Port Chester is looking at a three-way race for mayor this year, with Bart Didden winning the Republican nomination tonight and John Branca winning a slim victory for the Conservative line. They face Democratic incumbent Dennis Pilla, who is running for a third term. The election is March 15.
Didden was the top vote-getter in the June election for six trustees, joining the village board for the first time. Branca is a former mayor and trustee who returned to the board in June.
Didden, who owns and alarm company, says his private sector experience helps him. “I feel I have been accessible and accountable for everything I’ve done as a trustee,” he said. He also gained the Independence Party nod.
A group of picketers showed up outside tonight’s caucus in Port Chester with reminders of Didden’s involvement in an anti-Pilla political flier in 2007. The flier targeted Latinos, and said “the Hispanics are running the show already.” That was used as evidence of racially based campaigning in Justice Department’’s successful voting rights lawsuit against the village, a case that forced a change to the trustee election system.
The picketers declined to be interviewed. Esau Rodriguez held a sign that said, “Bart does not represent you and me!” Others read: “We don’t want a racist for mayor” and “Port Chester deserves better than Bart.”
Didden said, “I understand how some people feel it was insensitive. I’ve come to regret my participation, but four years ago, I was a newcomer to running for office.” He said that as a trustee he was working on behalf of all residents.
The Conservative caucus resulted in a 20-19 vote for Branca over Didden. The party leadership has been divided between Trustee Sam Terenzi, the current Rye Town Conservative chair and a Didden supporter; and Gene Branca, the longtime chair and son of John Branca. Gene Branca said he was proud that the “true Conservatives” had spoken.