With Stamford mayoral election over, Caroline Simmons hopes city ‘can come together now’

STAMFORD — After a bruising campaign between Bobby Valentine and herself, Mayor-elect Caroline Simmons is gearing up to enter office next month.

The tension between Simmons, a Democratic state representative for Stamford, and Valentine, a former Major League Baseball manager and city native who ran as an unaffiliated candidate, escalated during the final weeks of the race, with each claiming the other was being divisive and negative.

“I think when you get into a very competitive race where people are very passionate, that can happen,” Simmons said in an interview at her campaign headquarters Thursday. “But I’m hopeful now that we can move forward and work together to move our city forward.”

Valentine didn’t call her on election night, she said, but he did “congratulate the new mayor of Stamford” in a tweet.

“I’m looking forward to connecting with him, hopefully, and getting him involved,” Simmons said.

She added that she doesn’t “necessarily envision” him having a position in her administration, but she is “looking forward to listening to him and anybody that wants to be involved in supporting our transition.”

She said she also wanted to thank Valentine for “all that he’s done” for Stamford.

“For everyone that voted for him, I want them to know that I’m going to be the mayor for everyone in our city and that I’m going to listen to them and that I hope that we can come together now and overcome any divisiveness that existed during the campaign,” she said.

Simmons won the mayoral election by about 1,500 votes, according to unofficial results. Turnout was about 40 percent, compared with about 27 percent four years ago, when Mayor David Martin won reelection to a second term.

Simmons, 35, is one of just a handful of women to run for mayor in Stamford — and the only one who has won.

“It was really special seeing moms take their daughters to come vote for potentially the first woman mayor,” Simmons said.

On Thursday, Simmons announced three leaders of her transition team — all of whom are women: Stamford Cradle to Career President Bridget Fox, state Sen. Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford, and Stamford Health CEO Kathleen Silard.

Around midnight Wednesday when Valentine conceded, Miller spoke to the crowd of Simmons supporters gathered at Third Place by Half Full Brewery, saying she never doubted that Simmons would win.

“This is a historic moment for the city of Stamford,” Miller said. “It’s a historic moment for the women and the girls of this city.”

Weeks earlier, when Simmons won the Democratic primary against Martin, Miller told the group of celebrators that Simmons had consulted her before announcing her campaign.

“When Caroline called me and says, ‘Pat, you know, I’m thinking about running for mayor — not unless you want it,’ that is a very humble person,” Miller said. “She asked me if I wanted to run first.”

Miller represented part of Stamford in the state House before she became a state senator earlier this year after winning a special election. She was previously a member of the city’s Board of Representatives.

“I feel humbled but also grateful for the women that came before me,” Simmons told Hearst Connecticut Media. “And also, I take the responsibility really seriously, and I want to set an example for everyone in our city — men and women, everyone who comes to our city — that anything is possible, that you can pursue your dreams here. And I hope to be a role model for women and girls as they pursue their dreams, too, and to be a mentor to them.”

Simmons takes office Dec. 1. A special election will be held to fill her seat in the state House of Representatives.

Simmons said she is working on a plan for her first 100 days in office that will align with her priorities as a candidate — including upgrading the city’s infrastructure and school buildings, making it more affordable to live in Stamford, speeding up responses to residents’ requests and questions, and supporting local businesses.

Simmons met with Martin, who backed her following the primary, on Thursday to discuss the transition.

“We say we’re a family in politics,” Simmons said. “We may have our divisions during the campaign, but I think both of us tried to keep it as positive as we could and focus on the issues and the future of our city. And I think now we’re looking forward to … making (the transition) as seamless as possible and putting the people of Stamford first.”

In terms of her cabinet and other senior positions in city government, Simmons said she hadn’t made any final decisions yet.

“We’re working on that right now,” she said. “I think there’s some amazing, talented, diverse people from the city of Stamford … that we’re looking forward to interviewing and then also new people that will probably be applying.”

Martin has left it to his successor to act on a number of open positions. He did, however, appoint someone to be Stamford’s first chief information officer. The Board of Representatives signed off on a contract for that official, Isidore “Izzy” Sobkowski, this week.

Martin’s chief of staff, Michael Pollard, said the mayor held a briefing with both candidates and members of his cabinet several weeks ago.

“We did it primarily to give an advantage to the person that won, such that they would not be hearing about things for the first time after the election was over with,” Pollard said.

Includes reporting by staff writer Verónica Del Valle.

brianna.gurciullo@hearstmediact.com