Foes differ on reason for election outcome


Democrat state Representative Vickie Nardello of Prospect, left, lost her bid for reelection in the 89th House District to Republican Lezlye Zupkus, of Prospect.

PROSPECT — For 18 years, Vickie Nardello served the 89th House District.

No longer.

Her Republican challenger, Lezlye Zupkus, 46, ousted her from the seat on Nov. 6 by 233 votes, or 6,229 to 5,996, according to the Secretary of the State’s website.

The 89th District serves Bethany, Prospect and part of Cheshire.

Nardello, 61, who has co-chaired the Energy and Technology Committee, says she lost the race chiefly because of negative literature disseminated by the Zupkus campaign and a super political action committee based in Fairfield called Voters for Good Government.

The Democrat also says her strong stances in the legislature hurt her among voters. She said she has stood up against large corporations, and in doing so she made enemies who wanted to see her defeated.

Zupkus, a former Planning and Zoning Commission member, sees the outcome of the race differently. She said people wanted to be heard and represented, and some didn’t even know who Nardello was.

Zupkus benefited from the support of Voters for Good Government that mailed fliers to voters in the district on the Thursday and Friday before the Nov. 6 election.

The fliers accused Nardello of supporting the biggest tax increases in Connecticut history.

This year, the PAC spent more than $278,500 on seven state Senate races and one state House race, according to campaign filing documents. Their TV ads, direct mail and phone calls supported Republicans and opposed Democrats.

The top five donors to the PAC are the Republican State Leadership Committee, Washington, D.C.; Roger Sherman Liberty Center, Milford; Americans for Job Security, Alexandria, Va.; American Justice Partnership, Lansing, Mich.; and billionaire Thomas Peterffy, of Greenwich.

Liz Kurantowicz, managing director of Voters for Good Government, said the PAC’s goal was to promote candidates who strive to create new jobs and improve the economy. It also was to educate the voters on the issues, she said.

Nardello said the PAC’s mailers failed to provide the background of why she voted the way she did. According to one of her own campaign fliers, Nardello voted to cut $889 million from the state budget; deeper cuts would have resulted in cuts to senior services, education and municipal funding, she contended.

A mailer paid for by Zupkus’ campaign targeted Nardello for voting to create risk reduction credits that Zupkus charged allow violent criminals to get out of prison early.

Nardello, in her campaign literature, stated that earning early release time for prisoners is not a new program, and early release does not apply to criminals convicted of murder, capital felony, felony murder, aggravated sexual assault (first degree) or home invasion.

Robert Hiscox, Zupkus’ campaign manager in Prospect, said he would not characterize Zupkus’s campaign as negative, and the only issues that arose was Nardello’s voting record.

He said what he sensed from door-to-door was people didn’t dislike Nardello — they were concerned over the direction the state has been going in.

Zupkus’s campaign did not have any connection to Voters for Good Government, he added.

There is no way to know why voters who had supported Nardello for years turned against her in November, but it is clear she lost a lot of support in her hometown of Prospect.

Over the years, Nardello said she carried Cheshire the entire time and Bethany in all years except the first. Her hometown has been more difficult a few times over the years, but she lost it this year by a wide margin, Nardello said. Out of 18 years, she carried Prospect all but four of those elections, she said.

According to state numbers, in Prospect, Zupkus beat Nardello by 753 votes, or 2,849 to 2,096. Nardello won Bethany by 129 votes, and won Cheshire by 391 votes.

In 2010, Nardello defeated Republican Katheryn Brown by 707 votes, or 5,418 to 4,711, state numbers show. Nardello lost Prospect by 80 votes then. She again won Cheshire and Bethany.

However, in 2008 and 2006, Nardello won Prospect by 1,415 votes and 467 votes, respectively, state figures show.

As of Nov. 6, Prospect had 6,298 registered voters. Of those, 3,038 were unaffiliated, 1,897 Republican, 1,318 Democratic and 45 other, according to the registrar of voters.

Zupkus credited her win to getting out and listening and talking to voters. She said she and her team knocked on 5,500 to 6,000 doors and talked to more than 10,000 people.

“People want to be heard,” Zupkus said. “They want to be represented.”

Now, she said, she is looking forward to getting up to Hartford, listening a lot and representing her constituents.

Nardello said she knocked on more than 5,000 doors, and that’s been her main campaign strategy since she began running. Many of her relationships were based solely on meeting people at their doors, she said.

She thinks the negative campaigning by Zupkus and her supporters soured voters on her performance.

She said she did not resort to negative campaigning, and never has.

“It was not something I would do,” Nardello said. “At the end of the day, I have to retain my self-respect.”