Brandon McGee supporters believe it was their hard work that elevated their candidate to victory in the court-ordered revote of the 5th Assembly District. But Leo Canty’s supporters believe it was the infusion of nearly $42,000 during the last few days of the campaign from an out-of-state special interest group affiliated with the controversial school-reform advocate Michelle Rhee.
McGee received 1,095 votes Tuesday to Canty’s 942, according to unofficial results from Hartford and Windsor.
As he gave his victory speech from a empty store front on the corner of Main Street and Tower Avenue in Hartford’s North End, McGee cautioned his supporters that this was just the Democratic primary and they still had a long way to go before Nov. 6.
“I’m doing this because I want to see a better community. I want people to say I was a trailblazer at a very young age,” McGee, 28, told his supporters.
McGee warned the group not to “stick their chest out to the other folks. Embrace. Bring people together.”
As he looked around the room at his family and friends, many from his church, he bristled at the notion that the money from the Greater New England Public School Alliance, a group affiliated with StudentsFirst and Rhee, had any influence on his campaign efforts or the victory.
“Look I wish I had the money,” McGee joked. “Because some of you would be paid today.”
After the court-ordered revote in the tied Democratic primary, McGee said everybody started calling him and asking how they could help, offering to volunteer whatever time they had.
He said Tuesday’s revote proved that “every election matters and every vote counts.”
Down the street at Windsor’s Union Street Tavern, Canty — who fought hard to get the new 5th Assembly District drawn so that Windsor residents could be represented in the General Assembly by one of their own — said it was the last-minute cash that cost him the primary.
Canty, a longtime political activist and labor leader, said he was optimistic about his chances earlier in the day, but he knew he faced an uphill battle.
“They’re a very wealthy organization that can drop $38,000 like you or I would put a quarter in a gumball machine,” Canty, the vice president of a teachers union, said.
He said the effort of the GNEPSA canvassers made a difference in a race he lost by about 153 votes.
“Brandon picked up a handful of votes in District 1 and District 3 where there was a high amount of that canvassing activity,” Canty said.
Maria Alphonso, a friend who was poll-standing with Canty, said she believes “the money drowned out people’s voices.”
But at McGee headquarters, supporters said they didn’t see any of the canvassers from the group affiliated with StudentsFirst, an organization run by Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school system.
Marc Dibella, chairman of the Hartford Democratic Town Committee, said “that’s not the reason he won this race.”
Hartford City Councilman Shawn Wooden agreed.
“I haven’t met a person who knows where any of that money went,” he said.
State Rep. Matt Ritter of Hartford said he doesn’t know about the money, and that all he knows is that people were excited to get out and vote.
This was McGee’s first run for public office and it couldn’t have been a more eventful experience.
The two candidates ended the Aug. 14 primary in a tie, then Canty was up one vote after the first recount, but McGee filed a lawsuit and the court ordered a second recount, bringing the two back to a tie. The drama of the race continued in court when the judge decided to unseal a ballot from a voter previously thought to be dead. The ballot turned out to have been cast for the third candidate in the race and didn’t break the tie, forcing the judge to order the Oct. 2 revote.
Both sides agreed that it’s not often voters get a second chance.
Canty called McGee to congratulate him and said he would support him in the race against Windsor Republican Paul Panos on Nov. 6.
Canty thought he had secured the Working Families Party ballot line. But the party, which backs progressive, pro-labor candidates, didn’t collect enough signatures to get his name on the ballot.
Earlier in the primary Canty did receive $1,500 from AFT-CT his union for the race. Both Canty and McGee participated in the public campaign finance program where they raised donations under $100 in order to receive a $28,000 state grant.