Shawn Wooden, a young lawyer beginning his first term in elected office, became the city council president Tuesday by getting the support of three minority party members and just one other Democrat.
The contest split the panel's Democratic caucus, with three voting for veteran Councilman Kenneth Kennedy and one voting for Wooden. The council's three Working Families Party members helped secure the win for Wooden.
But while they're beginning the year divided, Democrats said they are optimistic about working together.
"It's a little shattered," said council newcomer Kyle Anderson, referring to the chemistry among members, "but everybody knew going in what could happen, and it did happen. We'll just take it from here and move forward.
"Everybody's a little on edge right now, but we can work through it. Four years is a long time to serve, and if we address the main concerns of the citizens, I think we can work together."
With three Democrats supporting Kennedy and three Working Families Party members backing Wooden, Anderson's vote was considered the tiebreaker.
Anderson said his vote wasn't meant to snub the Democrats -- he just happened to support the same candidate that the minority party did.
"Most people in the Democratic Party think I've totally shunned the party, but that's not the case," he said Thursday. "It's an electoral process. If [Working Families] is supporting something I'm in favor of, I think it's OK. I'm voting as an individual and they're voting as individuals."
Wooden said Wednesday that he would meet with members of the Democratic caucus.
"I don't believe the council will continue to be divided," he said. "You'll see instances of a divided council, but you'll [also] see a council that's deeply concerned about and focused on a common agenda for the residents of the city.
"My role at this time is to bring people together. When you have a caucus of intelligent, passionate people with a diversity of opinions, going forward, you'll see that reflected."
rJo Winch, the former city council president who was not re-elected in November, said the Democratic caucus doesn't need to be unified, but must be able to reach a consensus on city business.
"If they continue to be divided, the Working Families Party is going to run the council," she said. "They're going to have to work this out during the course of their terms, and that can be difficult, but they have to find a way for that to happen otherwise decisions aren't going to be made and people aren't going to be serviced."
Wooden, who ran against Mayor Pedro Segarra for the city's top job but dropped out of the race in June, said Democrats would also work with the mayor. Segarra has said he would not get involved in the council president election, leaving the decision up to the new council members.
But Councilman Larry Deutsch, a member of the Working Families Party, said the mayor's chief of staff, Jared Kupiec, told him before the council president vote Tuesday that his decision "would have consequences." Deutsch supported Wooden.
"I didn't feel too good," Deutsch said of his reaction to Kupiec's comment. "He could have said instead, 'I look forward to all of us working together no matter what.'"
Kupiec, reached Wednesday, initially denied making the remark, but then said: "I'd say that's consistent for anyone -- actions do have consequences. At the end of the day, it's his vote. I have no control over the council members."
The vote Tuesday may also have marked a turning point for the Working Families Party, which picked up a third seat during the election, edging out all Republican candidates.
"I think we're going to see more listening from them," Councilman Luis Cotto, a Working Families Party member, said of the Democrats. "I think Shawn is going to be open to hearing our point of view.
"On a body where you need five votes, I think the minority caucus is in a better position with three people than with two."
Jon Green, executive director of the state's Working Families Party, called the vote "an important first step" for the council minority party.
"The Working Families caucus was unified and it showed that when we stick together we can have a pretty big impact on important decisions," he said. "Both the election and the results of the council presidency contest will help create a stronger voice for the party."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at