Bridgeport’s Peculiar Politics, The Ernie Newton Case

The news coming out of Hartford Superior Court the other day wasn’t all bad for former State Senator Ernie Newton. The judge hearing the state criminal complaint against Newton, alleging he falsified $500 in campaign donations to trigger an $80,000 public grant for his State Senate race two years ago, didn’t throw out the case as Newton had hoped, but she sent a clear message to state prosecutors: your case is thin. Newton is now gearing up for what likely will be a run for his old State House seat. And he will be the favorite to win.

Bridgeport politics in general and Newton in particular can be oddities to folks outside of the city (some within the city) who shake their heads in amazement. How can a pol who served several years in the federal joint on corruption charges and awaiting a potential trial in a state criminal matter, still be in play to win office?

Several factors apply to the viability of a candidate: geography, voter demographics, the competition and neighborhood identity. Newton’s flamboyance  may not play well in several city neighborhoods, but the self-proclaimed Moses of his peeps plays just fine in the East End, where he’s built decades of goodwill in a heavy African American neighborhood. He served them on the City Council, he served them in the State House, he represented them in the State Senate. And he’s still accessible to his constituency, even though not a member of the legislature since 2005.

Newton came darn close to winning his old State Senate seat in 2012 that is the subject of this state criminal case. He finished second to Andres Ayala with incumbent Ed Gomes finishing  third in the August primary. Newton insists had Gomes not been in the race, he’d have won without the splitting of black votes. Where did Newton perform best in that primary? Yup, his East End voting base. He won the two precincts, Dunbar and Harding, that make up the majority vote in the State House seat he once occupied. And as he sets his sights on his old State House seat, the incumbent Don Clemons will need to mount a mighty effort to hold back Newton in an August primary.

The state case against Newton is the first of its kind brought by prosecutors under the state’s public financing system that was championed by former Democratic State Rep. Chris Caruso following the corruption conviction of Republican Governor John Rowland nearly 10 years ago. State charges against Newton do not allege he used public money for personal use, but he falsified donations to advance public campaign funds to finance his race. The case centers on several disgruntled campaign workers who claim they were urged by Newton to falsify campaign donations that put him over the top to qualify for public dough. The state program requires candidates for State Senate to raise $15,000 in donations of $100 and less to qualify for a larger pot of campaign money.

Newton’s lawyer argues whatever issue the State Election Enforcement Commission had with Newton’s application for a grant would normally be handled civilly. They wanted Ernie Newton’s pelt. The credibility of state witnesses will be key if this case goes to trial. The judge explained the other day prosecutors have a high burden of proof for conviction based on what the state has disclosed.

Meanwhile East End District Leader Ralph Ford, who was also in the news this week following paid suspension from his state job with the department of mental health, appears to control the endorsement for the 124thth District State House seat occupied by Clemons. Ford and Newton are aligned politically.

The path to Newton’s return to the General Assembly is much smoother running for his old State House seat in his political base. He faces much more difficult odds challenging Ayala in a State Senate district that covers roughly two thirds of the city.

Newton running for legislative office raises a question in light of his pending trial: will he raise money through the state’s voluntary public financing system? Is it worth the SEEC scrutiny? Will the commission even allow his participation in the program with a case pending? He’d need to raise $5,000 in small donations to receive a $25,000 grant. The good news for Newton is he’ll not need a lot of money to wage a competitive race for State House. He can raise it the old-fashioned way.

Stay tuned.



  1. What Balls. Ed Gomes who has run an honest campaign and was an honest politician should step aside so Ernie could run? Screw You, Ernie. The person Ernie should be talking about in that race was Musto who had much of Gomes’ district moved while Ed was in the hospital.
    Like I said earlier, as a 70-year-old white guy it doesn’t matter who wins, Clemons or Newton. I will or we will get the same thing we have gotten for years on the upper East Side. NOTHING!!!

    1. Andrew C Fardy, on this one I’m in total agreement with you. You pointed out “in that race was Musto who had much of Gomes’ district moved while Ed was in the hospital.” Clemons, Newton and other black leaders knew this and did nothing to stop it.

      Donald Day and myself talked with Ernie at our office and explained to him why it was a bad move for him to run against Ed Gomes and if he wanted to run then run for his old House of Representative that Clemons is in. We told him it was a lose-lose deal for everybody. And what happeedn, Ernie and Ed lost, what did Ernie gain, nothing. There was no thought about the community, it was all about him getting his old Senate seat. Don and I both like Ernie and as friends sometimes you have to tell them things they don’t want to hear.

      Andy, you said “Ed Gomes who has run an honest campaign and was an honest politician,” that is something rare here.

  2. “Donald Day and myself talked with Ernie at our office and explained to him why it was a bad move for him to run against Ed Gomes and if he wanted to run then run for his old House of Representative that Clemons is in.”

    Ron Mackey, since when have you been a political consultant? What did you really have to contribute to Ernie’s campaign other than an opinion he could have come up with by himself or from this blog? You would have talked to the same people in church Ernie would have already spoken to and that’s it. Do you really think Ed Gomes would have won if Ernie stayed out of the race or vice versa? Obviously you do and made that point here. I’m not too sure about that either way. If you folks were so sure, why not go after Ayala now? Moore will be challenging Musto, Ernie after Don, and Andres Ayala gets to sit it out from how it appears at this point. While Ed Gomes lay on a hospital bed recovering from a severe heart attack, the guy who gets to sit out the primary this time around is the one who was plotting to take out the sick Senator, and all you folks are blind, ignorant or just too stupid to see this. Keep blaming Ernie, fools. Have fun on your happiest time of the year–April 1, 2014.

  3. One thing I admire and respect Ron Mackey for is he always responds and comes back.

    As I was starting to type, Bob Walsh raised one point I was going to raise, but not in the same tone. Don Clemons is a former fellow firefighter like Mackey. He is “a friend of Clemons.” Why not talk to Clemons about moving up the ladder? Ron’s description of his conversation with Ernie sounds more like he and Don were trying to talk Ernie out of doing something he intended to do. When friends of mine insisted on doing things, I backed them on it even when I tried to talk some sense into them.

    Before you folks who are disappointed with Ernie’s decision to run or plans of running against Don Clemons, let’s not forget Clemons knew about Ernie’s attempt to extort a contractor. Don Clemons didn’t say shit until the FEDS came with an invitation to come along for a long talk.
    Does Ernie considers Clemons a friend? I think not.
    Clemons shouldn’t worry if Andres Ayala or his supporters raise this issue as Andres Ayala himself got the same kind of invitation from the FEDS.
    As big as Clemons is one would think he’s a tough guy, Ernie Newton is tougher as small as he is. Ernie Newton is more aggressive and a go-getter and not afraid to speak up. When was the last time anyone heard Don Clemons doing or saying anything other than “yes?” He’s perfect for the Senate. But does he have the Political Balls and willingness to take a risk?

    1. Joel Gonzalez, we had the same type of talk with Don. We talked to Don about not running against Ed Gomes in a primary when that Senate seat became open after Ernie gave up the seat when he got in trouble. Once again Don is a friend as well Andres.

      1. Ron, what if some other persons come out to run against the rest of your friends, will you pay them a visit too? Would you try talking me out of running against your State Rep? Is he your friend too? He helped to defeat our friend Ed Gomes, you know. In case you are wondering at what point Ezequiel Santiago is my friend, here is your answer: When he is a constituent to a better choice.

        1. Joel Gonzalez, I don’t know why you are trying to make something out of people talking to their friends. I learned a lot from the late George Pipkin when I first got on the Democratic Town Committee in 1991. So making friends in life you have a different relationship with each person.

          Joel, how you deal with State Rep Ezequiel Santiago and your friends is up to you.


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