Social justice advocate Kate Rivera waged a compelling insurgent race last spring against Democratic-endorsed Antonio Felipe to fill the State House seat of the late Ezequiel Santiago. Now friends and supporters are encouraging her to challenge incumbent State Senator Dennis Bradley who may also face a contest from someone who occupied the seat more than a decade ago, City Councilman Ernie Newton.
Rivera’s candidacy loomed large last year, a feisty urban warrior who won the walk-in vote, but fell to the political organization’s vaunted absentee ballot operation. Connecticut’s 130th State House District covers the South End, Downtown and portions of the East Side and West End.
She could run again for State House, but from a political and strategic lens running for State Senate makes viable sense for a number of reasons.
Contrast: It’s what separates challenge candidates from organizational ones. Both Bradley and Newton have had battles with the law, Newton while serving in the legislature, Bradley now facing his own state and federal issues. Newton has managed to dust himself off in a political comeback.
Geographic advantage: Connecticut’s 23rd Senate District covers roughly two thirds of Bridgeport and a portion of Stratford. It’s easier for the establishment to saturate an absentee ballot operation in a State House district than a much larger Senate district forcing operatives to spread out across a larger universe of voters. Absentee ballot pros maximize results when soaked in a smaller district.
Issues: This is Rivera’s sweet spot. Her knowledgeable oratory connects on concerns closest to district residents. Speaking out on social issues is both her living and life, a former school board member with four children.
Example from Rivera’s Facebook page following the recent shooting outside the Downtown courthouse:
If you are NOT talking about the **intentionally** created conditions of generational poverty, segregated dense housing, the underfunding of urban schools due to racist policies connected to property taxes (see: redlining), the prison industrial complex, the lack of afterschool activities, wrap around services, counselors, therapists, social workers, the Arts, team sports, affordable housing, livable wage jobs, etc. you really aren’t talking about a damn thing and you sound stupid. Spend the unending stream of $ going to the police force on the above^. Pour resources into the children and watch them thrive just like their suburban neighbors.”
Rivera’s ambition springs from her core values, not lust for public office so dominant among candidates. Sometimes the candidate finds the office, sometimes the office finds the candidate. State Senate is a mighty perch to combine those core values with the money to finance results on behalf of constituents.
Rivera’s not a cookie-cutter candidate, nor a product of the political establishment, she’s a lioness who roars authenticity to connect with an audience. She’s not interested in niceties. Rivera’s mantra: Here’s the problem, here’s the solution–who has the guts to get it done?
Rivera surprised many last year when she raised the necessary dollars to qualify for Connecticut’s public financing program. For State Senate she must raise $15,000 in donations of $250 and less from 300 donors within Bridgeport and Stratford. If she does that she’ll have roughly $100,000 to spend in a Democratic primary which is the ball of wax.
Newton, by contrast, cannot participate in the public financing program because of his federal conviction connected to his public office. He can raise money the old-fashioned way through larger dollar donations. Bradley also has had his issues with public financing. In 2018, the State Elections Enforcement Commission that administers the program rejected his public grant for the general election, ruling he had illegally used law firm funds to finance his campaign. Does Bradley even want to participate in the public money program given the scrutiny he’s under?
Bradley and Newton have not yet made formal announcements to run. The party endorsement is in May, followed by the August primary. Two ways for a challenger to qualify for the ballot: securing 15 percent delegate support at the convention, or via the petitioning process.
Will Rivera run? Who knows. Rivera keeps close confidence. If she runs, one thing’s for sure, it must make sense for her, and not as political ambition.