OP-ED | Night of the Living Primaries—2015 Edition!
Posted to: Analysis, Election 2015, Election Policy, Local Politics, Opinion, Bethel, Bridgeport, Hartford, Killingworth, New Britain, New London
Primary night is finally upon us! Here’s a quick rundown of possible outcomes, questions that will hopefully be answered, and what’s at stake.
All eyes will be on Hartford, which has weathered both a miserable, bloody summer and a nasty primary race between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s former general counsel Luke Bronin and incumbent mayor Pedro Segarra.
The attacks have been nonstop. Bronin has gone after Segarra’s record hard, to the point of exaggerating or lying (depending on who you ask) about teachers being laid off because of budget cutbacks. Segarra, meanwhile, has whacked Bronin with everything he could think of: Bronin’s inexperience, his background as a wealthy white political staffer, his relative newness to the city, and even the West Hartford Montessori school where Bronin sends his kids.
The good thing about Wednesday is that we’ll get to see whose attacks actually made a difference, if any. Or maybe we’ll just see who has a better get out the vote operation, or whose supporters remembered that the primary isn’t on a Tuesday this year. That’s the great thing about having a primary on a weird day in the middle of September — turnout will be so low that it’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen.
There’s a lot at stake in violence-torn Hartford, which once again feels like a city in crisis. Segarra says that murders are up because of national trends, and that’s partly true. But there’s also something unique to Hartford happening, because there have been more murders here than in much larger cities like Boston. Segarra, who never seems on top of things at the best of times, has been slow to recognize the crisis and slow to react, and a lot of people have lost faith in his leadership.
Would Bronin do better? I think we’re going to have a chance to find out. My prediction: the need for change wins out over inexperience. Bronin wins by a whisker.
Of course, Hartford isn’t the only major city having a primary — we can’t forget the weird slugfest happening in Bridgeport. Somnolent incumbent Mayor Bill Finch is facing a challenge from Joe Ganim, the felon who went to jail for corruption during his own time as mayor of Bridgeport back in the 2000s.
This race has seemed surreal from the start, almost as if John Rowland were running for governor again. Ganim is backed by the police union and fellow ex-felon former state senator Ernie Newton, to name a few. He also came perilously close to winning the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement over Finch. The strangest moment may have come when Ganim decided to open up his own unofficial police substations as a way of responding to crime.
Ganim has played up the fact that he apologized for his past misdeeds, and says he deserves a second chance. To me, that seems rather like letting the fox back in the henhouse. I believe Bridgeport voters will see it the same way, and Finch will come out on top.
In other races, New London is having a primary for mayor that, like Hartford and Bridgeport, will essentially decide who the next mayor will be thanks to Democratic dominance in these cities. The most interesting thing about this race is that the incumbent mayor, Daryl Finizio, sees himself as an outsider and a progressive crusader against the “old guard” who sit on the council. Michael Passero, his opponent, is supposedly a representative of the way things used to be. It remains to be seen whether people in New London will buy that idea.
There are nearly two dozen towns having a primary of one sort or another on Wednesday, many of them for such mundane offices as local board of education or town clerk. They’re still important, though, which is why it’s so frustrating that the election will be held on an unusual day of the week in mid-September.
Turnout is expected to be low, which means a committed minority of voters will have an oversized voice in the process. It’s not a great way for a democracy to function. Aside from who wins and who loses, maybe the bigger lessons from this coming primary ought to be about how we can make primary elections like this more accessible and ensure that more people actually come to vote. We could, for instance, do what enterprising Oregon has done and automatically register everyone to vote. We could extend voting days, or allow people to vote by mail or online.
For now, though, bring on the primary!
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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