With only Democratic state representative in Bristol retiring, both parties race for November victory in 79th House District

With the only Democratic member of Bristol’s state legislative delegation retiring, both parties are expecting a heated race for the 79th House District this fall.

Democrats are running Mary Fortier in their bid to hang onto the last seat they hold, while Republicans are putting up Jennifer Van Gorder in their campaign for a sweep.


Even though Democrats hold a roughly 3-2 advantage in voter registration in the city, Republicans have dominated the legislative delegation for years.

Chris Ziogas has given Democrats a secure hold on the 79th District for the past six years, winning the 2016 race and then getting reelected in 2018 and 2020. But he announced in mid-spring that he wouldn’t run again.


Republicans endorsed Van Gorder, a first-time candidate who built a following of anti-mask activists during the pandemic. Democrats have backed Fortier, a former city council member.

Van Gorder, a real estate agent with an office in Farmington, was prominent in the Bristol chapter of Unmask Our Kids. She uses the tagline “Just a mom who cares” in her campaign.

She spoke before the state school board as recently as February in opposition to mask mandates in schools. Van Gorder is also opposed to mandated vaccines, and her campaign website describes her as “fighting for parental rights, fighting for medical freedom, and worked with a group on election integrity.”

Fortier served on the council under two mayors and was deputy mayor during Ellen Zoppo-Sassu’s administration. She works for the state judicial branch and is board president of the Human Resources Agency in New Britain.

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Fortier is a proponent of organized labor, has been endorsed by Connecticut ALF-CIO, and has promoted pro-choice rallies this summer amid controversy about the overturn of the Roe vs. Wade.

After sweeping Republicans out of city hall in the 2019 election, Zoppo-Sassu held office with an all-Democratic council that included Fortier. But last year, voters reversed themselves and rejected all Democrats on the council ticket, instead electing Republican Jeff Caggiano and his GOP slate.

Fortier isn’t the only former Democratic council member on the ballot this year. Greg Hahn, who was part of the 2019-2021 all-Democratic council, is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Henri Martin in the 31st state Senate District.

That district covers Bristol, Harwinton, Plainville, Plymouth and Thomaston, and was reliably Democratic under Thomas Colapietro for 18 years. But after Colapietro left in 2011, it has gone consistently Republican, most recently electing Martin to four consecutive terms.


In the 77th House District, Republicans are looking for Rep. Cara Pavalock-D’Amato to win reelection. Democrats are challenging her with Andrew Rasmussen-Tuller.

The city also shares the 78th House District with Plymouth. That has been a longtime Republican stronghold, but veteran incumbent Whit Betts is not running this year. Republicans Aileen Abrams and Joe Hoxha are seeking the GOP nomination, and the winner will take the seat in November because Democrats aren’t fielding an opponent.

Don Stacom can be reached at