In politics and government you’re only as successful as the relationships you build. All across Connecticut’s 23rd Senate District Andres Ayala talked about his relationships with Governor Dannel Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch that will be beneficial to the future of Bridgeport and Stratford. It’s a contrast he shaped against opponents incumbent Ed Gomes and Ernie Newton who occupied the seat before Gomes. It’s a message that paid off on Tuesday complemented by an East Side legislative base, a powerful absentee ballot operation and Finch’s political organization.
Whether campaign forums, door knocking, mail pieces and phone calls, Ayala showed a diplomatic touch. It resonated with the new electors in the district who voted at Hooker and Beardsley School precincts. Previously they had voted in the adjoining State Senate district but were carved in recently as a result of state-required redistricting. Ayala did not talk trash against his opponents. Instead he focused on what he has done as a legislator in the State House and what can be accomplished through the relationships he’s built. He was a supporter of Malloy for governor in 2010. He also has a working relationship with Finch while Gomes and Newton do not. Strong relationships with a governor and a mayor equals strength. As an example he pointed out state money he delivered to the Steel Point redevelopment area that falls within his legislative district. And in a way he was saying you ain’t seen nothing yet.
As frustrated as some voters can become about city progress, they prefer public officials who can work together. It seems a fit for Ayala’s low-key personality. Ayala, a city educator, spent years as a classroom teacher. Come November he’ll officially become a class of 36 in the State Senate assuming a win over Republican candidate Casimir Mizera of Stratford. (Ayala has a Goliath registration advantage over Mizera.) A sidebar to Ayala’s victory is his becoming the first Latino to serve Bridgeport in the State Senate. While Ayala offers his heritage as a pride point he did not wear it on his sleeve during the campaign, a message that represents a broad constituency.
What of Gomes and Newton? Ed Gomes, whether on the City Council or State Senate, has been a good, honest, decent force for the city. He’s a youthful-looking 76, despite heart surgery one year ago. He waited a long time to finally announce his intentions to seek reelection. He did not form a candidate committee until after the legislative session in May. This allowed Ayala in the game. It’s difficult to kick up a campaign operation when some of the needed pieces gravitate to opponents. When you start early enough it can stop others from getting in.
As for Newton, his Tuesday showing did not embarrass his quest for redemption following corruption charges that forced him from office in 2005. Newton ran up large pluralities in his East End base and won several precincts outright.
While new voters from the city’s Upper East Side were carved into the district that supported Ayala, thousands of others from the Wilbur Cross voting precinct in the North End had been shifted to the adjoining district by Senate Democratic leadership last year while Gomes was in his hospital bed, an effort to make Anthony Musto’s swing suburban district safer. They did not foresee the battle ahead for Gomes. From day one of this change Newton had claimed it would hurt him more than it would hurt Gomes because he believed he had a stronger following in that precinct. The evidence is on Newton’s side.
Newton won the Hallen School precinct that is similar in demographic makeup to Wilbur Cross voters. “They disenfranchised the largest black voting population in the district,” Newton told OIB the morning after the primary. “It hurt our community. I had voters coming up to me saying they could not vote for me.”
Still Newton did not sound bitter in defeat. He congratulated Ayala. “I knew I was running an uphill battle against Finch and the rest,” he said. For Newton “redemption and opportunity,” as his campaign message proclaimed, is a work in progress.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Unofficial results of the State Senate primary including Stratford: Ayala 2129, Newton 1739, Gomes 1138.