Former State Senator Ernie Newton says he has a big surprise for State Senator Anthony Musto next year. He promises to campaign against Musto in a section of Bridgeport Newton once represented that was carved into the adjoining State Senate district Musto occupies, specifically the Wilbur Cross precinct in the North End, home to many African American voters. No, Newton won’t be a candidate in the senate district but he’ll be supporting Marilyn Moore if she challenges Musto in a Democratic primary.
Two years ago, while then-State Senator Ed Gomes was in his hospital bed recovering from heart surgery, Democrats in Hartford realigning Connecticut’s 23rd Senatorial, as part of a state legislative redistricting plan, moved a piece of Gomes’ district into Musto’s to guard against a difficult Republican opponent in the multi-town district that includes all of Trumbull and portions of Bridgeport and Monroe. Ironically, in an effort to protect Musto in a general election, this could pose a problem in a primary. He’s new to the territory while a number of political operatives lining up for a possible Moore candidacy such as Newton and Gomes know it well.
The Wilbur Cross precinct falls within the City Council’s 135th District that includes the Trumbull Gardens Housing Project and the enclave known as Whiskey Hill. If you talk to Gomes about the boundary changes he’ll make prehistoric noises about Hartford redistricting leadership screwing him to save Musto. Newton, for another, says he believes he would have won the Democratic primary for State Senate last year won by Andres Ayala had the Wilbur Cross precinct not been gerrymandered.
Voters in the Wilbur Cross precinct blew out incumbent City Council members Warren Blunt and Richard Bonney in the September 10 Democratic primary tsunami that swept away endorsed candidates.
Moore served as the campaign manager for the three victorious challengers for school board. She lost a squeaker to Musto in a Democratic primary for State Senate in 2008.
Musto has drawn the ire of Bridgeport government reformers for killing a bill co-sponsored by State House members Jack Hennessy and Auden Grogins to enforce Bridgeport’s City Charter prohibiting city employees from serving on the City Council and eliminating conflicts of interests such as councilors approving their own wages and benefits. Musto feared alienating Bridgeport’s political establishment that opposed the bill.
Musto was also chief architect, in his role as chair of the legislature’s Government Administration & Elections Committee, of watering down Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance reform, permitting additional special-interest money to flow into elections. Musto was one of just two state senators to support public disclosure of images of slaughtered Sandy Hook children in defiance of the wishes of victims’ parents.
The city-suburban 22nd Senate District includes all of Trumbull, part of Monroe and western portion of the city including the higher turnout Black Rock, Brooklawn and North End neighborhoods. The number of registered Democrats in the Bridgeport portion of the district is roughly double the suburban registration.
Newton says Musto is among the targets of an activist coalition unhappy with the direction of the city and representation in the state legislature. “If you keep chopping at a tree,” Newton says, “the tree will fall.”
Before he can chop away at Musto, however, Newton, the self-proclaimed Moses of his peeps, must overcome his own legal issues. He faces state charges accusing him of manipulating $500 in campaign contributions that triggered an $80,550 grant from the state’s Citizens Election Program that funded his campaign. Newton denies the charges. His lawyer has a filed a motion to dismiss the case with the court. A trial date has not been set.