STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) - Democratic state Rep. Caroline Simmons was elected Tuesday as mayor of Stamford, Connecticut, as former MLB manager and player Bobby Valentine conceded defeat in what ended up being a close race decided by absentee ballots.
She will be the first woman to serve as mayor of Stamford, the state's second-largest city. Simmons called it "a special day for Stamford women. Together we made history."
The 35-year-old legislator, who previously defeated the two-term incumbent Democratic mayor in a September primary, credited voters with seeking "a brighter future" for Stamford, as it continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Today, voters embraced the belief that we can emerge stronger from this pandemic, if we work together, support each other, lift each other up with kindness and love, and unite around a common goal of making Stamford a city of opportunity for everyone," Simmons told a crowd of supporters at a downtown brewery.
Throughout the campaign, which became spirited in the final weeks, Valentine, 71, argued that he was better suited than Simmons for the job of mayor, citing his time managing professional baseball teams, owning a chain of restaurants, and serving as the city's former public safety director. Simmons, however, touted her experience in both state and federal government. First elected in 2014 to represent Stamford in the General Assembly, she is co-chair of the Commerce Committee.
"I think people recognize that he may be a great baseball player and have that celebrity status, but they don't necessarily want him as mayor or don't think that translates into being a good mayor," Simmons said in an interview with The Associated Press before the election. She said the voters "want a leader who is going to be ready on day one to serve them."
Valentine conceded defeat in a speech to supporters Tuesday night. During his brief remarks, he criticized the media's coverage of his candidacy and also praised his hometown.
"I'll always love the people of this city and will always think that Stamford is special," Valentine said. Earlier in the night, he described the margin between him and Simmons as "paper thin" and said the race would be decided by absentee ballots. As in last year's presidential election, voters in Connecticut could use the pandemic as an excuse for voting absentee in this year's municipal elections.
Stamford is the state's fastest-growing city. The surge of newcomers, including New Yorkers who moved during the height of the pandemic, has brought benefits and complications to a city of more than 135,000 where soaring property values have exacerbated a dearth of affordable housing.
The race attracted national attention. Former Republican President George W. Bush, who was a managing partner of the Texas Rangers when the team fired Valentine as its manager, contributed $500 to the candidate's campaign. Meanwhile, former Democratic President Barack Obama endorsed Simmons.
Simmons, who is married with two young sons, announced during the campaign she is pregnant with the couple's third child. She was pregnant each time she ran for the General Assembly as well.
It was the first political campaign for Valentine, a former Republican who ran as an unaffiliated candidate after submitting 188 signatures to get on the ballot. He previously managed the Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and the Japanese Pacific League's Chiba Lotte Marines.