Callahan On The Newton, Gomes, Ayala Senate Race: ‘Raw Chicken Into A Pond Full Of Alligators’

Veteran Bridgeport political analyst Jim Callahan is back on the scene helping OIB cover the most watched State Senate race in the state: the Aug. 14 Democratic primary battle between incumbent Ed Gomes, party-endorsed Ernie Newton and State Rep. Andres Ayala. In his days working for the predecessor of the Connecticut Post, Callahan along with OIB friend John Gilmore were the lead political reporters in the city. When it comes to writing about city politics Callahan is like a baseball bat to the knees. He doesn’t hold much back. Grab a cup of joe and and read his analysis of the race:

Andres Ayala, Ed Gomes and Ernie Newton are experienced Bridgeport politicians. They are leaders of the community. They have served on City Council. They have served in the legislature. Their admirers and supporters could extol them from steps in St. Margaret’s Shrine, and hell, that’s not even in the senatorial district.

If they don’t have admiration from their fellow politicians, they at least have grudged respect as players of The Game. This kind of respect can be negative, by the way.

The 23rd senatorial district primary will be a negative campaign.

How can we count the ways what the respective political camps will say about one another? (Not necessarily in public.)

Ayala is fat and stupid. Gomes is old and sick. Newton is a fast-talking crook.

It is a rule among American political pros you can’t go too negative in a political campaign. The rule in Bridgeport is it doesn’t start to get sunny until you’ve come out the other side of bottom.

In a scenario straight out of the cemetery gunfight scene in the movie “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” all three are lined up to kill each other.

A pox on them all? Someone has to be state senator. This is one of the most Democratic senatorial districts in the state. The primary decides the election. None of these guys are Clint Eastwood, but someone has to ride off triumphantly. Just call this movie “The Ugly, The Ugly, and The Ugly.”

Let us consider the issues. All three are Democrats. They may or may not support the mayor–today. Tomorrow may be different.

Now that we are finished with the issues, we can get to the important stuff.

The first is money. They all got money. Each will or has raised the private financing needed to kick in public financing. This will total $300,000–on the table. This is like throwing raw chicken into a pond full of alligators. Show Bridgeport Dems the money, and they start chomping.

The second is the campaign manager. The manager has to put together a campaign for a candidate. In politics, it is real easy to hose away money on inconsequential stuff instead of getting a vote out.

You have experienced candidates, you have money to get a manager and organization. Newton is from the East End, a base. Ayala, East Side. Gomes, North End. This leaves the South End/West Side, Upper East Side, and that shirttail in Stratford to fight over.

Whoever wins will most effectively use their personality, spend their money, and exploit the frailties and strengths of Mayor Bill Finch.

Each campaign will try to convince the voter their guy is the best guy because the other guy can’t be trusted. We are back to the negatives again (see above). How elegantly–or by necessity inelegantly–the campaigns express this will matter.

There is probably not much to exploit in their General Assembly voting records in Hartford. Tales of competence or incompetence in Hartford seem far away to the average voter in Bridgeport.

Voters will be attracted to Newton, Ayala or Gomes based on their campaigns and how effective their get-out-the-vote efforts are. Period.

Of course, everyone is going to look to their ethnic group first as a base, but that base also needs to include neighborhoods and affiliations.

Ethnicity, which came up on the board recently, works best as a candidate campaign issue when a group has grievances against the political system. The candidate has to build up pride and defiance and anger against the status quo for votes.

You see elements in this in the Newton campaign with his “redemption” theme, but the Ayala campaign gets the most attention.

It helps, however, when the ethnic group being romanced–pandered to if you care–has something approaching a clear majority. No group does. But because two candidates are identified as black, and one identified as Latino, some argue it is the “Puerto Rican’s turn.”

Ayala would not benefit from it. Puerto Ricans do not make up the majority turnout in this district. No group does. Worse, the voter turnout in the Puerto Rican community historically–how shall we put this?–sucks.

Besides, he will anger the group that does have the plurality in the district–the black community, and the real minority in the district, the white community.

Given that Ayala comes from an ethnic group whose voter turnout makes the word pathetic seem like a positive assessment, and given that the black community is going to be torn up somewhat between Newton and Gomes, Ayala needs white votes.

Specifically, Ayala needs white votes influenced in a positive way by duh mayher.

There are a lot of things to criticize a Bridgeport mayor about. Blaming Mayor Finch for the 23rd senatorial primary is a bit unfair. But here goes.

Ed Gomes supported Mary-Jane Foster for mayor last year so he’s on the outs. Ernie Newton’s redemption tour from his federal conviction for political corruption understandably did not receive enthusiastic reviews from the Finch administration. Newton also supported Foster. Andres Ayala hasn’t ticked anybody off–too much–and his state representative district is overlaid by the senatorial district. Ayala gets the positive hand wave from the administration for senator.

The mayor’s people didn’t deliver an endorsement for Ayala.

Probably everyone thought Gomes would retire after his heart attack. Probably everyone thought Newton wouldn’t gain traction after his federal corruption conviction. Probably everyone thought when the mayor speaks, everyone listens.

In a classic example of Bridgeport Democratic Party haplessness–or independent democracy, take your pick-the committee split and Ernie got the endorsement.

Well, Ernie has traction with the party endorsement, and the top line on the primary ballot. Gomes didn’t retire. Ayala is left a cripple who needs help.

It is important to remember Mayor Finch won his primary for mayor over Foster in all three communities, white, black and brown. He does have yank. Ayala is not helpless and not without mayoral resources.

How Finch uses this yank has to be calibrated, however. The Finch administration has a long track record in the clumsy use of power. Never has the Finch administration been more clumsy than when it tore apart the Board of Education.

As much as the mayor would like to elect a state senator of his choice, could he screw up plans to continue control of the Board of Ed in an election three weeks later?

Objective answer: Yup.

Will he? This mayor keeps on falling forward, a good characteristic for a Bridgeport mayor. Give him props for that.

And this race, at some level, may be tough to stay out of.

There is a debt to Ayala.

Finch can probably stay out of the black community in this race and let Gomes and Newton duke it out.

Ayala’s campaign is really responsible for his own community. Finch can help introduce Ayala around in the white community and boost up support in the Puerto Rican community. It is not as if Ayala is a stranger. He’s a former city council president. The mayor can provide a boost, just that.

At any rate, Finch is going to get hammered from the other side. Many of the people lining up for Gomes are adversaries of the mayor. Foster, former councilman Bob Walsh, even Chris Caruso, who went silent after taking a state job, came out for Gomes.

Even if they more or less approve of the mayor, people in Bridgeport have an ornery quality that may find them in favor of a person for state senator who has a demonstrated record of standing up to the mayor.

And, uh, Ed Gomes has a demonstrated over a lifetime he will stand up and say and do what he thinks is right, whether it be in his old union, on city council or just about anywhere he feels like it whether it be popular or not. He has suffered politically for this.

Ayala is temperate, mature, and has the support of the administration. This is the kind of person who naturally is moving up in city politics from councilman, state representative, to state senator. It is very logical.

Ernie has sizzle and excites some people enough to get them running through walls. He came up through the same process as Ayala in a longer career with ups and a bad, bad down. He apparently has the same lock on voters in his base, the East End, that he has always has.

Gomes has never kissed butt in the East End. He has never kissed butt anywhere. He is an old dory who is not going to be swamped by any squall of politics. If spunk remains in the man, and his campaigners can show it, age and illness might not matter compared to stability.

A lousy turnout is accepted.

Watch the ABs.



  1. “Fat and stupid.” Anyone who has met Mr. Ayala knows he is not stupid, so obviously your credibility is shot already.
    Compared to Mr. Gomes, Mr. Ayala is anorexic. Oh wait, that’s Newton.

  2. Very, very offended over this “fat and stupid” comment. Yes Mr. Gomes has been sickly, Yes Mr. Newton served his time in jail and is a fast talker. But to call Mr. Ayala “fat and stupid” is DOWNRIGHT WRONG.

  3. Unbelievable! Why would you describe Mr. Ayala as “fat and stupid?” Total disrespect!

    “There is probably not much to exploit in their General Assembly voting records in Hartford. Tales of competence or incompetence in Hartford seem far away to the average voter in Bridgeport.”

    Instead of put downs … why not investigate and report? Educate us!

    1. Andres Ayala, a city educator, is plenty smart. Gomes, after being ill, looks plenty fit. Jim Callahan writes, in the down and dirty world of city elections, real or imagined, insults from the various campaign camps are commonplace.

    2. Stupid people are the types who take things out of context and demonstrate a poor reading comprehension level. Read what Callahan wrote one more time, slowly, without taking it out of context: How can we count the ways what the respective political camps will say about one another? (Not necessarily in public.)

      Ayala is fat and stupid. Gomes is old and sick. Newton is a fast-talking crook.

      Callahan is not stating he firmly believes Andres Ayala is fat and stupid. If he did, he surely wouldn’t say it in public. I hope I’ve educated you guys.

  4. This is interesting. Hot off the presses from the ‘Colony Diner’ @ 8:50am.

    The BRBC has hired Eversley to ‘spearhead’ all contacts and negotiations with ‘several’ large-scale nationally known retailers as the footprint at Steel Point begins to fill. I am not so sure I object to that.

    The one thing I just heard that I find truly astonishing is the consensus Ernie Newton should not play any role.

    1. yahooy, don’t forget the city is paying Eversley’s salary for his new job. If he couldn’t do what is now expected of him while he was Economic Development head how can he do it in his new position?

      1. Paul Timpanelli runs a disaster of an organization that sucks up public funds and accomplishes nothing. It is a disgrace Eversley is still pulling on the city teat for sustenance after having achieved nothing while employed.

    2. I truly hope the BRBC isn’t setting the bar too high with their expectations of his level of productivity. Here we have a man who slept through the business council meetings–so how is it they hired him after witnessing such a who-gives-a-damn attitude? Simply put–I’m bewildered about this.

  5. None of these politicians give a damn about the 138th. Newton does not know where it is and Ayala basically cares about the lower East Side.
    Gomes has been our senator for awhile and has really not done much for this area either.
    The one thing that makes Gomes stand out above the rest is he will answer your questions with a direct answer, no political bullshit. He is honest to a fault. He is beholding to no one in this dysfunctional administration where the same cannot be said for Ayala and Newton.

  6. The East Side is really getting a raw deal. The high probability is Ernie will get the primary and then, of course, the general election primarily because too few people will actually get out and vote. The primary is heavily favored in Newton’s direction because either Ayala or Gomes will cancel out each other leading a soft margin for Newton to take the cake.

    Not one of the candidates has demonstrated any ability to provide for the people of that district. I prefer Gomes because I know him and think he is honest.

  7. Let’s not forget the DTC nominated Ernie Newton, and he has the blessing of Mario Testa and Bob Curwen and the 138th DTC workers. Plus the entire 23rd State Senate workers that Mario will provide, along with a little underwriting to add to his coffers.

  8. “Their admirers and supporters could extol them from steps in St. Margaret’s Shrine, and hell, that’s not even in the senatorial district.”

    St. Margaret’s Shrine is not the only subject matter that’s not in the senatorial district.

    Good analysis by Callahan. I wonder if all those chickens are ones that were promised to be in everyone’s pots by the Finch campaign during the Foster primary. Sadly, the deciding factor will be the Absentee Ballots. One critical factor is the message presented by each candidate–most will be the type that mask the truth. Ernie Newton has the advantage of presenting more facts about both of his opponents. In a recent OIB post, I asked if the incumbents in this race will remind the voters they voted for the biggest tax increase in state history. Obviously they won’t mention this, but Ernie Newton can and add that mayor Finch–who also raised taxes–supports Ayala. This can help Ernie, but in some parts of the district it can help Ed Gomes as the lesser of two evils in the minds of voters like yahooy. God knows we have many voters who think like yahooy. Both Newton and Gomes can attack Ayala on his performance as the City Council President, specifically on the $29 million deficit he left behind after leaving for Hartford. One huge advantage Ayala has is the ability to effectively deliver his message–whatever that might be–in English and Spanish. This was my advantage when I defeated Mary L. Bruce, a 16-year incumbent City Councilwoman from district 131. GOTV is the most important aspect. No matter how many people they call or contact, the turnout may be low–not counting ABs. They must make sure they have all their poll workers trained and not leave this responsibility strictly to Santa Ayala. Promising a chicken in everybody’s pot seems to have worked well lately. Try that too! I like all the candidates. I served on the City Council with Ayala. He had always been too chicken to stand up and represent, which explains this: “This is the kind of person who naturally is moving up in city politics from councilman, state representative, to state senator. It is very logical.” Not only did he move up, his relatives have too. Santa Ayala is the Registrar of Voters and her daughter was endorsed to replace Andres Ayala on the 128 State Representative spot he will vacate to run for the State Senate. I like Ernie Newton, Newton wasn’t the only or last corrupt elected official.
    Many are still in office and have moved up the political latter. Newton communicates with the general public although his tone and message hurts him at times. I’m watching this race to gauge a future Joe Ganim run. Don’t think Finch isn’t thinking the same way. Ed Gomes. During the Foster campaign, I was part of a small group of volunteers talking on the table. I asked Ed when he was stepping down to let the next generation of pol get a shot at his State Senate spot. He responded by saying, “Let me see, how long do I have to live.” Days later he landed in the Hospital. Ed Gomes is a stand-up guy. He proved that literally when he came back from that close call. I’d give him the chance to continue.

  9. *** Regardless of who OIB likes or doesn’t like in the 23rd State Senate race, it’s downright disrespectful for anyone blogging or covering the campaign to be calling any of the candidates, “crook and thief,” “old and sick” or “fat and stupid,” etc. This is what the Dem party has to offer or endorsed, so it’s what voters in the 23rd Senate district have to pick from; it’s Bpt, no? Just look at the entire 8 legislature incumbents running again! If you choose to vote, you pick your poison. If not then you really got nothing new to complain about! It’s either Heads or Tails, with the taxpayers losing most of the time! *** GOD DON”T LIKE UGLY SO LET’S TRY TO BE CIVIL, NO? ***


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