While Republicans did pick up the tenth district council seat in this past election, they did not complete the Hail Mary it would have taken to win the mayoralty and many of the down ballot positions.
In light of the continuation of this decades-old trend of losses, the question must be asked: what will it take for Republicans to start winning big in Connecticut’s youngest city?
Republican Town Committee Chairman Patricia Libero said the party is “starting to lay the foundation” for its future. She said the party has been working on registering more voters as well as recently starting the process of rewriting the bylaws of the committee.
She also said they have been trying to bring young people into the fold. This comes in the form of the RTC starting to work with the West Haven High School chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative non-profit nationally famous for some controversial demonstrations and speakers it has had on college campuses.
Libero said Turning Point students from the high school helped with RTC campaign work this election as the University of New Haven College Republicans.
“We’re trying to bring more and more young people into the party,” said Libero. “We did have a few young people running this time. It was really great.”
According to Libero, young people “infuse a great energy” into the party. She said because of the “mass exodus” of young people from the city and state, it is important to show young people they can make a difference.
The chairman also said the fact that there was a Republican mayoral primary was exciting, adding it has not happened in her life. She said it gave the RTC energy heading into the general election.
She said candidates Michele Gregorio and Steven Mullins both had a lot of enthusiasm for the city. Libero added that Gregorio got a “considerable” number of votes given the four-to-one advantage democrats have vis-à-vis registered voters.
“I think that she did really well,” said Libero. “I hope she continues on and choses to run again in two years.”
According to Gregorio, that is not likely.
Gregorio said the main issue the party needs to work on is unity. She stated that the Mullins faction of the RTC did not come back into the fold after the primary and said she had little support from the party leadership.
“Steve never came back on board,” said Gregorio. “People say they are going to do a lot of things [after the primary] – but that never happened. I was the one getting blamed for the lack of party unity when, in fact, Steve was basically staying away from the party, running his own tomb.”
Gregorio said the people who “spoke the loudest” about unity after the RTC caucus were the people that “worked the hardest” against her. She said many of the republicans not in her camp are compromised by their relationship with the city government and “didn’t lift a finger” to help her or other republican candidates in the general.
“The future of the Republican Party?” said Gregorio. “Those people need to walk away from the town committee. Because they are so compromised that it clouds their judgement when it comes to opportunities to get people nominated. It doesn’t matter if it was me or not.”
The former mayoral candidate said the party cannot rebuild until there is a “whole new gamut” of people on the RTC. She said “nothing” will change until that happens.
“I told my team, unless I raised a boatload of money, had a professional campaign manager and had a group of people in the party working towards the same goal with a full ticket… I don’t see [herself running again],” said Gregorio.
Mullins, who also said that party unity is a key issue that Republicans need to resolve, unequivocally denied Gregorio’s claims. He said he campaigned for her and other candidates in Allingtown. He also said that Libero is doing “a magnificent job” and should continue to be the person leading the party as it moves forward.
He pointed to the party winning the tenth district City Council seat as a major accomplishment. Mullins said their focus should continue to be beating democrats in elections and unifying the party. He said it was up to the chairman to find out what that unification looks like.
Regarding support for Gregorio’s campaign, Libero said through her experience working on previous campaigns with the former mayoral candidate she knew Gregorio to be a “strong, independent woman” who knows how she wants things done. Libero said she followed Gregorio’s lead and helped her when asked but deferred to her judgment.
“If her perception is that I did not help her, I’m sorry for that,” said Libero, who added she could not speak to the alleged lack of support from the Mullins camp. “I know how she is. She likes to control it. She likes to run. She’s large and in charge.”
Libero said there is always work to be done in terms of party unity. She said unity has been an issue since the 14th senatorial primary in which people “took sides.”
“We’ve been trying to unify and work together as time goes on,” said Libero. “I think we need to remain focused on raising money and getting good people elected. Because it’s local, sometimes feelings get hurt. We need to get passed that. I think we all want unity, but sometimes its difficult to get unity.”