Superior Court Judge James Graham denied the City of Hartford’s motion Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez and a slate of council challengers.
Gonzalez and a slate of council challengers were excluded from the primary election by Democratic Registrar of Voters Shirley Surgeon, who determined they had not gathered enough signatures to petition their way onto the ballot.
With just less than 20 days before the Sept. 11 Democratic Primary, Gonzalez and a slate of city council challengers filed lawsuits asking the court to intervene by interpreting election law as it was applied in their cases.
The first order of business for the court was to consolidate the cases and allow the attorney’s to argue the motion to dismiss. Once Graham denied the city’s motion to dismiss, testimony in the case began Friday and will continue Monday afternoon.
Gonzalez said she was happy the case was moving forward because “it’s going to have a chance at justice.”
But, “this isn’t about justice for me, it’s about justice for the voters who signed the petitions,” she said.
The application of election law the candidates seek to challenge says people collecting the signatures can’t circulate petitions for more than one candidate.
Six people circulated petitions for both Gonzalez and the council challenge slate. The petition for the council challenge slate included a mayoral candidate, Jonathan P. Clark.
Clark, according to those that testified Friday, has since withdrawn his name and never intended to run. He was a place holder, witnesses testified.
Clark will testify in the case on Monday.
During Friday’s testimony, Paolo Mozzicato, one of the council challengers, said he spoke with the Secretary of State’s Office who told him that in order for the challenge slate to appear on the same line, under the endorsed slate of Democratic council candidates, it would need a mayoral place holder. By doing it this way, when the mayoral place holder’s name is withdrawn it leaves a blank on the ballot, followed by the names of the council challengers, he explained.
He said if they hadn’t used a place holder then their names would appear in alphabetical order amongst the nine other candidates running in the primary for council seats. In addition, if they didn’t use a mayoral place holder and petitioned solely as a slate of council candidates, then their names could have appeared on a line next to a mayoral candidate they didn’t endorse, he said.
The challenge slate of candidates was formed to hold whatever mayor is elected accountable, Mozzicato explained. “The group wanted to be independent of all the mayoral candidates.”
He said they consulted each of the mayoral candidates when they were looking for people for the slate, but that it did not endorse any of them.
On cross-examination Assistant Corporation Counsel Jonathan Beamon asked if Mozzicato understood the directions on the petition. Mozzicato said he understood the directions to say one candidate could not circulate petitions for another candidate. He said he did not understand it to mean individuals circulating petitions could not circulate petitions for more than one candidate.
Mozzicato said he knew individuals who had circulated petitions for I. Charles Mathews, another candidate for mayor, who had also circulated petitions for the challenge slate.
Surgeon certified Mathews petitions and his name will appear on the primary ballot.
When individuals who circulated petitions for both Gonzalez and the challenge slate testified Friday they said they had handed in their petitions for Gonzalez before circulating petitions for the challenge slate. Most remembered being asked to circulate petitions for the challenge slate at Gonzalez’s campaign headquarters in late July and early August.
In her testimony Friday Gonzalez said she received a call from Surgeon on Aug. 1.
“She told me congratulations. Good job, you got the numbers,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez took that to mean Surgeon had verified the signatures on her petitions and that she was qualified for the primary ballot. Gonzalez went onto explain that Surgeon told her not to bring in any more petitions because she already had enough to qualify.
Gonzalez said the next day she brought in eight more pages of signatures and Surgeon asked her “Why’d you bring in more? You already qualify, you don’t have to bring in more.”
Surgeon is expected to testify on Monday along with Clark and Eric Crawford, another candidate on the challenge slate.