Photo: Cohen and Wolf

Westport resident Ken Bernhard has announced he will end his campaign for Connecticut’s 26th District State Senate seat, effective today, Wednesday, April 6.

Bernhard, a partner in the law firm of Cohen and Wolf who had served as Wilton’s Town Attorney from 1992 until 2016, had changed his party affiliation to run for the seat as a Democrat. He had previously served in the State House of Representatives as a Republican from 1997-2005, and had been Assistant Minority Leader for much of the time.

Bernhard is the second Democratic candidate to withdraw from the race. Westport businessman Michael Gordon had tossed his hat in the ring in February, only to announce just three weeks later that he was halting his campaign.

Today’s announcement leaves just one Democratic candidate standing — Wilton resident Ceci Maher. Maher was the first candidate to declare a campaign after State Sen. Will Haskell announced in January that he did not plan to seek re-election.

Maher previously served on Wilton’s Board of Finance, appointed in 2018 to fill a vacant seat. She ran unsuccessfully in 2019 for the Board of Selectmen. Prior to that, she served as the executive director for the non-profit Person-to-Person, and most recently she was the interim executive director of Sandy Hook Promise.

Bernard’s announcement comes just a few hours after news broke that Republican Toni Boucher planned to run for the 26th District — a seat she had held for 10 years before Haskell defeated her in 2018. Bernhard’s departure leaves only Maher to face off against Boucher.

Past Republican Affiliation an “Insurmountable Obstacle”

In his statement emailed to the news media, Bernhard said his party change was his campaign’s Achilles heel.

“It appears that my past affiliation with the Republican party is viewed by many in the DTC as an insurmountable obstacle to securing the Democratic nomination in May and I do not wish to undermine the strength and unity of our party by engaging in a contentious primary challenge,” Bernhard wrote.

“It is my sincere hope that my campaign has brought focus and attention to some of the important issues facing Connecticut and that it generated productive discussions on how best to deal with them.

“As I return to my active law practice and continue to serve the public in my work with non-profit humanitarian organizations, I want to express my gratitude to my many friends and supporters — on both sides of the aisle — for their confidence, encouragement, and generous campaign contributions.

“I wish Ceci Maher the best of luck in her campaign and urge all voters in the 26th District to support her on Nov. 8.”

UPDATE, 2:40 PMWilton Democratic Town Party Chair Tom Dubin sent the following comment about Bernhard’s announcement:

“Ken Bernhard speaks for many former Republicans who recognize that their fiscally responsible and socially supportive instincts have a truer home in Fairfield County’s Democratic party. Democrats welcome his voice and energy, and appreciate the issues he highlighted in his race for State Senate.

“Upon entering the race Ken defined himself as wanting “to ensure that the state’s fiscal house is in order, to improve our transportation infrastructure, to guard against racial injustice, and to enhance community ‘safety nets.’” These issues resonate with Democrats across our district, as do his support for reproductive freedoms, concern for the environment, sensible gun control, and voting rights. These are issues that Ceci Maher will champion as the likely Democratic candidate for the 26th district.

“Ken has been an important voice in Fairfield County for several decades and we look forward to him identifying new opportunities to continue his contributions.”