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Derek Slap Receives Endorsement of West Hartford Mayor in Quest for 5th District State Senate Seat

State Rep. Derek Slap. (we-ha.com file photo)

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, a special election will be called by Gov.-elect Ned Lamont for late February or early March, and the date will be set within 10 days of the seat becoming vacant.

By Ronni Newton

Shari Cantor. Submitted photo (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor has issued a statement indicating her support for Derek Slap as the successor to State Sen. Beth Bye in the 5th District, and said that she decided to make the endorsement in order to unify the party.

“Derek is a champion for West Hartford, and I have seen firsthand how hard he has worked to protect West Hartford’s education funding,” Cantor said in her statement endorsing Slap.

“He is a coalition builder and a leader who has fought every day for progressive values such as pay equity, workers’ rights, accountability for the MDC, job creation, and a stronger Connecticut economy that works for everyone. I enthusiastically endorse Derek Slap for State Senate,” she stated.

Slap declared his interest in the seat on Wednesday, the same day that the announcement of Bye’s appointment by Gov.-elect Ned Lamont to lead the Office of Early Childhood was made.

Cantor said that she is confident that Slap, 45, who was elected to his second term in the State House in November, will be able to step into a leadership role and represent the town at a high level on day one – something that is critically important in a legislative session where West Hartford will be losing two veterans, Bye and Andy Fleischmann.

In addition to his term in the State House, Slap previously served as chief of staff for Senate Democrats from 2007-2014. 

“I came out with the endorsement to unify the party behind the strongest and most qualified candidate to serve West Hartford,” Cantor told We-Ha.com.

“I’m really honored to have Mayor Cantor’s support, and for the level of confidence she has in me to be able to hit the ground running right away to advocate for families in West Hartford,” Slap said.

He said that he and Cantor have worked well together, particularly through the recent state budget crises. “There were lots of late night calls and texts. We’ve been through the battle together,” said Slap, and they have a great working relationship, which is critical for West Hartford and he believes is also expected by constituents.

“Beth [Bye] has been a tremendous state senator, and she’s not easy to follow,” said Slap. “If I am fortunate to be elected, I would be coming in right in the middle of the legislative session, and my experience will allow me to advocate right away.”

The date for the special election to fill the seat will be set by Lamont within 10 days of the resignation of the existing office-holder, Gabe Rosenberg, Communications Director for Secretary of State Denise Merrill, said Monday.

Rosenberg said that Bye will need to officially sign a letter of resignation before the elected members of the State Senate take the oath of office on Wednesday. That will start the process.

The special election will be 46 days after it is called by the governor. That traditionally happens on a Friday, Rosenberg said, so that the special election will take place on a Tuesday. He anticipates that Lamont will call the special election either this week or on Jan. 18, and the special election will then be either Feb. 26 or March 5.

Bye has been a state senator since 2010, and was a state representative prior to that. If she had remained in the State Senate, she would have chaired the Education Committee.

Fleischmann, a 12-term incumbent in the 18th State House District, lost in the Democratic primary in August to Jillian Gilchrest, who went on to defeat Republican Mary Fay in the November election.

Cantor said that before making her endorsement of Slap public, she spoke with West Hartford Deputy Mayor Beth Kerrigan and attorney Janée Woods-Weber, both of whom have indicated interest in Bye’s seat.

Kerrigan told We-Ha.com over the weekend that she planned to pursue the seat, and said that she thinks it’s important to maintain diversity in the State Senate. “At a time when we are making great strides across the board – right now when the legislature is 25 percent female – to slide backward doesn’t bode well,” Kerrigan said.

According to the Connecticut Mirror, in the November 2018 election the State Senate reached a new level of diversity, with 11 women elected to the 36-member chamber.

Woods-Weber, a West Hartford attorney who is director of organizational culture with the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Foundation and a member of the state committee for the Working Families Party, has also expressed interest in pursuing the seat.

Gilchrest initially expressed some interest in the State Senate seat, but on Friday she submitted a letter to the editor to We-Ha.com outlining the reasons why she has decided not to pursue Bye’s seat.

According to the Connecticut Mirror, the same 67 delegates who endorsed Bye in 2018 will control the nomination of the candidate to replace her, and their decision cannot be challenged in a primary. Forty-five of those delegates are from West Hartford, and there are 13 from Farmington, six from Burlington and three from the western section of Bloomfield which is in the 5th District.

The nominating convention has not yet been scheduled, but according to Rosenberg it “can take place any time after the resignation, but not later than the 36th day before the special election.”

Republican delegates can also nominate a candidate to run in the special election for the 5th District seat. West Hartford resident Mark Merritt, who ran against Bye in 2016, initially expressed some interest in the seat but in a statement Sunday night said he has decided not to pursue it.

“As the 2016 Republican Nominee for District 5, we campaigned to be a voice for fiscal change for our district and state. Sadly, we’ve continued down a path that puts us further behind and increase our reliance on more increasing taxes for of us. We have great potential and can have a bright future for all if we can change the path we are on,” Merritt said in a statement, but because he is starting a new professional opportunity in March he said he cannot make the commitment to run for State Senate.

Merritt said he plans a run for the West Hartford Town Council this fall.

The West Hartford Republican Town Committee has not yet indicated if another candidate will run for the seat, and there has not been any official notification from town committees in other district towns either.

According to Rosenberg, the Independent Party, which received more than 1 percent of the vote in November’s election, can also nominate a candidate.

The Working Families Party, of which Woods-Weber is a committee member, does not have a line on the ballot, Rosenberg said. If the Working Families Party wanted to nominate a candidate, they would need to obtain the signatures of 1 percent of the votes cast in the last election, which is 472 signatures.

Rosenberg also said that if Slap is elected to fill Bye’s seat, the same process of a special election set by the governor and nominating conventions would follow his resignation from the State House and swearing in to the State Senate.

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