Robin Comey won an overwhelming victory Tuesday over two other candidates vying for the endorsement of the Democratic Town Committee (DTC) for the 102nd State Representative seat. Comey earned 35 votes at Tuesday’s DTC meeting, John Prins took 13, and Adrian Bonenberger took 8 votes.
Comey was also endorsed by State Rep. Lonnie Reed, who recently announced her retirement from the post she held for 10 years.
The 102nd District includes five of Branford’s seven voting districts. State Rep. Sean Scanlon serves two of Branford’s districts, Stony Creek and Pine Orchard, and all of Guilford. He is running unopposed for re-election.
“I’m proud to be standing up here as the endorsed candidate,” Comey told the crowd of about 70 gathered at Fire Headquarters. “There’s a lot of work ahead.”
But it appears the competition for Democratic candidate isn’t over yet since at least one of the other two candidates plans to challenge Comey in the August primary.
And there will be a challenger in November’s general election. Branford Republicans last week endorsed Robert Imperato as their candidate for the state rep seat.
Comey said the state representative race is critical. “For years we’ve enjoyed the leadership that Lonnie Reed has provided for Branford. Her experience, her breadth of knowledge… her no-nonsense approach … and her ability to create trust among her colleagues is a model for all of us.”
Comey thanked Reed for her years of service to Branford. “I look forward to doing the same and learning from the best,” she said.
An Exciting Night
Lynda Mollow, chair of the DTC, predicted it would be “an exciting night.” Mollow said special rules come into play when there is more than one candidate for a state rep race. She said a candidate must receive 50 percent of the vote plus one to win endorsement. There is only one round of voting, but if no candidate receives a majority, then voters can decide to change their vote.
“This is going to be a tough decision for all of us to make,” Mollow said before the voting started.
Voters used paper ballots to vote for a candidate, and then printed their own name and signed the ballot. It took about 20 minutes to count and verify the votes.
“I’m glad to be on your team, I’m thrilled to have your vote of confidence, and I look forward to a productive and exciting campaign,” Comey said as she accepted the DTC nomination.
The campaign will indeed be exciting if there is a primary. Some long-time DTC members said it was unusual to have three candidates vying for endorsement for Branford’s state rep seat, and it’s unusual to have a primary for that seat.
Bonenberger (pictured), a former infantry officer who works in the communications office at Yale Medical School, is seeking his first political office. He told the Eagle he plans to continue running for the state rep seat and is seeking signatures for a petition to put his name on the primary ballot.
“Our plan was always to stay in the race and have a good solid primary,” Bonenberger told the Eagle after the vote. “When everybody works together — even if they compete together — the product is much better and much stronger.”
Prins (pictured), a longtime member of the BOE, told the Eagle he doesn’t know if he will continue his campaign and he has to consider the options.
Comey talked about the importance of working together to achieve common goals during her acceptance speech.
“We need everyone here, with our varied skills and our mindsets, to come together to solve the largest problems and the most complex problems that are facing our state,” Comey said.
“Our fiscal problems were not created overnight, and let’s be realistic here, they will not be solved by one person or even one party. We need better efficiencies in government, we need to address economic inequalities across the state,” Comey said. “Connecticut is number two in income inequality across the entire nation. That’s unacceptable to me and it should be a concern to all of us tonight.”
She plans to focus on building Connecticut’s economy; developing a comprehensive transportation system; boosting the middle class; providing “cradle to career education;” making Connecticut a “climate leader of tomorrow;” fighting for women’s rights and disability rights, and providing economic opportunity for all people.
She also addressed the chaos in Washington DC. “I will push back to make sure that the policies of the reckless presidential administration in Washington are kept in check,” she said.
Comey is a member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM); and has served many years with the Branford Early Childhood Collaborative, eventually becoming the executive director. She is a partner in Starprompt, a teleprompting services company she has operated with her husband for 25 years. She and her husband and two children live in Short Beach.
Comey told the DTC that her work and volunteerism over the years “really lit a fire in my core to want to pursue politics in a more hands-on way.”
Comey was nominated by Bruce Storm, a former third selectman, and a former Branford School superintendent. “I discovered in Robin the kind of character that makes her a superb candidate,” he said.
Storm said Comey has the tenacity, devotion and energy to accomplish the goals she sets.
Storm talked about the years he and Comey worked together on the BEEC and he talked about her service on the RTM.
“I saw in her a person who has the potential to make a difference on a broader and more substantial level,” Storm said. “I think she brings to the table talent and skills that will make her an outstanding representative.” He said 10 years ago he saw similar potential in Reed when she first ran for state rep.
Comey’s nomination was seconded by Chris Simpson, co-chair of the outreach committee of the DTC. She said Comey is very inclusive to everyone in the community. “She has the confidence to build consensus, while also making her own opinions known in the process.”
Bonenberger was nominated by Chis Sullivan, minority leader of the RTM, and a former DTC chair.
“I stand here as a progressive Democrat who believes in lifting up those of us who need the most help, and using government provided services to do so,” Sullivan (pictured) said.
He said Bonenberger believes it’s important to reach out to everyone, especially people who haven’t been involved in politics before. “This is critical to how we build our party,” Sullivan said.
He said Bonenberger is knocking on doors and talking to people who don’t even know what the DTC is. “We need those new voices in November in what’s sure to be a tough race,” Sullivan said.
“Adrian believes in empowering and supporting a strong middle class. He will champion these needs if we send him to Hartford,” Sullivan said, adding that he has the experience, ideas and leadership skills.
Peter Jackson, an RTM member, seconded the nomination, citing Bonenberger’s “brilliance, youthful exuberance, maturity, trust-worthiness, and selflessness to shake things up in Hartford. and serve us well.”
Prins, a member of the BOE for 19 years, was nominated by Catherine Jackson, a former chair of the BOE. She is also Jackson’s wife.
“He has the experience, the expertise, the energy, the demonstrated dedication and commitment … to represent Branford,” Catherine Jackson said, citing Prins’ leadership skills and his ability to win six BOE elections in a row. “He did that by going door-to-door and talking to people and listening, and understanding what their interests and needs are.”
Catherine Jackson said Prins understands the intricacies of policy making, and demonstrated that as a member of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE).
Prins’ nomination was seconded by former Branford fire chief Jack Ahern, who currently serves as Democratic third selectman. Ahern said when he attended his first DTC meeting four years ago, there were only six people present, including Prins. He said he was impressed with Prins’ commitment to the DTC.
“He is a very captivating individual,” Ahern said. “That means he can speak in front of people and hold their attention, and how important is that when you get up to Hartford.”
Registrar of Voters
There was one other vote Tuesday — for Dan Hally to continue as the Democratic Registrar of Voters. Hally, who has served since 2007, was unanimously endorsed by a voice vote of the DTC.
“We’ve got to work as a team to get the vote out,” he told the DTC.
A Divided DTC?
This was one of the few times in recent DTC memory that three candidates sought the State Rep position. The three-way competition showed a deeply divided Branford Democratic party, one that is still seeking ways to come to terms with the Hillary Clinton/ Bernie Sanders divide of 2016.
For example, Sullivan, the Democratic minority leader of the RTM, the highest Democratic position of that body, is not supporting Comey, the chosen candidate. Sullivan also served as chair of the DTC until 2016.
On both the national and local scene, leftist progressives want to push the Democratic Party further to the left as Dems struggle to determine the party’s identity. This is an issue the DTC has faced this year as well.
Sullivan is now backing Bonenberger who has not held elective office. Their supporters are strong believers in the liberal Working Families Party (WFP). Bonenberger had planned to challenge Rep. Reed in the November election until she decided not to seek a sixth term in office. He is still planning a primary, only this time it will be against Comey and perhaps Prins.
Sullivan is Bonenberger’s campaign treasurer. Sullivan was a strong Bernie Sanders supporter in the 2016 presidential campaign. In backing Bonenberger instead of Comey, Sullivan has taken a stand that may alienate him from other local Dems. Previously he said he would not support Reed if she ran for a sixth term.
Sullivan has ties to the Working Families Party (WFP)and to State Rep. Josh Elliot of Hamden. The WFP is a union-financed group that provides candidates staff to help them in select primaries. It also cross-endorses in dozens of general elections.
As for the other candidates, Prins, a BOE member, was nominated by Catherine Jackson, a former chair of the BOE. He was seconded by Jack Ahern, the current third selectman and the only democrat on the Board of Selectmen. Ahern, the town’s former fire chief, is a popular figure in town.
Ahern told the Eagle before the vote that he was in favor of Prins because he had the most experience.
Bonenberger was nominated by Peter Jackson, a Democratic member of the RTM and Catherine Jackson’s husband. The Jacksons live near the Bonenberger family in Short Beach.
Marcia Chambers contributed reporting to this story.