Bill Finch is trying to achieve what has never been done before in city history, an incumbent mayor losing a primary and then winning the general election. On Thursday he announced publicly for the first time in an eblast to supporters “I plan on accepting the Jobs Creation Party endorsement” for a general election run. The party was formed and organized by Finch supporters who named Republican Rich DeParle, a used-car salesman from Black Rock, as a placeholder for the mayor as a backup in case he lost the primary. DeParle has vacated his place on the ballot and presumably soon Finch will be formally named to fill the spot.
The last time an endorsed Democrat for mayor did not win the primary was 1975 when John Mandanici defeated Bill Mullane in an open mayoral seat. Wednesday’s primary circumstances that led to Joe Ganim’s upset win were similar to 40 years ago in that Mandanici, although not endorsed, had support from a number of party regulars. Ganim, too, had support from various factions of the party that had endorsed Finch.
In 1983 Mandanici experienced what it’s like to lose a primary, albeit not as an incumbent mayor, then find his way onto the general election ballot through a minor party. Mandanici, mayor from 1975-81 was defeated by Republican Lenny Paoletta. Two years later, Mandanici ran in a large primary field won by Charlie Tisdale who became the first African American to win a major party nomination in the city. A major split in the party that year led to no convention endorsement and a wide -pen primary. Tisdale, a mighty campaign organizer, defeated several white candidates at a time the city’s registration had a white majority.
With Tisdale the Democratic standard bearer and Paoletta the Republican incumbent, Mandanici prevailed on city police commissioner Arthur DelMonte to vacate his ballot spot as the mayoral candidate for the Bridgeport Taxpayers Party. Paoletta received roughly 16,000 votes, Tisdale roughly 15,000 votes and Mandanici about 10,000. The citywide turnout, with three full-blown campaign operations, eclipsed 70 percent.
Ganim says he will have lawyers examine what he claims is a dubious straw man process to place Finch on the November ballot. Both Ganim and Foster had petitioned onto the general election ballot as individuals. By virtue of winning the primary Ganim now has the top line for November. Foster has a ballot spot too and says she will weigh her options this weekend about a November quest.
Finch is entering uncharted political waters in this effort. Ganim clearly has the momentum coming off a stunning victory. Traditional donors who had doubts about coughing up campaign cash will more likely write a check. He’s unlikely to lose the 6,264 votes he received on Wednesday. He has gone to work schmoozing a broader audience including Democrats who supported Finch on Wednesday. Ganim’s opportunity to build his base will come in African American-rich precincts such as Dunbar in the East End and Wilbur Cross in the North End, where he ran up large pluralities. Ganim also ran stronger than projected in some Latino precincts such as Barnum School on the East Side.
So what does Finch do? He must make his case to 15,000 unaffiliated voters and Dems who did not vote in the primary. How many will actually show up in November? If the one-third turnout model in the primary applies to the general election, that means 5,000 unaffiliated voters will participate, an ambitious number, however, considering unaffiliated voters’ interest in recent municipal elections.
Also, if Finch is going to take out Ganim, he must alter his messaging. His campaign operation pounded Ganim with inflammatory accusations including a mailer and digital ads condemning his paralegal work on behalf of a law firm that represented a black man accused of providing guns to the KKK. The defendant was acquitted. Finch’s campaign tactics branded Ganim as a shill for a white supremacist. To some voters, including some Finch supporters, the messaging was cringeworthy and backfired.
Perhaps in an adrenaline-filled shrill Wednesday night on the stage of the Bijou Theatre after his loss, Finch did not show signs of reeling in harsh attacks about Ganim’s past.
Most electors vote on the future. The Finch campaign operation can still create doubt about Ganim’s past but it must do so as a contrast to development progress such as the Steel Point redevelopment area of the East Side. Finch, however, would have been in a much stronger position had he bypassed the primary process, allowing Ganim and Foster to duke it out, drain their money, and use the power of incumbency directly to voters in November with a boatload of cash to spend.
Now he must make his case from a weaker position against Ganim, Republican Rick Torres and several petitioning candidates.
So Ganim wins, but Finch lives. Finch can still raise money. Can he win in November? Place it in the difficult, but doable category.
Finch letter to supporters:
As a father, and as chief executive of our state’s largest city, it’s my job to think about the long run.
It’s my job to make Bridgeport an even better city than it is today–a place where my kids, and your kids, will choose to live, work, and raise their families here, too.
Regardless of party affiliation, as your mayor, I represent everyone in Bridgeport.
Our better tomorrow is already taking shape–the re-opening of Pleasure Beach after years of neglect, building at Steelpointe Harbor after decades of broken promises and corruption, improving downtown, and building a second train station.
These are just some of the projects bringing confidence back to the city while creating thousands of jobs.
I remain concerned as a Bridgeport resident about the future of our city, and the corruption that so badly has held our city back for far too long. I’m worried that job creators and investors will stop investing in our city with the posterchild of corruption at the helm.
With that, I plan on accepting the Job Creation Party endorsement and running in the General Election on Nov. 3, 2015.
Bridgeport, you still have an honest mayor who intends to keep the future bright for Bridgeport.
So I hope you’ll join me as a Jobs Creator, and move forward to November, stronger than ever.
Because in this election, Bridgeporters have a clear choice: We can either continue moving forward honestly, OR, we go back to the failed policies of greed, crime, corruption, lies, and mismanagement.
Let’s keep moving the city forward.