Two incumbents, both of whom are outcasts with state legislative leadership that direct funding sources to Bridgeport, face stern challenges as the featured local races in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries.
Relationships matter in the success to direct dollars from Hartford to home cities across the state. Both State Senator Dennis Bradley and State Rep. Jack Hennessy, for different reasons, find themselves battling for two more years with decision makers in Hartford not eager to see their return.
Bradley has been in limbo since his indictment last year for alleged connivance of Connecticut’s program of publicly funded races stemming from a 2018 announcement for state office. Leadership stripped him of key committee assignments as he awaits federal trial.
He has crafted a peculiar campaign message in his primary fight against party-endorsed Herron Gaston, a city faith leader and assistant chief administrative officer, seeking public office for the first time. Bradley’s key battle cry focuses on his lone-wolf vote against the state budget because it lacked insufficient funding for city schools. The budget he voted against included hundreds of millions in financial support for Bridgeport covering a wide swath of items including education, health care, infrastructure and road improvements, Covid relief, non-profit support, a cut in motor vehicle taxes, reimbursement for payments in lieu of taxes.
Bradley, a former member of the Board of Education, has campaigned for years on the promise to bring home more education funding to Bridgeport. In essence he’s saying I failed to deliver on the promise so I’m voting against the budget. Logical constituents may wonder, gee, didn’t we put you in office to sizzle home more bacon to the city?
Oddly, he also conspicuously touts items he delivered for the city that he actually voted against.
Bradley’s condemning narrative also exacerbates his relationship with legislative leaders, biting the hand that feeds him, as well as members of the city’s legislative delegation that voted for the state spending plan. So even if he wins on Tuesday he hasn’t made a lot of friends along the way.
Looming larger, however, is the federal trial delayed indefinitely while defense attorneys and prosecutors spar over evidentiary issues.
Party regulars gravitated to Gaston as Bradley’s indictment drama played out. New to campaigning with his name on the ballot, Gaston has trotted out the standard messaging of a state office candidate promising to be a fierce financial and law-making advocate on behalf of constituents.
Gaston is a genial nerd with multiple degrees including one in law. He’s trying to galvanize his relationships with faith-based groups to help deliver a vote. Most party regulars believe he has an advantage going into Tuesday with absentee ballot voters that could be key in this low turnout primary.
Still, he’s not as well known as the flamboyant Bradley who’s trying to persuade constituents with his gift for gab to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Bradley also has some key backers such as City Council members Jorge Cruz, Alfredo Castillo, Ernie Newton all of whom are experienced campaigners. He also has City Clerk Lydia Martinez and East End District Leader Ralph Ford in his camp.
Gaston features the support of the majority of the party base including Mayor Joe Ganim, Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa, City Councilwomen Aidee Nieves and Maria Valle.
Bradley’s strength areas, based on political support, seems to be the South End and East End, Gaston the East Side and lower North End.
If Gaston wins he’s the prohibitive favorite to be the next state senator in the 23rd District covering about two thirds of Bridgeport and portion of western Stratford. If Bradley wins, it sends quite a statement about his standing with the electorate. But the larger question looms about his future.
Hennessy On Rocks
Speaker of the House Matt Ritter and Jack Hennessy haven’t spoken in about two years, not a good thing for a local legislator trying to do good on behalf of constituents. In fact, Ritter won’t shed a tear if Hennessy doesn’t return to the State House. If he does, expect the cold shoulder to continue.
The rift goes back a few years when Hennessy, on behalf of Catholic leadership, spoke loudly and proudly, but not pragmatically, to maintain the parental religious exemption against vaccine mandates for children. The speaker sided on behalf of science that vaccines benefit children and by extension the health care of broader constituents as Covid was prepared to disrupt millions of lives in Connecticut.
In addition, on March 16, 2020, as Covid exploded onto the scene in Connecticut forcing government emergency measures to cancel classes at all public schools and limiting commerce and human gatherings, Hennessy authored this op-ed opposing elimination of the religious exemption that allowed Connecticut parents to refuse vaccinations for their children.
The religious-freedom opinion piece was accompanied by a emphatic image of Hennessy at a State Capitol rally fronted by a misleading sign “VACCINES ARE MADE WITH ABORTED FETAL CELLS.”
Though Hennessy’s opinion piece was clearly centered on religious freedom from vaccines it has created some lingering questions about his overall opinion on vaccinations which he did not clarify after repeated attempts by OIB to seek his input.
It’s not how Hennessy voted on the bill that, in fact, eliminated the exemption, says a Ritter source, but the “manner in which he did it” including rallying protesters to and outside the capitol. Particularly unnerving to Ritter was a continued alliance and “giving legitimacy” to Republican State Rep. Anne Dauphinais who helped organize and attended the 2021 Connecticut rally in Plainfield of anti-vaxxer Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green who was stripped of committee assignments for supporting the conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook School shooting was a staged event.
Ritter called Dauphinais “the Marjorie Taylor Greene of Connecticut.”
Ritter stripped Hennessy of his committee assignments as a result. When that happens a legislator loses influence.
Still, Hennessy, 71 years old, is Bridgeport’s longest-serving legislator going back to 2004 and that brings a record that can both work for and against. Hennessy’s service to his country plays well with veterans in the district and perhaps his maverick point of views as a political outsider.
City Councilman Marcus Brown, 30, who represents Bridgeport’s West Side, asserts Hennessy has been on the job too long and the district requires a fresh perspective that includes a strong working relationship with the city’s delegation and Speaker Ritter who certainly had no issue when a redrawing of the 127th State House District included Brown’s residency.
Who has the advantage? These competitive local races can be difficult to call given the generational contrasts, experience in the district versus young insurgent. Absentee ballots could play a part. Hennessy’s campaign manger Maria Pereira is touting a significant absentee advantage of more than 100 in Hennessy’s favor.
The Brown forces are on the ground in earnest. They’ve knocked on hundreds of doors in the North End each of the past few days hoping for a sizable turnout on primary day to offset the purported absentee advantage.
Ultimately this race will come down to the campaign operation most successful in identifying voters and dragging them to the polls.