The renaming on Saturday of City Hall Annex to the Margaret E. Morton Government Center brought together politicians past and present including those the first African American woman in the Connecticut legislature influenced into positions of power and those who want to follow her ascension. Ernie Newton and Ed Gomes both have occupied the seat to which she was elected in the State Senate. State Rep. Andres Ayala wants to join them. All three are involved in a fierce Aug. 14 Democratic primary.
Mayor Bill Finch was gracious in introducing all elected officials under the ceremonial tent fronting the annex, including Gomes with whom the mayor has experienced a messy political divorce. Gomes and Ayala, well dressed in the elected officials seating area, acknowledged the polite applause from about 150 spectators when the mayor called out their names. Finch is supporting Ayala over incumbent Gomes.
Gomes and Newton both supported Mary-Jane Foster for mayor last year while Ayala provided a pretty good ducking act. The mayor is supporting Ayala by default. While Gomes and Ayala were doing what incumbents do in their respective positions on Saturday, Ernie was doing what challengers do, leading an anti-violence march from the East End to downtown. As soon as the march ended Ernie made his presence known at the ceremony for Morton who served as his political role model in politics.
The city has not experienced interest in a primary for State Senate like this since insurgent Morton defeated incumbent Sal DePiano by the thinnest of margins in 1980. Gomes, who’s had little ballot resistance since he replaced Newton in the Senate seven years ago; Ayala leaving a safe seat to challenge Gomes; and Newton, a lightning rod seeking a political comeback as the endorsed candidate create the dynamic.
All three candidates had supporters at the Morton dedication. Some said Ed Gomes should go out when Gomes is good and ready. Others said the city needs a senator such as Ayala who will work with the mayor. Yet others carried the Newton torch; he’s far from perfect, they say, but the Moses of his peeps knows how to get down with the little folk who will decide the primary.
Ayala has already qualified for public financing so he’ll have about $100k to spend. Gomes and Newton must qualify for public financing to remain in play. If they do it’s a wide-open race.