In what proved to be a squeaker of an election, veteran New Milford Probate Judge Marty Landgrebe won the Republican primary Tuesday against New Fairfield Probate Judge William DeFeo.

At stake was de facto election as judge for the newly organized, five-town Housatonic district.

The Democrats do not have a candidate in the race for the new Housatonic probate district, which will be located in New Milford.

Judge Landgrebe, who has been probate judge for 12 years in the New Milford-Bridgewater district, forced a primary after Judge DeFeo, an eight-year bench veteran from New Fairfield, won Republican Party backing in May.

Voters in the Greater New Milford area also turned out Tuesday to decide on Republican candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, U.S. Congressman and state attorney general.

Democratic voters similarly cast their votes for their party's candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, as well as for secretary of the state and comptroller.

Town clerks and registrars of voters reported turnouts of up to 36 percent of registered Republicans and 29 percent of registered Democrats in the seven towns.

After the final probate votes had come in Tuesday from the seven voting districts in New Milford, a roar of applause erupted at Milano's Restaurant on Railroad Street, where Judge Landgrebe's supporters gathered to tally the numbers from the five towns that will compose the new district.

Judge DeFeo actually carried three of the five towns -- Brookfield, New Fairfield and Sherman -- but his rival won Bridgewater and took his hometown of New Milford in landslide fashion, 1,221-292.

Unofficial vote tallies had Judge Landgrebe defeating Judge DeFeo by 166 votes, 1,926-1,760.

Once the last three New Milford district numbers had been posted, Judge Landgrebe accepted a tight embrace from one of his committee members and a loud chorus of congratulations.

"It looks like a good night,'' said Judge Landgrebe, who had quietly paced the room as his supporters remained confident their candidate would garner enough New Milford votes to be victorious.

Judge DeFeo was gracious in defeat.

From the start of the race, he had said the contest between him and Judge Landgrebe was forced by the legislative changes that redistricted the state probate court system.

"He did what he could to win the election, and I did what I could, and the ballots are now counted and he won,'' said Judge DeFeo, who pledged to work with his fellow judge as the courts prepare to be consolidated by year's end.

"I always thought of him as a competent judge and colleague," Judge DeFeo observed, "and I wish him the best of luck.''

The new district will include New Milford, New Fairfield, Sherman, Brookfield and Bridgewater.

"I promise a hometown court... and I'm looking forward to the next step in the consolidation,'' Judge Landgrebe said.

"I always thought of [Judge Landgrebe] as a competent judge and colleague, and I wish him the best of luck.''

Judge William DeFeo, after bowing in Tuesday's GOP primary

Norm Cummings/Spectrum