Just days from a Superior Court hearing that will decide whether city Democrats will vote in a mayoral primary, an OIB poll conducted by the Merriman River Group www.merrimanriver.com shows a close race between Mayor Bill Finch and challenger Mary-Jane Foster. Finch leads Foster 40 percent to 34 percent with 20 percent not sure and six percent preferring another candidate. The Merriman poll sampled a total of 499 likely Democratic voters Wednesday and Thursday nights. Poll respondents also overwhelmingly blame Democratic Registrar Santa Ayala for denying Foster a spot on the ballot.
The poll asked likely Democratic voters their vote preference if a Democratic primary for mayor takes place September 13. The poll, according to Merriman River, has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. The last OIB poll conducted in July had Finch leading Foster 41 percent to to 34 percent.
A poll question also addressed Foster’s rejection from the ballot by Ayala on the basis that Foster had one too many candidates for Board of Education on her slate. The questionnaire asked voters: Was this Foster’s error? Ayala’s error? Or was this an act of sabotage by Ayala? Results:
Foster error: 24 percent
Registrar’s error: 27 percent
Registrar’s sabotage: 25 percent
Not sure: 24 percent
So more than 50 percent of respondents blame Ayala for keeping Foster off the ballot whether by error or sabotage. Monday morning Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis is scheduled to hear legal arguments from Foster’s lawyers Alan Neigher and Michele Mount why Foster and her slate of candidates should appear on the September 13 primary ballot. Ayala, represented by the Bridgeport City Attorney’s Office, will likely be called to the stand. Ayala became a lightning rod in city politics when she failed to order enough ballots for voters in last year’s gubernatorial general election. The gaffe placed a national spotlight on the city when thousands of voters either left polling places in disgust or waited for upwards of an hour to vote as city officials were pressed into action to photocopy paper ballots to accommodate the turnout. Ayala’s latest controversy has put her back in the spotlight with the editorial board of the Connecticut Post calling for her resignation. Ayala is an elected official and it appears the only recourse for her removal (barring her resignation) from office would be a state legislative impeachment hearing. Ayala’s up for reelection next year when her fate would be decided by an endorsement by the Democratic Town Committee. She could run a primary herself if the party refuses to endorse her. Gee, who would check her petitions? Ayala became registrar many years ago when she defeated Lisa Parziale in a party primary.
The key for Foster is keeping her supporters engaged during this period in case Judge Bellis orders a primary. Finch operatives aren’t taking any chances. They’re acting like a primary will take place which could give them a large organizational advantage. If Bellis orders a mayoral primary it likely would leave 10 days or so for both campaigns to gear up unless the judge pushes back the primary date. One area where a short window could hurt the Finch camp is an absentee ballot operation where Finch should have a large advantage. Most of the campaign operatives who know how to work an absentee ballot operation are supporting Finch, including Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa. Right now, no primary, so no absentee ballots for mayor to fill out.
A poll is a snapshot in time. Public opinion polls cannot measure a field operation which is so vital in pulling out primary voters. This is an area where Finch should have a large advantage.