Meet the new face of the Stamford Republicans. Will Esses create a ‘positive impact’ or a ‘far-right agenda’?

STAMFORD — In just a few short years, Joshua Esses has risen through the ranks of local Republican politicians.

Just this month, the 30-year-old Harvard Law School graduate was named head of the city’s Republican Municipal Committee – which some have heralded as a necessary change to galvanize the party while others expressed concern about the shift to a “far-right agenda”. ”

He will succeed outgoing chairman Fritz Blau, who had nothing but kind words to say to the new leader.

“I’m impressed with his organizing ability and the fact that he’s already spread to many other Republicans,” Blau said. “I’m hopeful he will have a very positive impact and I think that’s coming.”

Esses said he sees the party as a big tent, accommodating both moderate Republicans on one side and supporters of former President Donald Trump on the other.

When asked if he was a fan of the former United States leader, Esses said “not particularly,” but he mostly dismissed the question.

“I’m focused on Stamford and the state of Connecticut,” he said. “The media fixation and the Democrats fixation on national figures having nothing to do with the democratic governance of our communities – That is something they are free to worry about, but not me.”

However, during his short tenure on the Board of Education, Esses has introduced numerous resolutions, many of which align with priority issues of the more right-wing elements of the national Republican Party. For example, he pushed back on the need to wear masks in schools and recently proposed a policy that would give the board greater control over school materials related to racism, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Esses has also been active on more nonpartisan issues, such as district officials’ desire to move to a new block schedule next school year. He joined teachers from the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering when they staged a protest outside the government center in Stamford in support of keeping their timetables.

For Robin Druckman, the recently elected chairwoman of the Democratic City Committee, Esses represents a radical side of the party.

“The (RTC’s) choice for party chairmanship sends a clear message that the Stamford Republican Party has fully embraced the far-right agenda of the National Republican Party,” she wrote in an emailed statement. . “His comments speak for themselves; book bans, anti-LGBTQ commentary, and coded socio-economic language used in our city’s student discussions — that’s what we’ve come to expect in places like Florida and Texas.

In a written response, Esses wrote, “I am annoyed by the reflexive accusations of bigotry from Democrats in the region. Stamford Republicans are focused on government reform to improve the lives of all of our neighbors. »

On the school board, Esses demonstrated a collegial tone with other members, often accepting constructive criticism. In one instance, after speaking passionately about the end of the mask mandate and quoting all the parents who wrote him letters demanding an end to the requirement, Superintendent Tamu Lucero asked Esses if he had also received emails from parents who wanted the masks to stay. Esses said yes and agreed she made a good point.

But during his short time on the board, some of Esses’ comments angered other members.

When discussing the move to a new block schedule, Esses criticized Stamford officials for including Washington, D.C. and Bridgeport as examples of districts using the block schedule administrators hope to implement in the fall. .

“The message I take from the proposed changes…is that smart kids don’t need to apply, and in fact, average kids may not need to apply either,” he said during a special Board of Education meeting earlier this month.

He said the block schedule proposal is intended to address the issues of “highly disadvantaged populations,” such as in Bridgeport and the nation’s capital.

“I understand the desire to resolve this completely, but you can’t make it worse for everyone just to try to bring the bottom up,” he said.

Members Jennienne Burke and Dan Dauplaise, both Democrats, then criticized the comparisons.

“If the comments were to compare this neighborhood and the block lineup to a New Canaan or a Darien or a Westport, I dare say the inference would be completely different,” Burke said.

Dauplaise said he was “deeply troubled by some comments suggesting that some of these schedule changes are only being taken with a certain population of students in mind.”

“The way it’s been worded certainly evokes one or two or three particular groups of students and I certainly don’t care about that kind of characterization,” he added.

Asked about their criticisms, Esses told The Stamford Advocate that Burke and Dauplaise issued “good faith, substantive criticism,” but he clarified that his comments were about the students’ academic abilities.

“There are needy students and needy students from all walks of life,” he said. “I think the district is implementing changes that are detrimental to all of these students, but particularly neglect the needs of the average or above-average student.”

Elected himself, Esses said it was critically important for Republicans to run in local elections and he wanted to help those interested better navigate the political process and provide them with campaign support. . He said he envisions the party building a “semi-professional campaign apparatus ready to back candidates if they run and run.”

He was disappointed to see no Republicans on the ballot for mayor, for example. The RTC had chosen Joe Corsello, a former city policeman, to be the party’s candidate in the election. But Corsello dropped out and endorsed Bobby Valentine, who had long been a registered Republican but was running as an unaffiliated candidate.

“It’s always disappointing when our party doesn’t have a flag bearer for any race,” Esses said.

Another area Esses said he plans to focus on is communication.

“The specific communication I would like is to educate our constituents about what is happening in local government and how local government actually works so that they understand the levers of power and influence and feel empowered to volunteer their time and work for better government,” he said.

As he works to build the party, Esses will have to contend with the fact that Republicans still vastly outnumber Democrats in the city.

According to state data as of October 2021, there were approximately 81,400 registered voters in the city, of which approximately 13,380 were active Republicans. By comparison, there were about 31,500 active Democratic registrations. The rest were largely unaffiliated or registered with minor parties.

The number of active Republican registrations was about the same a decade ago, at about 12,570. But the total number of voters has only increased in the past 10 years, as has the number of Democratic voters.

While many speculate that the country’s Republicans may win back seats in the midterm elections, Esses said he’ll have the RTC ready and ready.

“We intend to take advantage of this momentum and build on it,” he said, later adding, “We must go into every election as if the election were winnable, because one day every election will be winnable and then we have to prepare.”

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