Here we are, Labor Day weekend when serial primary voters begin to focus on candidate choices, except in the latest surreal chapter of Drama The Bridgeport Way, we’re headed into overtime courtesy of Judge Barbara Bellis who granted mayoral candidate Mary-Jane Foster’s request for an election extension. Instead of a one-week stretch run, it’s now three weeks. Mark September 27 as Democratic primary day.
My oh my is this going to be a riotous three weeks. Saturday afternoon after helping my stepdaughter move into her new digs in downtown Bridgeport (both my stepdaughters will be voting in this primary so Mayor Bill Finch and Foster better be nice to me), I segued north on Main Street when I channeled into a caravan of honking cars. At a stop light I looked right and there was candidate for city clerk Marilyn Moore leading the cheers for the Foster slate of candidates lapping neighborhoods on their way to a rally at John Gomes’ popular Red Rooster deli. Talk about cockle doodle doo, the Foster camp is on a high now that she’s officially on the ballot.
I do not sense, however, that Team Finch had taken his reelection for granted when Foster’s candidacy was in limbo courtesy of Democratic Registrar Santa Ayala. They’ve been doing their work, using the power of incumbency to advantage whether Hurricane Irene, opening a police substation in the East End and continuing the mayor’s baby-kissing tour of the city, or touching voters from campaign headquarters. On one level you can argue that a 10-day fast blast to the traditional primary date September 13 would be helpful to Foster in one key area, absentee ballots. The Finch forces, led by Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa have more supporters who know how to work ABs and would have so little time to work them in that short window. In the bigger picture, however, Team Foster needed more time to tighten up its field operation and identify its voter support, as it takes on the base party apparatus.
Town Clerk Alma Maya will be printing a new absentee ballot form for the September 27 primary. The Finch forces will go to work, scouring their traditional AB voters. In the old days no one worked absentee ballots like Mario Testa. The running joke for a while, and it had the added benefit of being true, was Mario could never win a race by machine count. But then the absentee ballots were counted and lo and behold, presto, Mario wins. Was Mario an absentee ballot cheater? You bet. “Oh Mrs. Calabrese, let me help you with that.” Mario is no dummy, he’s a sly as they come. At one time he even had a mailman on his town committee. Guess who can touch as an AB? Yes, your friendly local postal man.
Is Mario still a cheater? I think Mario has behaved after the staties and federals started snooping around following Probate Judge Paul Ganim’s 2002 primary win over Kevin Boyle. Boyle won the machine count but was croaked by the absentee tally. Mario was not charged with any wrongdoing, but he got the message. Lay low for a while. (By the way, did you catch Mario preening in the Connecticut Post last week about the Foster camp’s ineptitude with election law before the judge sided with Foster? Like Mario has such respect for election laws through the years. Maybe it’s time for Mario to add some truth serum to his morning espresso.)
Former Town Clerk Hector Diaz, one of the good guys in city politics now retired in Florida, used to tell me the absentee ballot count would reflect the machine count percentage total if no cheating was done. The Finch forces, from what I’m told, want 1000 absentee ballots returned and in the bank by primary day in what they hope is a two-to-one advantage. The Foster camp needs to touch base with every AB voter to try to blunt the Finch operation.
This race is serious business for Finch. He is not a man of wealth and the $130K he makes as mayor, plus benefits, is by far the highest standard of living in his lifetime with two young children to raise. For most of his professional life Bill had trouble holding down a job. He was fortunate there were folks who looked after him. If he wins reelection and four more years he’ll be pushing 60 at the end of his second term, and a pension on the horizon when his days as mayor do end. He needs the income and future pension stability. Losing the mayoralty would place his professional life in limbo. So for Finch this race is super serious business.
There is bad blood between Finch and Foster and their respective operations. They were once friends but now spewing prehistoric noises. The Foster camp will try to trap Finch in lies. The other day at a mayoral forum Foster pulled out several photographs of take-home vehicles parked in front of city employee homes after Finch had proclaimed he had reduced the fleet of take home city vehicles to himself, the police chief and fire chief. The Finch camp will try to frame Foster as just another opportunistic politician who really didn’t make the Bluefish a success story. For Foster to win this thing she must still make the case for firing the incumbent. Part of that message is inspiring voters about job creation, consistently the number-one issue among anxious voters in a troubling economy.
The latest OIB poll, conducted more than a week ago, showed Finch with a six-point lead over Foster. Never have I received such protestations about a poll. The Finch forces called, “Lennie your poll is full of crap. We’re way ahead of her. No way she wins.” Foster supporters called, “No way, we’re doing better than your poll.”
Forget past polling. This race with three weeks left has taken on a whole new dimension as a result of court intervention. In fact (if voters can tolerate any more phone calls), the campaigns should re-identify voter support so as not to pull the other camp’s vote on primary day. Strap in. Here we go. Parting question: Does anyone really have confidence the local registrar and Connecticut Secretary of the State can guarantee a clean election?
Debates this week:
Tuesday, the Bridgeport North End Association will host a Democratic mayoral forum at 6 p.m. at the North End Library, 3455 Madison Ave.
The Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce an affiliate of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, The Caribbean World Chamber of Commerce, The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bridgeport, and The Southern Connecticut Black Chamber of Commerce Invite YOU to the Mayoral Candidate Forum, Housatonic Community College Beacon Hall, 999 Lafayette Boulevard Bridgeport, CT 06604.
Honorable Bill Finch (D)
Mary Jane Foster (D)
Jeff Kohut (I)
Rick Torres (R)
Thursday, September 8, 2011
8am – 10am
John J. DeAugustine, Moderator, Publisher, Connecticut Post / Group publisher, Hearst Media Services Connecticut
New Voter Registration Table Available
No Cost to Attend / Open to the Public / Free Parking at HCC Garage
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Black Rock Library, 130th District City Council Candidate Forum
The Black Rock Community Council and the Black Rock Branch Library invite you to meet the four candidates for City Council in the upcoming Democratic Primary.
Incumbent City Council members Susan Brannelly and Martin C. McCarthy will be joined by challengers James T. Fox and Jill Hughes for a discussion of issues important to the 130th District and to the city of Bridgeport as a whole.
The forum will be moderated by Phil Blagys of the Black Rock Community Council and audience participation will be encouraged.
Refreshments will be provided by the Friends of the Bridgeport Public Library.