Hartford Democrats Take House Seats

Sheila Vowinkel, left, outside the Hartford polls yesterday with Joanne Needham.
(Valley News — Jennifer Hauck)

Sheila Vowinkel, left, outside the Hartford polls yesterday with Joanne Needham. (Valley News — Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

— Incumbent Kevin Christie and newcomer Sheila Vowinkel came out on top of a four-candidate pool to fill two seats representing the White River Junction area in the Vermont House.

The two Democrats, who both boast ties to the Hartford School District, bested Selectman Alex DeFelice, who ran as a Republican, and retired school teacher Paul D. Keane, who ran as an independent.

Christie, who is chairman of the Hartford School Board, and Vowinkel, who is taking a leave of absence from her 15 years as a counselor in the school system, won 2,154 and 1,668 votes, respectively, according to preliminary tallies at the Secretary of State website last night.

DeFelice finished third with 1,392, while Keane had 806.

Final counts will be reported to the state later this week.

“It’s just very humbling to get such a large outcropping of support for my re-election,” Christie said in a phone interview last night from Hartford High School, adding he was “grateful to the voters.” “What it does for me personally is raises the bar even higher as far as my expectations for things I need to do for my town and community,” he said, “and I would hope that I can live up to that expectation. It’s exciting.” Formerly called Windsor 6-2, the district was renamed Windsor 4-2 after the Legislature passed a redistricting plan earlier this year. It covers the southeast portion of Hartford, including White River Junction, Wilder, Hartford Village and part of Quechee, bound by Dothan Road, Route 14 and Route 4.

Democratic Rep. Chuck Bohi, a 71-year-old former Hanover high history teacher, has held one of the two seats since 2008. He announced in April that he would not seek a third term.

Running unopposed, state Rep. Teo Zagar was re-elected to the Windsor 4-1 district’s lone seat. The district includes the northwestern part of Hartford plus Pomfret and Barnard.

Vowinkel did not return voicemails seeking comment after the results were released last night.

Christie said he supported Vowinkel’s campaign and was glad she was elected.

“I think her reputation for being a very student-, family-centered counselor was recognized throughout the community,” he said. “A lot of these voters knew her, or once they made the connection — ‘this was my guidance counselor either at the elementary school at the middle school’ — that had a lot of value for her, and obviously for them, because they felt strongly enough to lock it in for a vote, which is pretty cool.” Christie reiterated last night that one of his top priorities would be continuing “ongoing work” around moving Vermont toward a single-payer health care system.

Ensuring the state’s smooth transition from a commissioner education system toward a secretary system would also be an immediate task, he said.