OP-ED | Reading the Tea Leaves in Primary Results
When it was all over at last, incumbents in three major cities found themselves rejected by their own party’s voters. What happened, and what does it mean — if anything?
In Hartford, Luke Bronin won by a convincing margin over Mayor Pedro Segarra, and after all the noise and recriminations it seems that the race really turned on two factors: identity and crime. Mayor Pedro Segarra won in the Hispanic neighborhoods in the South End, Parkville, and Frog Hollow, while Bronin won in the heavily African-American North End and the more white West End. Bronin also won the districts he carried by much larger margins, and that’s what really sealed the deal for him.
Bronin also won where more of the homicides have happened over the past few years — the neighborhoods north of I-84 have been plagued by an upsurge in murders and violent crime, and those areas went strongly for the challenger.
Segarra’s attacks on Bronin over his short time in the city, his connections to some of the questionable things Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has done, educating his children in a West Hartford private school, and his inexperience all fell short. It felt to me like Segarra was throwing everything he could think of at Bronin, especially during the debates, because he knew he was in trouble. It didn’t help him in the end.
Turnout was a lot higher than expected — leading some polling stations to request more ballots around midday. In all, about 9,000 votes were cast, which puts turnout at around 26 percent. Bronin’s win is a clear statement — from those Hartford Democrats who showed up to vote, at least — that people in the capital city want change.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Bridgeport are groggily getting up, heads throbbing in pain, and then looking back at the bed and thinking, Oh God. What did we just do? It’s not a pretty sight. Joe Ganim, who went to jail for corruption during his last stint as mayor of Bridgeport, narrowly won the nomination over incumbent Bill Finch. There was immediate outrage and horror from everywhere — except perhaps Bridgeport.
But now voters in Bridgeport will have six weeks to really think about whether they want this albatross around their necks, because this is only round one of two in Bridgeport. Finch, who likely will run as an independent, has a great chance of keeping Ganim out of the mayor’s office. And if his fiery speech to supporters on primary night is any indication, that’s what he’ll be campaigning on.
He has a decent shot. With Mary-Jane Foster almost certainly out of the race — she finished a distant third — voters who hate the idea of Ganim back in office more than they hate Finch will rally behind the incumbent. Still, be prepared for Ganim to walk away with this thing. Bridgeport is always capable of finding a new low.
The third Democratic incumbent to lose was New London Mayor Daryl Finizio, who lost to Michael Passero by a wide margin. Finizio was the city’s first “strong” mayor, and he blamed his loss on tax increases. That doesn’t tell the whole story. Finizio is an outspoken progressive, even for New London, and he seemed to make more enemies than friends. Not even his endorsement of Bernie Sanders could save him.
So, three incumbents lost in high profile races. That looks like a pattern. Are there implications for state elections next year? Is this some kind of referendum on Malloy?
Some people seem to think so. “The Democratic machine lost in three strongholds last night,” gloated a fundraising email sent Thursday from state Republican Party chairman J.R. Romano. “November will be a huge ANTI-MALLOY VOTE.”
Look, local elections are just that: local. Each one of them revolves mainly around local concerns and the situation in town. Attempting to draw in big national ideas, like Pedro Segarra and Daryl Finizio did in their campaigns, usually is the sign of desperation and backfires more often than not. Even when it seems like voters are in a grouchy, anti-incumbent mood, that anger doesn’t always translate into much during the next round of elections.
What we should be paying more attention to, though, is the fact that a small minority of voters enrolled in a single party are electing the leaders of large cities. Only a quarter of registered Democrats turned out in Hartford, and a third in Bridgeport. Anyone not a registered Democrat couldn’t vote even if they wanted to.
Maybe the biggest lesson from these primaries is that they should be open to everyone, regardless of affiliation.
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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