Veteran Bridgeport political analyst Jim Callahan is back on the scene helping OIB cover the most watched State Senate race in the state: the Aug. 14 Democratic primary battle between incumbent Ed Gomes, party-endorsed Ernie Newton and State Rep. Andres Ayala. In his days working for the predecessor of the Connecticut Post, Callahan along with OIB friend John Gilmore were the lead political reporters in the city. When it comes to writing about city politics Callahan is like a baseball bat to the knees. He doesn’t hold much back. Grab a cup of joe and and read his analysis of the race:
Andres Ayala, Ed Gomes and Ernie Newton are experienced Bridgeport politicians. They are leaders of the community. They have served on City Council. They have served in the legislature. Their admirers and supporters could extol them from steps in St. Margaret’s Shrine, and hell, that’s not even in the senatorial district.
If they don’t have admiration from their fellow politicians, they at least have grudged respect as players of The Game. This kind of respect can be negative, by the way.
The 23rd senatorial district primary will be a negative campaign.
How can we count the ways what the respective political camps will say about one another? (Not necessarily in public.)
Ayala is fat and stupid. Gomes is old and sick. Newton is a fast-talking crook.
It is a rule among American political pros you can’t go too negative in a political campaign. The rule in Bridgeport is it doesn’t start to get sunny until you’ve come out the other side of bottom.
In a scenario straight out of the cemetery gunfight scene in the movie “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” all three are lined up to kill each other.
A pox on them all? Someone has to be state senator. This is one of the most Democratic senatorial districts in the state. The primary decides the election. None of these guys are Clint Eastwood, but someone has to ride off triumphantly. Just call this movie “The Ugly, The Ugly, and The Ugly.”
Let us consider the issues. All three are Democrats. They may or may not support the mayor–today. Tomorrow may be different.
Now that we are finished with the issues, we can get to the important stuff.
The first is money. They all got money. Each will or has raised the private financing needed to kick in public financing. This will total $300,000–on the table. This is like throwing raw chicken into a pond full of alligators. Show Bridgeport Dems the money, and they start chomping.
The second is the campaign manager. The manager has to put together a campaign for a candidate. In politics, it is real easy to hose away money on inconsequential stuff instead of getting a vote out.
You have experienced candidates, you have money to get a manager and organization. Newton is from the East End, a base. Ayala, East Side. Gomes, North End. This leaves the South End/West Side, Upper East Side, and that shirttail in Stratford to fight over.
Whoever wins will most effectively use their personality, spend their money, and exploit the frailties and strengths of Mayor Bill Finch.
Each campaign will try to convince the voter their guy is the best guy because the other guy can’t be trusted. We are back to the negatives again (see above). How elegantly–or by necessity inelegantly–the campaigns express this will matter.
There is probably not much to exploit in their General Assembly voting records in Hartford. Tales of competence or incompetence in Hartford seem far away to the average voter in Bridgeport.
Voters will be attracted to Newton, Ayala or Gomes based on their campaigns and how effective their get-out-the-vote efforts are. Period.
Of course, everyone is going to look to their ethnic group first as a base, but that base also needs to include neighborhoods and affiliations.
Ethnicity, which came up on the board recently, works best as a candidate campaign issue when a group has grievances against the political system. The candidate has to build up pride and defiance and anger against the status quo for votes.
You see elements in this in the Newton campaign with his “redemption” theme, but the Ayala campaign gets the most attention.
It helps, however, when the ethnic group being romanced–pandered to if you care–has something approaching a clear majority. No group does. But because two candidates are identified as black, and one identified as Latino, some argue it is the “Puerto Rican’s turn.”
Ayala would not benefit from it. Puerto Ricans do not make up the majority turnout in this district. No group does. Worse, the voter turnout in the Puerto Rican community historically–how shall we put this?–sucks.
Besides, he will anger the group that does have the plurality in the district–the black community, and the real minority in the district, the white community.
Given that Ayala comes from an ethnic group whose voter turnout makes the word pathetic seem like a positive assessment, and given that the black community is going to be torn up somewhat between Newton and Gomes, Ayala needs white votes.
Specifically, Ayala needs white votes influenced in a positive way by duh mayher.
There are a lot of things to criticize a Bridgeport mayor about. Blaming Mayor Finch for the 23rd senatorial primary is a bit unfair. But here goes.
Ed Gomes supported Mary-Jane Foster for mayor last year so he’s on the outs. Ernie Newton’s redemption tour from his federal conviction for political corruption understandably did not receive enthusiastic reviews from the Finch administration. Newton also supported Foster. Andres Ayala hasn’t ticked anybody off–too much–and his state representative district is overlaid by the senatorial district. Ayala gets the positive hand wave from the administration for senator.
The mayor’s people didn’t deliver an endorsement for Ayala.
Probably everyone thought Gomes would retire after his heart attack. Probably everyone thought Newton wouldn’t gain traction after his federal corruption conviction. Probably everyone thought when the mayor speaks, everyone listens.
In a classic example of Bridgeport Democratic Party haplessness–or independent democracy, take your pick-the committee split and Ernie got the endorsement.
Well, Ernie has traction with the party endorsement, and the top line on the primary ballot. Gomes didn’t retire. Ayala is left a cripple who needs help.
It is important to remember Mayor Finch won his primary for mayor over Foster in all three communities, white, black and brown. He does have yank. Ayala is not helpless and not without mayoral resources.
How Finch uses this yank has to be calibrated, however. The Finch administration has a long track record in the clumsy use of power. Never has the Finch administration been more clumsy than when it tore apart the Board of Education.
As much as the mayor would like to elect a state senator of his choice, could he screw up plans to continue control of the Board of Ed in an election three weeks later?
Objective answer: Yup.
Will he? This mayor keeps on falling forward, a good characteristic for a Bridgeport mayor. Give him props for that.
And this race, at some level, may be tough to stay out of.
There is a debt to Ayala.
Finch can probably stay out of the black community in this race and let Gomes and Newton duke it out.
Ayala’s campaign is really responsible for his own community. Finch can help introduce Ayala around in the white community and boost up support in the Puerto Rican community. It is not as if Ayala is a stranger. He’s a former city council president. The mayor can provide a boost, just that.
At any rate, Finch is going to get hammered from the other side. Many of the people lining up for Gomes are adversaries of the mayor. Foster, former councilman Bob Walsh, even Chris Caruso, who went silent after taking a state job, came out for Gomes.
Even if they more or less approve of the mayor, people in Bridgeport have an ornery quality that may find them in favor of a person for state senator who has a demonstrated record of standing up to the mayor.
And, uh, Ed Gomes has a demonstrated over a lifetime he will stand up and say and do what he thinks is right, whether it be in his old union, on city council or just about anywhere he feels like it whether it be popular or not. He has suffered politically for this.
Ayala is temperate, mature, and has the support of the administration. This is the kind of person who naturally is moving up in city politics from councilman, state representative, to state senator. It is very logical.
Ernie has sizzle and excites some people enough to get them running through walls. He came up through the same process as Ayala in a longer career with ups and a bad, bad down. He apparently has the same lock on voters in his base, the East End, that he has always has.
Gomes has never kissed butt in the East End. He has never kissed butt anywhere. He is an old dory who is not going to be swamped by any squall of politics. If spunk remains in the man, and his campaigners can show it, age and illness might not matter compared to stability.
A lousy turnout is accepted.
Watch the ABs.