BRATTLEBORO -- Businessman Tristan Toleno edged longtime political operative Kate O'Connor Tuesday to win the Democratic nomination for state House in Brattleboro's District 3.
Toleno gained 352 votes to O'Connor's 323, capping a vigorous campaign that included both candidates seeking to knock on the door of every home in the district.
"I'm thrilled," Toleno said Tuesday night, adding that he believes voters responded to his work for community groups and as a Brattleboro businessman.
"People saw me as somebody who'd made a commitment to the community in a number of ways," Toleno said.
O'Connor said she would not challenge the results. She suffered a defeat in her first run for office after years working in state and national politics.
"I've been in this business a long time. In politics, there's always a surprise right around the corner," O'Connor said. "The biggest lesson you learn is, you win some and you lose some."
No other candidates had entered the primary race for a House seat that Progressive Sarah Edwards held for a decade. Edwards declined to seek another term.
The campaign had pitted O'Connor's political experience against Toleno's experience in business and community activism.
O'Connor got her start with the 1988 campaign of Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin and was a longtime aide to former Gov. Howard Dean. O'Connor also was involved in Dean's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential
O'Connor advised Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin during his 2010 gubernatorial run and still serves as Shumlin's campaign treasurer.
"I have a relationship with the governor. I think that really benefits Brattleboro," she said in the run-up to Tuesday's election. "I'm not going up there an unknown entity."
Toleno, though, said his experience also should count: His community activities include Brattleboro Civilian Police Communications Committee, Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, Landmark Trust (Scott Farm) treasurer, Healthy Communities Coalition and Sunrise Rotary.
He is a well-known Brattleboro businessman: Toleno operated the former Riverview Cafe and now runs Entera Catering.
Toleno also professed a deep interest in public policy and food systems; in a recent interview, he talked about furthering Vermont's efforts to create a "vibrant agricultural economy."
Edwards had endorsed Toleno, citing his energy and enthusiasm as well as his "roots, connections and commitment to our community."
O'Connor had received Dean's endorsement. But she also had to answer persistent questions about her involvement in the unsuccessful 2006 U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Richard Tarrant.
O'Connor said she was an adviser, not a top official, in Tarrant's campaign and simply was responding to the candidate's request for input from a Democrat.
"The negativity -- it was too bad that it got that way," O'Connor said after the votes were tallied Tuesday. "The last two weeks have been tough -- very tough."
Toleno said his campaign was not the source of that negativity.
"I don't have control over other peoples' opinions," he said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.