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MERIDEN — Manny Santos’ surprising win over Mayor Michael S. Rohde makes him the first Republican to be elected mayor in 30 years.
Santos, 45, beat Rohde by close to 400 votes in his first run for political office. The 50th elected mayor in the history of the city, Santos is the first Republican since Walter A. Evilia was elected in 1983. Previously, Mark D. Benigni had been elected as an independent, though he received the endorsement of the Republicans.
Along with the mayor’s seat, the Republicans and We the People now control five of the 12 City Council seats. Three years ago Democrats had an 11 to 1 majority.
“We’ve never experienced anything like this while I have been on the council,” said councilor Walter A. Shamock, a We the People member first elected in 1989.
Shamock was first elected the same year as Rohde. In 2008, Rohde was appointed to mayor and has since gone on to win a primary and two elections before his defeat to Santos. Shamock called Rohde “a gentleman” and said that while the two may not agreed he had “nothing bad to say” about him.
Local candidates and party officials speculated on why Rohde was defeated after winning by wide margins in previous elections. Republican Town Committee Chairman Dan Brunet said he always knew Santos would keep the race close and in the past few weeks felt an upset was possible.
“The Democrats seemed to focus most of their efforts toward Luke Ford at the end and not much toward Rohde,” Brunet said, referring to the Democratic challenger he bested in the Area 3 council race. “It seemed like they did take (Rohde) for granted a little...”
Council Majority Leader Brian Daniels said the Democratic Town Committee would review the voting numbers and “retrace steps through the campaign” in analyzing what went wrong.
“Obviously we haven’t had the chance to do that yet,” Daniels said. “We will have to sit down and review what worked, what didn’t work, what the concerns of voters were and how they were addressed and what could have been addressed better.”
Deputy Mayor Matthew C. Dominello said Rohde’s defeat may have more to do with an overall dissatisfaction with government throughout the country. Rohde said Tuesday that voter anger toward incumbents may have influenced the race.
Liz Whitney, the vice chair of the Republican Town Committee, agreed with Brunet that there had been signs of a potential upset in the days before the election.
“I think there was a clear desire for change,” Whitney said. “They knew they were going to get a very different person (as mayor).”
City residents are bound to see change in the near future with the election of Santos. Rohde’s lone appointed official, Constituent Caseworker Ed Siebert, will likely be relieved of his duties and Santos will appoint somebody to the role. Santos also has the power to appoint a deputy mayor.
With Lenny Rich added to the council and the minority parties gaining a seat, Brunet said there will be a focus on committees assignments and leadership positions.
Daniels said he is optimistic the parties will be able to work together.
“I think a diversity of opinion is always a good thing,” Daniels said. “I don’t anticipate really changing how the City Council operates.”
Daniels did, however, state that it is time for the minority parties to offer a more substantive plan.
“Among their platforms this year was a new direction and change, but they never offered any substantive proposals that they were going to follow,” Daniels said, hoping that major projects will continue to move forward. “It’s one of those be careful what you’re asked for situations. It’s time to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.”
Brunet countered Daniels, stating that he was displeased with the leadership on the Democratic side and hopes that things will change with more leverage toward the minority parties.
“It will be an interesting month as far as the mayor’s office, the City Council and new committee assignments go,” he said.
Santos has been vocal in stating that he plans to make sure the council works together better.
Record-Journal reporter Mary Ellen Godin contributed to this report.
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