Four weeks from today, September 10, Democratic primaries in four City Council districts will take place. Do voters care? The candidates do, or they had better if they want to prevail. Primaries for the city’s budget/legislative body will run largely below the radar of the citywide Democratic battle royal for Board of Education seats that could determine the balance of power on the school board. Here’s a snapshot of the personalities and politics behind the council races. (Don’t despair, we’ll get into the candidates and issues in the coming weeks.)
In the West Side 132nd District, city activist Robert Halstead and newcomer Trish Swain will face incumbents John Olson and Evette Brantley. Halstead spent many years in city government working for several mayoral administrations in urban planning and overseeing the urban gardens program. He’s a sturdy policy wonk who years ago had a falling-out with his former South End roommate–now mayor–Bill Finch. Halstead’s an outsider running an anti-establishment campaign against incumbents who aren’t exactly establishment. Olson and Brantley are not on the city payroll. Olson, who replaced the long-time council curmudgeon Bob “Troll” Walsh following his retirement, has not lived up to Walsh’s legislative watchdog persona, but has picked up his game the last few months following revelations the city authorized a $400,000 payment to controversial developer Manny Moutinho to build a roadway to his Stratford waterfront mansion as part of an airport improvement project. Olson’s been an irritant of late to the Finch administration asking a whole lot of questions about the process.
In the North End 135th District, Rev. Mary McBride-Lee and Richard Salter will challenge incumbents Warren Blunt and Richard Bonney. Lee has tried taking them out before. What will be different this time? Blunt and Bonney, both city employees, are reliable votes for Mayor Bill Finch. Blunt works in the Health Department and Bonney at the municipally owned airport in Stratford. This district covers the Lake Forest and Whiskey Hill areas, including the Trumbull Gardens public-housing project. As City Council races go it’s a reliably party-endorsed district. What message will Lee craft to make a difference?
In the East Side 136th District Richard DeJesus and Alfredo Castillo are opposing incumbents Carlos Silva and Angel DePara. Former State Rep. Americo Santiago, a Bridgeport Housing Authority commissioner, is heading up the campaign operation for DeJesus and Castillo, part of Americo’s plan to insert himself more in heavily Hispanic districts. Americo staffed the 2010 Bridgeport headquarters during Dan Malloy’s winning race for governor and managed Andres Ayala’s 2012 state senate victory. His son Ezequiel Santiago occupies the State House seat he once served. If East Side City Councilwoman Lydia Martinez is the queen of absentee ballots, Americo certainly has elevated himself to AB royalty status as well. Silva and DePara have served this district for many years. This is their toughest test. DePara, with Black Rock councilwoman Sue Brannelly, is co-chair of the council’s Budget and Appropriations committee that reduced Finch’s proposed tax increase to under one mil. Silva and DePara must knock on a lot of doors in this serpentine district that runs from the East Side to the Hollow and covers a portion of the North End.
In the East Side 137th District incumbent Lydia Martinez and Milta Feliciano will take on endorsed ex-councilwoman Maria Valle running with Aidee Nieves. Oh my, this primary is gonna be a beauty. Lydia Martinez and Maria Valle have battled for years. Four years ago Martinez, the queen of absentee ballots, defeated Valle as a result of … well … absentee ballots. Valle and Nieves are members of the town committee that seized control of the district thus they have the endorsement. Both sides know their peeps. This district for sure will have a lot of absentee-ballot activity. Lydia is likely to win the absentee battle count. Can Valle and Nieves win enough of the machine count to offset Lydia’s absentee ballot number?