The state House of Representatives’ seat for the 104th district will still belong to a Democrat after Kara Rochelle of Derby defeated Joseph Jaumann of Ansonia Tuesday.
The vote was 4,131 to 3,123, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of the State’s office.
“Thank you everyone for helping to make this happen. Onward to doing better things for the whole community,” Rochelle said during a victory speech in front of supporters in her headquarters on Main Street — next door to her Republican opponent.
Rochelle is an administrator with Shabtai, a faith-based nonprofit affiliated with Yale University.
This was Rochelle’s first attempt at state office. She is replacing Rep. Linda Gentile, D-Ansonia, who opted not to run for another term after representing Ansonia and Derby for more than a decade in the state legislature.
Gentile endorsed Rochelle as her replacement — and was the first person to call Rochelle after her victory.
“She called me and said congratulations, Representative Rochelle,” Rochelle said. “She’s over the moon.”
Article continues after video of Jaumann and his supporters congratulating Rochelle Tuesday night.
The Democrat in this race had a tough mission — to campaign successfully in an area that is frequently voting Republican, a trend that started with the GOP takeover of Ansonia City Hall in 2013.
In addition, polls show Gov. Dannel Malloy is among the most disliked governors in the U.S. — and Republicans all over the state tied any Democrat to the unpopular governor.
But Rochelle got it done, even
raising more money having more cash on hand than Jaumann in the most recent filings available.
“We were hoping that our message and our platform and the things that we were working for the residents would resonate but you never know,” Rochelle said of the campaign. “We were holding our breath hoping that the community saw what we saw and we’re really happy to see they did.”
In the aftermath, Ansonia’s top GOPer blamed Jaumann’s loss on Democrats motivated by their “hatred for President Trump.”
“It’s a blue wave,” Ansonia Republican Town Committee Chairman David Papcin said. “This is something that we expected could happen and it is happening. We did everything as perfect as we could have. It just came down to the Democratic voters were energized. Props to them for that because in 2020 we’re going to give them the fight of their life.”
Jaumann credited Rochelle for the victory, saying she worked hard.
“She ran a very organized and structured campaign,” he said. “She did a really good job, she got her message out.”
Rochelle downplayed national influence on the race.
“Our campaign focused on what the people in this community needed. We really didn’t want folks to lose themselves in the national (campaign) and forget the (state) representative is to our represent our local needs,” she said. “We focused strongly on discussing what we identified as the things that our neighbors need most, and we advocated for (them). I think folks in the community appreciated that, everyone needed a break from what was happening nationally.”
Elizabeth Shortell Lynch, an Ansonia Democrat and former town clerk, said Tuesday’s result should be concerning to Ansonia Republicans, who have controlled local government since 2013.
“I think Ansonia’s turning back blue,” Lynch said. “People are paying attention. There’s a lot of things that have happened that people aren’t happy about.”
Rochelle has deep roots in the Valley. She was born and raised in Seymour, where her grandmother was a Registrar of Voters. Her father is a member of the Seymour Fire Department.
She even snagged a few Republican endorsements in the weeks leading up to the race, including letters of support from Bill Nimons, the president of the Ansonia Board of Education, Ansonia Alderman Kevin O’Brien, and Vinnie Scarlata, a member of the Ansonia school board.
Rochelle also enjoyed the support of the president of the Ansonia teachers’ union, who urged people to vote for her at a rally in October.
School funding has caused a deep rift in Ansonia. In January the Aldermen voted to take away $600,000 in previously approved school funding. Jaumann was one of the Aldermen who voted to take the money away.
The Cassetti administration said they were justified in doing so but the school board disagreed and is suing the city over the move.
Teachers in Ansonia said the budget cut is having a terrible impact on schools.
Rochelle credited the issue with helping her connect with voters.
“The damage done to the schools broke people’s trust, and I think people in this community have started to see that actions needed to match words,” she said.
But Rochelle said that wasn’t what was on voters minds the most in her campaigning.
Jobs were the voters’ top concern among many, Rochelle said.
“At the end of the day people just want to have a decent way of life,” said said. “And they want to know they can support their kids and their family, they want to know they can afford to retire with dignity, they want to know they can afford decent healthcare, and they want to know their kids are getting a decent education.”
She said it was too soon Tuesday night to predict her longterm political future, but said she “would like to serve well and for as long as the voters would have me.”
Jaumann, who said he will continue to serve as an Alderman in Ansonia, wouldn’t rule out another run for state office.
“Give me a week to sleep and I’ll let you know,” he said.