Now in the driver’s seat, Andres Ayala shouldn’t have to worry about his voting address anymore. On January 7, the state senator is scheduled to become commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles. A special election will be scheduled to fill his vacancy. Could this be a free-for-all?
Governor Dan Malloy’s announced appointment of Ayala on Monday took most of the city’s political establishment by surprise. The governor made a commitment to Hispanic leaders during his reelection campaign that they will be assimilated into high-ranking positions in his administration.
Ayala, a city educator, rose through the political ranks the past two decades starting with election to City Council. He became the legislative body’s president. He won election to the State House and then to Connecticut’s 23rd State Senate district in 2012, winning a close Democratic primary over Ernie Newton and incumbent Ed Gomes. In recent years his name has been part of the conversation for a mayoral run. Now he’ll earn a package as a state commissioner of roughly $150K, on top of his education pension if he chooses to cash that in. Andres, let’s be friends!
Ayala comes from active political stock. His uncle Tito Ayala served on the City Council and is still engaged in city politics. His cousin Christina served one term in the State House before defeat in a primary last August by the city’s blight czar Chris Rosario. Andres Ayala’s aligned politically with the segment of the party affiliated with former Democratic Town Chair John Stafstrom. While Mario Testa is the current Democratic Town Committee leader, when it comes to the governor’s ear, Stafstrom has mighty standing. Stafstrom was an early Malloy supporter for governor in 2006 when he lost a close gubernatorial primary to then New Haven mayor John DeStefano. Mario and Malloy have never been best of buds. Mario supported Ned Lamont for governor in 2010 while Stafstrom and Ayala supported Malloy. Malloy defeated Lamont handily in the Democratic primary on his way to winning the general election over Republican Tom Foley, and then again four years later.
So let’s examine some of the possibilities in what could become a wide-open battle to replace Ayala presumably in a February or March special election.
Ayala holds the seat once occupied by Ernie Newton whose criminal trial for allegedly violating state campaign finance law begins January 6. If Newton is convicted his political career is likely over. If he wins, it could put Newton back in play for a comeback. After losing a close contest to Ayala in 2012, Newton’s effort to regain the State House seat he also once occupied was derailed in August by school board member Andre Baker who was backed by Mayor Bill Finch’s political organization.
Baker will receive the oath of office for his State House seat in early January. Theoretically, Baker could then turn around and run for the State Senate special election. It would be a free run for Baker, albeit tricky during his first legislative session. Will he?
Bridgeport’s State House delegation residing in the 23rd Senatorial consists of Baker, Ezequiel Santiago and incoming Chris Rosario. Could any of them go for it? State House member Charlie Stallworth’s district is split between the 22nd and 23rd Senate District.
Then there’s City Librarian Scott Hughes who lost to Andres Ayala in an August primary. He’s been through it once, will he try again?
There’s a potential wild card in this race. Former Mayor Joe Ganim who’s seriously considering a run for his old job. Ganim’s electoral strength, according to several polls the past few years, is the 23rd Senatorial. Ganim’s been working the political establishment in pursuit of a run against Finch in 2015.
But could the vacancy in Ayala’s seat give Ganim pause to switch gears and run for State Senate to get back in the game?
What about City Councilwoman Lydia Martinez, the city’s queen of absentee ballots? It appears Lydia would prefer a local city seat such as town clerk or city clerk in next year’s election.
Several other players could get in the mix.
The respective Democratic and Republican parties will endorse candidates following the call for a special election, but challenge candidates may petition their way onto the ballot.
And, hold on a minute, we’re not done yet. The Connecticut Working Families Party that has been successful in electing members to the school board could also run someone.
Geographically, the 23rd Senatorial covers roughly two-thirds of the city taking in a portion of the North End, West Side and cutting over to cover the Hollow, eastern half of the city, Downtown and South End. It also includes a small portion of western Stratford.