Political junkies in the state are in for a rare treat Tuesday, Sept. 10. We are blessed with a municipal primary day that likely will have an impact on the state’s political future.
It would be difficult to write about the dozens of races taking place in cities and towns all across the state. Instead, I’ll highlight the key trends of this primary season so we will be better able to judge where things are headed as we enter the general election campaign.
So Many Primaries
Probably the most interesting trend is in how many primaries, 21 in total, are taking place across the state. The variety is astounding. Big races have primaries and small races have primaries. Incumbents have primaries and races for the right to challenge the incumbents have primaries. Open seats have primaries. Democrats have primaries and Republicans have primaries.There are clearly ideological primaries, there are clearly generational primaries, and there are some clearly personal primaries.
The volume of primaries speaks to some turmoil in the political system. In the past, parties generally have been good at discouraging primaries and selecting candidates in an orderly fashion. That trend seems to be disintegrating as we are seeing more intra-party fights spill out into the voting booths. Whether this is a good trend or a bad trend depends upon your point of view, but it certainly is more fun for the political junkie.
The Battle for Control of Connecticut’s Largest Cities
Control of the state’s two largest cities is at stake in the coming weeks.
In New Haven, Democrats are in a four-way race for mayor that is clearly only in Round One; some of the same candidates will be on the ballot again in November without the support of a party or a union machine.
Below the surface of that mayoral race is a battle for a 11 of the 30 seats on the city’s Board of Aldermen. In these races we are seeing the remarkable rise of the Yale unions, which over the last three years have been slowly and then completely replacing Mayor John DeStefano as the most powerful force in New Haven politics. The 10-term mayor opted not to seek re-election. The new union force scored a big success in 2012 when New Haven cast more votes than the city did in 2008. The other big cities, along with the rest of the state, saw declines.
This new force is being tested not only in the mayoral race, which has been covered extensively, but also in challenges to the city’s incumbent, union-backed aldermen, in races for a few open seats. There also is a challenge to Doug Hausladen, an incumbent in the city’s seventh ward and a union critic running for re-election with a slate of fellow “Take Back New Haven” Democrats. How these races go will reveal a lot about whether New Haven is happy with the direction set by the new union-backed board.
In Bridgeport, a primary contest for the Board of Education centers on the school reforms being proposed by Mayor Bill Finch and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in what they claim is an effort to close the achievement gap. Pro-teacher union Democrats are pitted against Democrats who want to reform their school systems.
The outcome of these city races — as well as each city’s ability to deliver votes in future statewide elections — will play a large part in the direction of the state. The success of Connecticut’s cities also remains crucial to the state’s long-term economic health.
Malloy’s Political Capital
A third storyline going into primary day is the impact of Gov. Malloy’s endorsements of Toni Harp in New Haven and William Tong in Stamford. The governor has spent some political capital and placed his reputation on the line. A loss by either candidate could be construed as a negative indicator for the governor’s base of support.
The margins in these races will also matter. Victorious but weak showings by either Malloy-endorsed candidates would point to problems for the governor. This is particularly true in Stamford, where the winner of the primary between Tong and David Martin will face a difficult general election race against former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele. A divided Democratic party in Stamford will make the general election even tougher to win. For Malloy, big wins are the best way to back up the endorsement strategy.
This just begins to scratch the surface of what is shaping up to be interesting primary day in Connecticut. Good luck to everyone who is participating.
Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a student at the University of Connecticut Law School.