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Primary: Toleno defeats O’Connor; Partridge, Treiber trump Moore

Commons News Editor Randolph T. Holhut contributed to this report. Updated on Friday, Aug. 31.

BRATTLEBORO—Come January, there will be a new face in Montpelier representing Brattleboro’s District 3.

Political newcomer and local businessman Tristan Toleno was declared the winner of the Democratic primary on Tuesday, defeating challenger Kate O’Connor by a 352-323.

The winner of the District 3 race will be succeeding retiring incumbent Sarah Edwards, who chose not to run for another term after 10 years in Montpelier as a Progressive lawmaker.

There is no Republican candidate for the seat, which will make Toleno the presumptive state representative.

According to Town Clerk Annette Cappy, about 500 absentee ballots were cast in Brattleboro, but neither O’Connor nor Toleno gained gained from any Democratic write-in votes. O’Connor received four Republican and zero Progressive write-in votes, while Toleno got one Republican and nine Progressive write-in votes.

After hearing the voting results, a happy and amazed Toleno said, “I’m feeling a little dizzy.”

He described his win as a “team win for me” and thanked his campaign volunteers and his campaign manager, Don Webster.

Toleno said he would plan his next steps after a good night’s sleep.

Now a caterer, Toleno has worked for 18 years as a chef and operated the former Riverview restaurant for 11 years. His wife Susan Webster-Toleno is also from Brattleboro. The couple has two boys, Owen and Malcolm.

In a phone interview, O’Connor said of the loss, “I’m doing fine. I’ve been in this business long enough. This isn’t my first rodeo, as they say.”

Even though the unofficial results were close, with 29 votes between the two, O’Connor said she wouldn’t call for a recount.

O’Connor said working for Gov. Peter Shumlin and former Gov. Howard Dean taught her that “you win some, you lose some, and look where they are now.”

She said that this was the first campaign that she ran for herself.

“I found that there are so many great people in this town. It [the support] really meant a lot to me. I know I sound so sappy, but it’s actually true,” she said.

O’Connor was not sure what her next step would be, but said in the short-term, she needed to shift her energy back to promoting her recent book, Do The Impossible, about the Dean presidential campaign in 2004.

Other races

In Windham-3, incumbents Carolyn Partridge and Matt Trieber held on to their seats, turning back a stiff challenge from Bellows Falls attorney Chris Moore.

Partridge was the top vote-getter with 749 votes, followed by Trieber with 733 votes, and Moore with 563. Moore ran a close race in Rockingham, but Trieber and Partridge got more votes in the other towns in the district.

In the Democratic race for state senate, incumbents Jeanette White and Peter Galbraith cruised to victory over challenger Mary Cain.

With all but one town reporting as of Wednesday morning, White received 3,043 votes, Galbraith 2,703, and Cain 824.

White and Galbraith will run unopposed in November, as will Partridge and Trieber.

In the only contested statewide race in the Democratic primary, incumbent Attorney General Bill Sorrell defeated Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan in a race that was decided by less than 700 votes.

With 99 percent of the statewide vote counted, Sorrell had a 20,985–20,309 lead on Donovan, who formally conceded defeated at noontime Wednesday.

Sorrell now faces Republican candidate Jack McMullen, who was unopposed in his primary.

The only contested statewide race on the Republican ballot saw Windsor businessman Jack MacGovern defeat H. Brooke Page for the nomination to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in November. MacGovern received about 75 percent of the vote.

Outside the polls

Candidates and those running unopposed sat outside the Brattleboro polls Tuesday waving signs and speaking with voters.

Although running unopposed, incumbents Valerie Stuart, D-Windham-2-1, and Mollie Burke, P/D-Windham-2-2, said they came to the polls because they didn’t want to take their positions for granted. Both said that doing so provided a good opportunity to speak with voters.

“If people elect you, you have the responsibility to be involved,” said Stuart.

Stuart, who serves on the House Education Committee, said voters asked her about eduction issues. Burke said she spoke with a man working on encouraging more use of power-assisted bicycles in town. Burke said she admired the man’s work because grassroots efforts grow into governmental support and programs.

Voters also stopped to ask White questions on the issues of property taxes, health-care reform, and medical marijuana dispensaries.

After Cappy read the unofficial results, White said, “I’m really excited.” White added that she didn’t want to take her position as State Senator for granted.

Galbraith also said he was “very happy” with the results.

Cain said, “A great day, couldn’t be better,” over her shoulder as she walked briskly to her car. When questioned if voters had asked her about any issues, Cain, still walking, said, “I’ve been here all day.”

Low turnout statewide

Turnout was extremely light for the primary around the state. According to Secretary of State Jim Condos only about 9 percent of Vermont’s 446,000 registered voters cast ballots.

By comparison, even with a five-way race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010, statewide turnout was only 24 percent.

This is the second primary election that Vermont has held in August. In 2010, the primary voting date was changed from the traditional second Tuesday in September to the last Tuesday in August.

The date was moved up to comply with a federal law that calls for absentee ballots to be mailed out at least 45 days before the November general election to make it easier for overseas voters to cast their ballots on time.

Turnouts in the 2006 and 2008 primaries both were under 10 percent, and at the time, critics of moving the primary to August feared that summertime voting would even further reduce turnout at the polls.

The highest voter turnout for a Vermont primary in the past two decades — 30 percent — came in 2000, prompted by the passage of the Civil Unions bill and contested primaries for governor and U.S. Senate.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #167 (Wednesday, August 29, 2012).

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