The 2021 Branford election season is quickly becoming a tipping point for Branford Democrats.
The struggle is a real one: Does one stand with ones’ party at all costs, or does one stand for something, and put those ideals first?
Branford has long avoided the divisiveness of big city and national politics in its elections. Even races that are hotly contested have been about local issues, and often on claims where there can be multiple sides on an issue.
But residents are seeing that change this year. With a new Democratic chair, Kevin Coughlin, who is new to town but experienced in New Haven politics and working for the state Senate Democrats, residents are barraged with mailers from candidates Tom Brockett and Ray Dunbar who go beyond fudging the issues and have no issue repeating lies, and often ones that are easily proven as such. For example:
Claim: The Senior Center project is 4 million dollars over budget
Fact: The Senior Center project has a $29,000 surplus, confirmed with the budget office.
Claim: Brockett states he voted in favor of Cosgrove’s $2.5 million town center upgrade plan
Fact: There was no vote on it as it was an outside grant, not town money. Brockett’s vote never happened.
Claim: Brockett sends out mailers labeling town buildings as ‘vacant’ in an effort to attack Cosgrove’s economic development
Fact: At least two of the buildings have tenants, and one actually has the building permit on the window that Brockett ignored. The tenants have taken to social media to call out Brockett’s lies. Contrary to Brocketts claims, there is actually too much demand for commercial space, creating a shortage.
But few claims come as close to the two massive centerpieces of the Brockett/Coughlin campaign: that residents were kept in the dark during a live shooter incident earlier this year, and that there was some scheme by Republicans to funnel money to Cosgrove via a small business owner in town.
The attack on communication during the live shooter incident was an attempt at an attack on Cosgrove, but during such an incident, the communication is handled by police. First responders in town took the attack hard, as did countless residents who flooded social media with praise for how it was handled.
Despite this, Brockett doubled down on his claims in a debate with Cosgrove, and refused to apologize to first responders, many of which were in the line of fire that day.
Then, the Democratic Party sent out a mass email to supporters supposedly exposing a scheme by Cosgrove to funnel money from the town to himself. The “scheme” is fiction; they have provided no evidence of it and the bidding process was open and transparent, but the lies continue, which based on a New Haven Register article, appear to be the brainchild of Kurt Schwanfelder, who ran against Cosgrove 8 years ago and lost.
But the tipping point comes not based on the lies of the party, which are significant, as most are easily disprovable, and are clearly aimed at the casual observer who may lack the understanding of town politics to see beyond the slander. The real question for Democrats comes when we look at Cosgroves actual record.
Many Democrats have spoken out in favor of that record, which is extremely positive on issues Democrats claim to be important to them.
For example, Cosgrove has easily been one of the most progressive leaders on environmental issues in the state. The town has completed an energy audit of town buildings, created the states first Coastal Resiliency Fund, created one of the first solar farms on the shoreline, and created various other energy conservation commissions.
And some Democrats have taken public stands in favor of Cosgrove on this issue. Letters in various publications have been filled with Democrats praising Cosgrove environmental record and putting the town ahead of party in their public support for him.
On social issues, Cosgrove also shines. Even the Branford Democratic Town Committee praised the addition of social worker working along with police, making calls and following up on issues as she works with police and the towns Counseling Center. Branford was one of the first towns in the state to add such a position.
For seniors, a senior center that was long overdue is now reality, moved forward once Cosgrove took office.
For parents and students, a new Walsh school was equally long overdue, and the source of constant complaints from parents due to its former design, where classrooms were open, and lacked actual walls.
And that is what makes this election so difficult for registered Democrats. On one hand, the incumbent has a history of a focus on the environment, addressing seniors needs, bettering education, and taking social issues seriously. But, he’s not a registered Democrat.
What comes first? Party loyalty, or the candidate who most matches your values?
And what if that candidate has also kept the mill rate lower than surrounding towns, maintained AAA bond ratings from outside agencies, managed to see improvements to the towns library and animal shelters, saw the town through Covid and has major economic development project underway or coming?
Thus the tipping point. Most Democrats will lean toward voting for a Democrat; this is natural. But what if your values are most matched by a candidate with a less attractive party affiliation? What comes first?
Now add this: one candidate has been in office 8 years, and has never sent a negative mailer or placed a negative ad. He has never attacked his opponent. Not once. And that is while dealing with a Democratic candidate who has run the most dishonest campaign in recent Branford memory.
So which comes first?
Party loyalty, or ideals?