WATERBURY, CT — Democrats from the 41 towns in the 5th Congressional District gathered Monday at Crosby High School and went with an experienced politician over a political newcomer.
Former Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman walked away with the party’s endorsement Monday by the slimmest of margins. She won the second ballot by 6 votes after a tense round of vote switching.
Even though Glassman won, newcomer Jahana Hayes, a teacher in the district, had the enthusiasm on her side. The drill team outside hinted at delegates that Hayes was an exciting and refreshing new candidate.
Glassman won the first ballot, but not by a big enough margin to win the party’s endorsement outright. That happened on the second ballot after Manny Sanchez of New Britain won enough support on the first vote to get on the ballot and released his delegates to vote for Hayes and Glassman.
There was a hiccup in the process. After the first ballot it was quickly discovered that more delegates voted than checked in. There were 328 delegates checked into the convention, but 340 of them voted. That’s 13 more than checked in at the front desk. Party officials worked to resolve the matter and asked the 13 to register.
The second ballot turned out to be a nail biter. Hayes ended the round with 172 votes to Glassman’s 168. However, that was before the switches. Glassman won the party’s endorsement with support from her native New Britain, who pushed her the top. The final tally left Glassman with 173 votes to Hayes’ 167.
As a one-time lieutenant governor candidate, Glassman may have a fundraising advantage. She announced 10 days after officially starting her campaign that she had already raised $100,000.
Glassman had jumped into the race as soon as U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty got out. Esty announced she wouldn’t seek re-election following news reports of how she handled a domestic violence situation involving her former chief of staff and a former female staffer. While the district has traditionally gone to the Democrats, it’s one of the most independent in Connecticut.
There are 130,040 registered Democratic, 99,601 Republican, and 175,111 unaffiliated voters in the 5th Congressional District.
“This race is not an easy race, this is the toughest district for a Democrat to win in the entire state,” Glassman said. “There’s too much at stake for the people of the 5th District and the people of the United States.”
Glassman said she has the experience necessary to win what will be a hard fought race.
Republicans have at least two candidates running for the seat. Former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos and Ruby O’Neill of Southbury. Richard Dupont of Watertown also received enough support to primary.
It looked like most of the night that the Democratic Party’s endorsement would go to Hayes, who clearly had the momentum heading into the convention.
Hayes, 45, teaches at Waterbury’s John F. Kennedy High School and won the national teacher of the year award in 2016. Hayes said she got pregnant as a teenager, but her teachers never gave up on her and helped her figure out how to continue her education.
“Nothing says I should be here today,” Hayes said in her speech to the convention.
She said she has had to fight for everything not to be invisible and she wasn’t disappointed at all about how it turned out.
She said most of these delegates only met her a week ago and were willing to come out and support her.
“You want someone who knows what it’s like to put up a fight and not give up?” Hayes said. “I know that there’s so many people in this district going through the same situations right now. When you’re in it you just get used to holding your head down, staying out of trouble and being just grateful, but being grateful is not enough. Lesson I learned from living in the margin is you know what it feels like. I don’t wish that on anybody, not because of gender, race, status, level of education, sexual orientation, religion. Nobody, nobody deserves to be invisible and hidden in the shadows. What my life has taught me is that all people have value.”
She said it’s a “privilege to give back some of what has been given to me.”
Hayes also acknowledged what many believe is a weakness.
“I’ve heard chatter about my lack of experience — that is my greatest asset,” Hayes said. “All I cared about was what was best for the people in this district. I work for you and no one else.”
Joyce Petteway, who placed Hayes’ name into nomination, said, “She’s a leader, a role model and someone who is engaged in her community. She is a fighter and we can guarantee she will fight for us.”
She said Hayes has done it all and added that members of Congress seem to have forgotten where they came from.
“Now we have the opportunity to send them someone who knows the real deal,” Petteway said.
A Congressional seat isn’t necessarily a traditional career path for a high school teacher.
Earlier this week, Hayes was endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus PAC.
“Jahana is an impressive person and a standout candidate to represent Connecticut’s 5th District. Her background as an educator and community activist, and her passion to help underrepresented communities, is exactly what we need in Congress,” Congressional Black Caucus PAC Chairman Gregory Meeks said. “We look forward to working with her in Washington, and lend our full support to her candidacy.”
She also has the help of Ken Curran, who has run U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s campaigns.
Manny Sanchez, who has been on the New Britain City Council for eight years, was nominated by his uncle Rep. Bobby Sanchez of New Britain. The son of a single mom, Sanchez said he always knew he would have to work harder.
He gained a seat on the city council in 2010 when he was just 22 years old.
Sanchez received enough support to primary.
Rabbi Shaul Praver, who doesn’t live in the district, admitted that “I am the least likely candidate to win.” Roy Lubit, a psychiatrist, also asked to be considered by the convention. He received one vote. Praver, whose refrain was “any old blue just won’t do,” also received one vote.