The UConn College Republicans campaigned in Mansfield Saturday to support the chapter’s former president in his bid for town council.
Six members of the organization, including three of its four executive officers, helped two-term chapter president and first-time town council candidate Mark Sargent canvas the Freedom Green and Meadowbrooks neighborhoods in the southern part of Mansfield. The current chapter president, Paul DaSilva, was absent.
Sargent and the volunteers knocked on 60 doors over three and a half hours. They spoke to voters at about half of those residences and left flyers in the doors of anyone who was not home. This fell short of Sargent’s initial goal of 100 doors, but the College Republicans still believed the outing had a positive impact on the chapter.
“(Students) are going to see how successful Mark is, and how much fun we had out here today campaigning, helping him door-to-door,” chapter vice president Gianna Bodnar said. “And I think they’re going to be excited about having an influence and having a say in politics, especially on the local level.”
Nine candidates are running for nine seats on the Mansfield Town Council, with the Republicans only running three candidates out of the party’s six slots on the ballot. Mansfield Republican Town Committee chairman Tony Lent said the decision is part of a long-term plan to rebuild and rebrand the party with the right people rather than running six candidates for the sake of filling the slots.
Volunteers from the College Republicans showed up at Sargent’s house in Freedom Greenaround 10 a.m. Sargent bought coffee and donuts for the group to munch on while giving them an initial briefing covering the day’s itinerary.
Sargent said the campaign is focused on three major ideas: better roads and infrastructure, fiscal responsibility and strong schools. He handed out printed lists with voter addresses, party affiliations and a scale for rating the likelihood of voting Republican. He also distributed two different flyers to the volunteers, one for the three Republican town council candidates and the other for Al Fratoni, one of two Republican board of education candidates.
Members of the chapter said this was their first experience campaigning in Mansfield with the UConn College Republicans, though many had been canvassing in past elections both on-campus and closer to their homes.
Steven Perry, the chapter treasurer, said the College Republicans usually work to connect students with outside campaigns rather than directly advocating for the candidates. However, Perry and chapter secretary Jacqueline Devine said they had no problem making an exception for Sargent.
“Mark has been such an incredible asset to College Republicans over the years,” Devine said. “He’s been such a great leader. He really grew the organization to what it is today. He was a leader in USG, he was a leader in his fraternity and it’s only natural that he would be a leader in Mansfield.”
The students split up into two groups of three, one group going with Sargent and the other going with Fratoni, who decided early Saturday morning to join Sargent and the College Republicans on the campaign trail.
Fratoni, unlike Sargent, is in a contested race. A former member of the Tolland Board of Education, Fratoni said he moved to Mansfield about one year ago and hoped to get involved in local government quickly. While Republicans are not looking to pick up an additional seat on the town council, Lent said the party’s goal is to win both board of education seats on the ballot. The second Republican candidate, Katherine Paulhus, currently serves on the board.
The layout of the neighborhoods proved difficult to navigate initially, slowing down the efforts of both groups. Fratoni’s group knocked on about 20 doors while Sargent’s group split in two subgroups and knocked on 18 doors before meeting up again at his house around 12:30 p.m.
Many of the College Republicans left before 1 p.m. due to other commitments, but another student volunteer who arrived a few minutes before 12:30 p.m. was able to stay. He and Sargent campaigned for an additional hour and a half, knocking on more than 20 doors in the areas around Eastbrook Heights and Mansfield Center.
While his election is all but certain, Sargent said he believes the College Republicans’ involvement in the campaign is “extremely important.”
“I have a vested interest (in the College Republicans),” Sargent said. “Getting them involved now, especially the individuals who are passionate about politics, is the best way to encourage younger active minds in the political process and make sure they’re getting the resources and the knowledge and experiences they can use to be the future generation of Republicans.”