National group aims to turn Westport’s top job blue
Updated 2:47 pm, Saturday, August 19, 2017
WESTPORT — A national group looking to make government bluer is throwing its support behind Westport’s Democratic first selectman ticket.
The group, Code Blue, formed after President Donald Trump’s November 2016 election under the creation of television producer M.J. Loheed to push for progressive candidates at every level of government — federal, state and local. Now 24,000 members strong, it is among a flurry of groups founded post-election that are coalescing support across district and state lines for Democratic candidates.
Westport “definitely is a flippable town,” said Lisa Thomas, a Connecticut coordinator for Code Blue.
The race was picked as part of a list of six in the state that Code Blue is promoting alongside Danbury, Bristol, New Britain and Trumbull first selectman or mayoral races. The sixth race had not been confirmed.
Each race was chosen after data analysis by Code Blue’s own national and state teams and by the state’s Democratic Party. In Westport’s Democratic ticket — first selectman candidate Melissa Kane and her running mate Rob Simmelkjaer — the group saw a good chance for victory based on the town’s voter base and candidates themselves, Thomas said.
Kane’s campaign manager, Josh Dellaquila, also highlighted that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton received far more votes in Westport than Trump last fall and that the Democratic ticket is led by a female candidate.
“I think this race is interesting because we do have a woman at the top of the ticket and there should be more women in positions in government across the board,” he said. “They lack in representation.”
Of Code Blue’s backing, he added, “We welcome their support.”
Groups similar to Code Blue entered the spotlight earlier this summer when a Georgia special election to fill Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s seat became the priciest race in House of Representatives history. Millions poured in from out-of-state for Democrat Jon Ossoff, though he ultimately lost the election.
Code Blue — which operates by creating action pages organized by state that direct members how they can donate or volunteer for a campaign — has supported two Connecticut special elections so far, including the special election for a selectman’s seat in Fairfield. Democrat Kevin Kiley won the special election, and Dellaquila, also involved in the Kiley campaign, said Code Blue played a role.
“I think it made a difference in terms of our capacity,” he said. “We would not have been able to reach as many potential voters had Code Blue and Action Together Connecticut not been involved.”
The latter group, Action Together Connecticut, is a group within the state harboring similar goals that partnered with Code Blue to support Kiley.
On special election day, Dellaquila said 800 voters came out that had not voted in municipal elections in recent history. Whether they voted for Kiley or not, he said, the turnout was in part thanks to getting out the word with additional volunteer support.
Because Code Blue directs members to donate directly to campaigns and does not gather funding itself, exact fundraising impacts can’t be accurately calculated.
An action page detailing how to directly support Kane and Simmelkjaer in the Westport race has been posted by Code Blue. It aims to help garner financial support as well as volunteers for phone banking and canvasing for the campaign.
Thomas and Dellaquila are both hopeful Connecticut members will step up.
Thomas added that among Code Blue’s goals are to get citizens involved in their local elections and to begin to form a group of progressive politicians who could run for future local, state and national office.
“You can’t make an impact at the national level unless you have people that feel like they’re ready to run at the national level,” she said.
Ultimately, Thomas sees a need at every level of government to have Democratic candidates in office to push back against what she said is a Republican and Trump agenda of “hatred and bigotry, of taking away people’s access to health care, reducing women’s reproductive rights and in general many of the other issues we’ve been concerned about.”
As of early last month, First Selectman Jim Marpe, the Republican candidate, said his campaign had raised about $40,000. Kane and Simmelkjaer had raised $23,105.