Standing outside her home precinct Hooker School on the Upper East Side, multi-layered clothing protecting the day-long chill of campaigning, political warrior Maria Pereira who knows her voters as well as anyone in the city, observed presciently in advance of the results. “I’m seeing people here I’ve never seen before.” A few miles away her political antithesis, Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa, manned the other precinct in the 138th District JFK, greeting voters with a gentle nudge to support his slate of candidates. Mario Testa acknowledges that he’s a lightning rod in city politics, but during a lull in voting he emphasized making him the boogie man was not a way to win town committee primaries. “They’re making it about me. It’s not about me.” Judging by the results, at least, Pereira and Testa were both right.
Pereira suffered her first loss in her district. She will fight another day. But as much as Testa is a lightning rod in city politics, Pereira’s anti-establishment bent is not far behind. Testa and his band of supporters worked hard to take her out of district control. Not an easy task considering her string of victories there, be it town committee, state races or her runs for Board of Education.
Town committee races are strange ducks, as retail as retail can get, in this case two slates of nine candidates totaling 18 campaigners. Sometimes, you can find slate members able to drag out friends who’d not normally vote in a town committee race let alone know what it’s all about. These are the people who endorse candidates for public office and choose party officers. City pols, and sometimes from around the state, pay attention to them. Testa and his supporters had one goal in mind. Defeat Pereira and you take out her entire slate with it. The reference Pereira made about seeing new faces at Hooker helped materialize her defeat.
Overcoming someone like Pereira is no picnic in the park. She’s a worker who frames arguments impressively. You must identify voters alien to her support. Pereira’s detractors assert she contaminates relationships, cannot work with anyone, is a disruptive force. Pereira’s rejoinder? I don’t work with people who break promises.
In city politics there can be long stretches of winning but at some point there’s a reverse trend. You win, you lose and sometimes you come back again.
Tuesday was hugely important to Testa and political combat in arms Mayor Joe Ganim. It sets up a strategy, win or fail, that would have been lanced if insurgents had their way. Testa, as town chair, influences the selection of Bridgeport delegates to the state party convention in May where Ganim requires 15 percent support to net an August ballot spot in the Democratic primary for governor. After New Haven, Bridgeport enjoys the largest delegation. Testa can plan a trading strategy with other delegations around the state. You want our support for this, we want your support for Ganim. A big DTC win also helps Testa in the cause of raising money for Ganim. But there’s something else to glean from Tuesday’s results.
If a burn of anger seethes Democratic electors for this mayor it did not find its way to the polls on Tuesday. If anything it has buoyed Ganim and Testa for next year, a mayoral reelection year, if Ganim’s Runyonesque run for governor derails.
Across the city in high-turnout Black Rock, another battle with Testa as the target spewed a whole bunch of insults and anger. The extended object was the slate led by Danny Roach, a Ganim friend and government appointee. The opposition slate basically asserted that the incumbent slate received a blood transfusion from Testa. It was pox on all your houses. To some voters it was “nasty,” “dirty,” “cheap shots,” “lies.” Each slate had good people, but the challenge slate spent most of its time hammering guilt by association. It failed. Voters are pretty choosy in Black Rock and a number of electors there split their ticket. The way it works is you can vote for any nine of the 18 candidates. A lot of silent voters cast ballots for the Roach slate, or cherry picked those they liked. This is classic neighborhood voting with a premium placed on personal relationships. It got personal.
Slings and arrows from anti-establishment pols will not abate when it comes to some. The larger question is how you go about your attacks.
Back at JFK precinct Tuesday afternoon, I asked Testa if he was returning to his restaurant on Madison Avenue to field results. “Yes, back to the restaurant for a few drinks,” he said. “I am going to enjoy myself tonight.”