HomeAmericasMayoral candidate facing charges on January 6 wins primary recount

Mayoral candidate facing charges on January 6 wins primary recount

Republican voters in Derby, Connecticut, rejected the city’s three-term incumbent mayor in favor of a man who was charged with trespassing during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Gino DiGiovanni Jr., a member of the local board of aldermen, defeated Mayor Richard Dziekan in the Republican primary by just 10 votes (202 to 192). The initial result was confirmed in a recount on Friday afternoon, which was automatically activated due to the narrow margin.

The rise of DiGiovanni, 42, has stunned leaders in Connecticut, where 59 percent of voters cast their ballots for Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020. Only a handful of Connecticut residents have been charged in connection with the riot.

His victory is also notable for Derby, a former industrial city of just over 12,000 residents. The presidential race was close: Biden beat Donald J. Trump in the Derby by four points. So was the 2021 mayoral race: Dziekan defeated his Democratic opponent by just 48 votes.

“It’s not like Derby is a town in the Deep South where there is an overwhelming amount of support for Trump,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, a former Democratic operative in Connecticut, adding: “It’s not a hotbed of MAGA activity.”

Mayor Dziekan, 57, intends to appear anyway in the November elections, as a candidate not affiliated with any political party. He will also face Joe DiMartino, 57, the Democratic nominee; and Sharlene McEvoy, a 73-year-old retired law professor, another unaffiliated candidate.

DiGiovanni is among a handful of elected officials nationwide charged in connection with the Capitol riot. Bob Duff, the state Senate majority leader in Connecticut, said DiGiovanni’s rise shows the danger of voters not paying close attention to local elections. “Too many people focus exclusively on the federal level,” he said.

But the local level is where the fight for democracy matters most, he said. “The government system infiltrates and then people rise. “That’s where it rots.”

DiGiovanni, who said he recognizes Biden as president, said he traveled to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, to hear Trump’s speech. Then, he said he, he followed the crowd. He entered the Capitol through a door that a Capitol Police officer was holding open, looked around and left, he said. He saw no violence, he said, and he did not participate in any violence.

“I didn’t go there to overthrow the government,” he said, adding, “I didn’t know there was going to be a quote-unquote insurrection.”

He faces federal misdemeanor trespassing charges but has not yet entered a plea.

“I’m not an election denier,” he said, adding, “I’m not that crazy conspiracist in the tinfoil hat.”

Statewide, DiGiovanni said, he is now known as a “domestic terrorist.” But locally he enjoys great sympathy. He played and later coached football, and helped build a local 9/11 memorial.

“There are people who have given Gino a pass for his Jan. 6 role because he’s a good guy,” said Jim Gildea, president of Derby’s board of education and a longtime figure in city politics.

Even DiGiovanni’s political opponents speak softly of him and his actions on January 6.

“Was your judgment a little off?” said Mayor Dziekan. “I think so. But he’s a great guy.”

Mr. DiMartino, the Democrat, said, “I don’t think it was a great move on his part,” adding, “I’m not really trying to criticize him.”

In fact, Derby leaders said, the primary was less a referendum on Mr. DiGiovanni’s participation on Jan. 6 than on Mayor Dziekan’s record.

Earlier this month, state officials put Derby’s finances under strict supervision after an audit found a $1.9 million deficit when the city was projected to have a $1 million surplus. The city has no chief financial officer, one of Mr. Dziekan’s main criticisms.

“I’m mayor, but my hands are tied,” he said. “I can’t do much and sometimes people will get mad at you.”

Noah Bookbinder, the president of Citizens for responsibility and ethics in WashingtonA government watchdog said that voter support for Mr. DiGiovanni reveals a worrying trend: Although only a few politicians were charged in connection with Jan. 6, many downplayed the violence.

“The significance in some ways goes beyond the size of this particular community in Connecticut,” he said, arguing that acceptance makes it harder for the country to learn from the riots.

Connecticut legislators considered an invoice that would have prevented people who participated in an insurrection from holding public office. But the legislation died, said Mr. Duff, who co-sponsored it.

Mr. DiGiovanni, Mr. Duff said, “was Exhibit A of why we needed this legislation.” He added: “It shouldn’t be anywhere near the levers of government.”

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