By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
MIDDLEBURY — Democratic delegates from multiple towns have voted 12-5 to endorse Republican Probate Judge Peter Mariano as the Democratic candidate for Probate District 21 judge in the November election.
The 21st District encompasses Naugatuck, Prospect, Beacon Falls and Middlebury.
A 20-year judge, Mariano was the only nominee at the Democratic nominating convention Monday evening at Shepardson Community Center. All three Middlebury delegates, seven Naugatuck delegates and two Beacon Falls delegates voted for Mariano. All four Prospect delegates voted against Mariano. Four delegates abstained from voting.
Mariano also plans to be in the GOP primary for the seat Aug. 9.
Republican delegates voted 15-6 on May 18 to endorse state Rep. Rosa C. Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, as their candidate. Rebimbas, who isn’t running for re-election to the legislature, has been a practicing attorney for 19 years, and has represented the 70th House District since winning a special election in 2009.
Mariano, 61, of the borough, is nearing the end of his fifth four-year term as probate judge and has run unopposed for 16 years. He was sentenced May 9 to one year in prison, but the sentence was reduced to four days for three drunken-driving charges and driving with a suspended license after he pleaded guilty to two counts of operating under the influence as a first offender and second-degree reckless endangerment on charges from last year.
Mariano thanked all of the delegates for their support shortly after the Democratic convention.
“I believe the vote should be from the people,” he said. “I said all along I want to be on the ballot in November regardless, and I will be on the ballot in November whether I win my primary or lose my primary.”
Kathleen Donovan of Naugatuck and Naugatuck Tax Collector Jim Goggin nominated Mariano.
“In my experience as legal profession practicing probate law, which is my specialty, Judge Mariano has presided over these matters with care, understanding and fairness,” Donovan said.
Goggin, who said he’s known Mariano for at least 50 years, said their Town Hall offices have been next to each other for 16 years.
“It is run well,” Goggin said of Mariano’s office. “It’s run with compassion and … I just believe he would be the best person.”
The Democratic convention was reconvened last week from its May 12 session after there were questions about whether the party can endorse a nonDemocrat for probate judge.
“Communication was made with the state party and I can tell you at this point it’s incomplete,” Naugatuck Democratic Town Committee Chairman Leonard Caine said. “There is no final determination … coming down from Hartford answering that question.”
A certification of party endorsement had to be filed by Monday night and paperwork had to be filed with the state by Tuesday at 4 p.m. If there was no endorsement by that time, the Democrats wouldn’t have been allowed to convene further and endorse anyone, Caine said.
The Democratic endorsement came after a few delegates challenged endorsing a candidate from the rival party.
Katie Blinstrubas of Prospect said there is rule that the candidate shall be a Democrat.
“I object to the nomination because I don’t think the judge is eligible,” Blinstrubas said of Mariano.
“Pete’s been a friend of mine for a long time,” Naugatuck delegate Patrick Scully said. “I like him, I respect him, but I don’t think I can vote for him because he’s not a registered Democrat and we can’t cross-endorse.”
Others said bipartisan politics don’t belong with this position.
Naugatuck Burgess Rocky Vitale, who voted for Mariano as one of the borough’s delegates, said the office has run effectively for a long time with no issues.
“The most important thing to me is this office needs to remain bipartisan and I think that’s how it is right now,” Vitale said. “My fear is if another candidate gets in, then we’re going to lose that bipartisanship and that is just so important in this office.”
Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess echoed the importance of remaining bipartisan.
“People in Naugatuck do not like partisan politics. The position of probate judge is without question a nonpartisan position,” he said. “Pete Mariano has always done a great job in a compassionate manner. Last year, he stumbled and fell down hard, but he got back up and is now stronger than ever. He deserves to be on the ballot in November.”