Courtesy of Ron Gambardella and Lauren Garrett

In Hamden, a spirited mayoral race will come to a close next Tuesday, when voters go to the polls to select who will hold the city’s highest office for the next two years. 

The two candidates on the ballot are Democrat Lauren Garrett and Republican Ron Gambardella, both of whom are former members of the Hamden Legislative Council who have previously run for mayor. This election cycle, the two have centered their candidacies around the town’s finances, economic growth and crime. Garrett unsuccessfully challenged incumbent mayor, Curt Leng, in 2019, while Gambardella campaigned for the job in both 2007 and 2009. During this past primary season, Garrett beat Mayor Leng, ensuring that the next mayor will be a first-time holder of the seat.

Garrett said that her time on the Legislative Council inspired her to run. 

I was seeing stagnant economic development,” Garrett said. “Information not being given to the council in a timely fashion or with the level of transparency that I wanted to see. And so I figured I could do a better job.” 

Garrett said she is running to address the city’s financial woes. Hamden has the highest debt per capita in Connecticut, and in 2019 it reported $1.1 billion in long-term liabilities. Garrett has a long list of proposals to tackle the issue, which include “getting our fund balance stabilized, improving our credit rating, our bond rating and really putting the town on a better financial footing,” she said.

She also has a vision for joint economic development with New Haven, noting that she hopes to see Dixwell Avenue as “an economic center, where we have art and culture that is celebrated from New Haven to Hamden.”

Gambardella agreed that the town’s financial struggles are a central issue. However, he put forward different policy positions. 

Gambardella said he would improve town revenues and “bolster economic development” if elected. For example, he sees crime as one of the primary roadblocks to the city’s economic success. Gambardella argued that “random gunshots going off in the community, people being accosted in the parking lot looking for donations, looking for jobs, looking for money, causes fear on the shoppers,” who consequently take their businesses elsewhere. Gambardella proposed that the Hamden Police Department rehires retired police officers on a part time basis. He said that this would free up the police force, which would enable the department to have more officers patrol Hamden and make the community feel safer.

Garrett said that she is also invested in addressing crime, but she has a different vision than Gambardella does.

“Police respond to crime,” Garrett said. “I’m very much interested in preventing crime from happening in the first place.” 

She advocated for “trauma-informed policing,” as well as a more holistic approach to criminal behavior. That approach includes investments in “good-paying jobs, opportunities for people, affordable housing and mental health support,” she said.

Both candidates told the News that they are in a strong position to win. Garrett highlighted her strength in the field, reporting that her campaign has knocked on more than 20,000 doors of both Democrats and unaffiliated voters. 

“What we’re hearing on the doors is overwhelming support,” Garrett said. “People are ready for change.” Garrett argued that the enthusiasm extends beyond her candidacy to the rest of the Democratic ticket. 

Gambardella and the Republicans are out-registered by Democrats approximately 19,000 to 4,000 in Hamden. Nonetheless, Gambardella said that he feels as though he has a winning strategy. Coming off a contentious primary season, Gambardella senses a split between progressive and moderate Democrats. He estimates that to win he needs between 20 and 30 percent of Democrats to break with the party and vote for him, which he sees as possible. Additionally, Gambardella is focused less on door knocking, lauding social media as “the single greatest impact on persuading people of a specific message that I’d like to communicate to them.” 

The Hamden voter base includes Yale students — 24 Hamden residents are listed on the Yale student directory Yalies. One Hamden voter is Hannah Szabo ’25. Szabo, a 15-year resident of Hamden, will be voting in her first election this Tuesday. She plans on voting for Garrett.

“Democratic mayors have been relatively successful mayors of Hamden,” Szabo said. 

The city has not elected a Republican mayor since 1999, and Szabo does not anticipate that changing. 

The polls open in Hamden at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

NATHANIEL ROSENBERG