Connecticut alderman facing charges in Jan. 6 riot defeats incumbent GOP mayor after primary recount

An alderman facing criminal charges that he entered the U.S. Capitol with a mob of rioters on Jan. 6, 2021, has narrowly won the Republican mayoral primary in Connecticut’s smallest city following a recount on Friday.

Gino DiGiovanni Jr. defeated three-term Mayor Richard Dziekan in the race in Derby, a city of 12,400 people about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of New York City.

Following the recount, DiGiovanni retained the 10-vote lead he had after an initial ballot count in Tuesday's primary, out of just under 400 cast. Races decided by less than 20 votes trigger an automatic recount.

As he now transitions to a general election campaign, in a city where unaffiliated and Democratic voters each outnumber Republicans roughly 2 to 1, DiGiovanni, 42, said he doesn't believe the federal charges will hurt his chances in November. Derby's voters know and understand his story, he said. DiGiovanni faces four federal misdemeanor charges, including entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds.

“I wasn’t there to do anything nefarious that day. And, you know, the voters understand that. And I’ve been honest and upfront with this whole situation from day one,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The voters know me. I know them, most of them, all personally through the years.”

Dziekan, who intends to run as a non-affiliated candidate in the general election, told reporters it will be a “tough battle” for DiGiovanni in November “with his baggage that he's carrying right now.”

Elected as an alderman in 2021, DiGiovanni was arrested Aug. 15 on a misdemeanor trespassing charge after civilian online investigators found photo evidence he was part of the crowd that stormed the Capitol.

The sleuths provided their research to NBC Connecticut, WVIT-TV, which confronted DiGiovanni about it at a public meeting.

DiGiovanni acknowledged he attended the rally for former President Donald Trump that day and was in the photographs taken inside the Capitol. On Friday, he explained how he was laid off from work and decided to travel to Washington, D.C. for the first time to hear Trump's speech.

“I didn’t go down there to overthrow the government and everyone knows that,” he said.

DiGiovanni said a police officer allowed him to walk into the Capitol building, where he said he walked up the stairs, into the rotunda and out the other side. He said he didn't see any of the violence that took place, saying, “I don't condone any violence.”

DiGiovanni, who runs a family-owned concrete business, said he “suffered greatly” when it was first reported he had been identified as being inside the Capitol that day. He said his home has been vandalized, he's received numerous death threats and had to hire security. For two months, DiGiovanni said, he wore a bulletproof vest when left his home.

“I’ve lost close to $500,000 worth of contracts because people, companies got rid of me because of that. I suffered. My family suffered tremendously,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous impact on me financially and on my family. It was absolutely insane.”

Now that his story has taken on prominence again with the primary, he said he's been shocked by the amount of support and encouragement he has received from people across the country.

When DiGiovanni first filed the necessary paperwork to run for mayor, he received criticism over his candidacy, including from the group Citizens for Ethics.

“Those who tried to overthrow our government should not be permitted to turn around and lead it,” the group said in a posting on X, formerly known as Twitter.

But DiGiovanni contends his notoriety and the national attention his candidacy has brought to Derby will benefit the former mill town where he grew up, especially in attracting much-needed grant funding.

“Everyone knows who I am now," he said, “and everyone knows where Derby is on a map.”

DiGiovanni's next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 9, two days after the general election. Both he and Dziekan will face former Democratic Alderman Joseph DiMartino and non-affiliated candidate Sharlene McEvoy.