Hartford Courant columnist Colin McEnroe is certifiable, and that’s just the way he likes it. You can listen to him 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5). When it comes to city politics he’s befuddled like the rest of us. What will we do next? Check out Colin’s latest:
I confess that after 114 years of writing about state politics, I still don’t know very much about Bridgeport, but I’m starting to think that’s the way Bridgeport likes it.
You may recall that the most recent state election was marked, in Bridgeport, by the local Festival of Destruction of Confidence in the Electoral Process, featuring ballot shortages, extra voting hours, a clown and a pony.
This is nothing new. In 1890–an election I did not cover because I had quinsy–the state was unable to certify a gubernatorial winner because of … wait for it … ballot irregularities in Bridgeport. The General Assembly was also unable to fulfill its constitutional responsibility of choosing a winner, which inspired the sitting governor, Morgan G. Bulkeley, who hadn’t even been a candidate, to announce that he would just keep on being governor. The state comptroller then changed the lock of the door to the governor’s office. So Bulkeley busted it open with a crowbar. You can’t blame all of this on Bridgeport, but it does kind of fit a pattern.
The pattern continues this year. All the other municipal primaries were last Tuesday, but Bridgeport has its own special date, set by a judge. Bridgeport will vote on Sept. 27. I’m concerned that the city will fall so far behind that the rest of the state will eventually lap Bridgeport and start conducting the 2013 elections while the Park City is still wrapping up 2012.
The reason for the delay was the attempt by the Bridgeport Democratic registrar of voters to disqualify Mary-Jane Foster, the challenger to incumbent Mayor Bill Finch, because of technical problems with Foster’s petition forms. The decision by Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis paints a picture of a Foster campaign desperately trying to coax information out of Registrar Santa Ayala and receiving vague reassurances that everything was in order only to be told at the last minute that Foster was on Santa’s naughty list.
There were, in fact, certain problems with Foster’s slate. Her endorsed candidate for sheriff, Joel Gonzalez, was obliged to withdraw after he called Finch a “bastard” in a comment on the blog Only in Bridgeport and explained in some detail why Finch, who was adopted, really is a bastard. Gonzalez had also once chopped off the tip of his finger in an anti-gun protest at the state Capitol, raising questions about whether he would be the best possible sheriff if the Dalton Gang rode into Bridgeport.
And what kind of name is “Mary-Jane Foster?” It sounds like the kind of fresh-faced All-American Colorado girl you used to see in commercials for toilet paper and detergent. Because that’s who Foster was, in her youth. She appeared in hundreds of commercials, including at least one “please don’t squeeze the Charmin” and one “ring around the collar.” Hunting around, I was able to watch most of one commercial in which she played a young schoolteacher getting to know her new students by taking pictures of them with a clunky-looking Kodak instant camera with a big stick of flash cubes mounted on the top, and a snippet of another in which she appeared to be explaining how a diaper works. She is now married to Jack McGregor, the founder of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bill Finch didn’t have these kinds of advantages, and as a result, he has had to pull himself up by his bootstraps, enduring the humiliation of having his lifestyle funded by a political action committee. The Connecticut Post has been reporting that People for Excellence In Government, an amusingly named PAC headquartered in Essex, has reimbursed the Finch family for clothing purchases, meals, travel and bookstore purchases. The chairwoman of the PAC is Gloria Beccaro, an 85-year-old retired nurse who, when contacted by Post columnist MariAn Gail Brown, seemed authentically surprised to hear of her title (“They list me as chair? Why am I chair?”) and to learn that the PAC reimburses her $100 to $300 per month for her cellphone (“I don’t even have a cellphone.”)
Incumbents like Finch usually have access to a lot of campaign money, but if they use it for non-campaign expenses, it kind of levels the playing field. I think they should loosen up the rules. But only in Bridgeport.