If Ernie Newton manages to win election to the State Senate seat he once occupied he’d be the first–at least among the first–in state history to do so while on supervised release, a form of probation in the federal system following the fulfillment of his prison sentence on corruption charges. He has about one year of probation remaining and as long as he plays by the rules he’ll have no problem getting on without reporting to a probation officer. Newton stunned the political establishment Monday night winning the Democratic endorsement for Connecticut’s 23rd Senatorial District and with it a storm of incomprehensible regional publicity. It’s time for a reality check.
News outlets across the state have chronicled with amazement Newton’s endorsement, castigating the city’s political establishment for supporting a man who entered a guilty plea seven years ago on bribery and tax charges. What they miss is both incumbent Ed Gomes and State Rep. Andres Ayala had the same opportunity to schmooze the 53 delegates to the state convention that ultimately endorsed Newton (albeit by the thinnest of margins). The Moses of his peeps did a better job working the delegates. Gomes started late and Ayala didn’t have the relationships Newton had cultivated in 30 years in city politics.
Mayor Bill Finch and his operatives spent days trying to block Newton’s endorsement in favor of their candidate Ayala. They thought Monday night it was a done deal: no endorsement, an open primary. Something happened on the way to the party convention.
Ed Gomes is a good and decent man, but he either assumed the party delegates would be with him or he could win them over once he decided to make calls for support. The fact is, Gomes did not reach out to delegates before it was too late. Now after seven years in the State Senate, at 76 years of age, he must defend his turf against two organizational opponents who will be well financed.
Mayor Bill Finch, who commuted regularly with Newton to Hartford when both were in the Connecticut legislature, is meowing his operatives couldn’t block Newton’s endorsement. Well, if it were so important to block Newton’s endorsement, why didn’t the mayor conspire with Democratic Town Committee Chairman Mario Testa in the selection of delegates? Did the mayor even look at the delegate list before it was finalized?
Some political operatives say the mayor was more concerned about delivering the lion’s share of delegate support for Congressman Chris Murphy’s U.S. Senate run rather than analyzing what was going on in the local State Senate race. Newton’s name, in fact, will appear right after Murphy on the top line Aug. 14. So Finch operatives supporting both Murphy and Ayala will have to educate voters about line selection for fear of Newton benefiting from a top-line push.
Many pols who don’t pay attention to business look for scapegoats. Oh this is a black eye for the city and this and that, they claim. Ah, such victims. The reality is for all the hullabaloo over Newton’s endorsement, he does not have a lock on this primary. He must work his ass off to win it. This race right now is a jump ball with about 28,000 registered Dems in Bridgeport and another 2,200 in Stratford who will decide it on Aug. 14. Game on.
(Footnote: The state of Connecticut restores voting privileges for folks on probation who’ve satisfied their court-ordered fines and restitution. That law was signed by Governor John Rowland in 1998 at the urging of State Rep. Ernie Newton.)