NEW HAVEN, CT — Ned Lamont may have bought a little intraparty peace by luring a top opponent onto his gubernatorial campaign ticket — but he also may have sucker punched his urban base.
That was the sentiment in New Haven political circles Wednesday — even as Lamont picked up another high-profile endorsement for his campaign, from New Haven State Sen. Martin Looney. (Read about that here.)
Lamont chose New Haven on Tuesday to announce that his formal rival for the nomination, Susan Bysiewicz, has agreed to run as his lieutenant governor candidate instead as a ticket. New Haven is the big prize for statewide Democrats: It sends more delegates (100) to the state convention than any other city. And it produces more Democratic votes on Election Day. So Lamont has already opened two offices here and put Democratic politicians on his payroll. He has also picked up Mayor Toni Harp’s support.
But other African-American politicians were seething at Lamont’s announcement. For the first time in nine years the top two positions in state government were opening up, and people were led to believe that the Democrats would make sure to put a person of color in one of them. Lamont and Bysiewicz are both white.
“With this move, people felt like they had reassurances from Ned’s campaign that he was going to be bringing a diverse candidate onto the ticket, from one of the big cities. A lot of people rallied around him with that understanding. With Susan being selected, a lot of people are disappointed,” said one active New Haven delegate and party worker who asked to remain anonymous.
The delegate, who is African-American, said he still plans to honor his pledge to support Lamont. If no one else better enters the race.
“My main concern with this is the ticket as a whole is incredibly uninspired. I don’t think anyone is excited about this. It’s going to be difficult to win in November with this ticket,” he said.
Adding insult to injury for New Haven was the well-known prospect that Lamont was considering one of the city’s leading African-American elected officials, State Sen. Gary Winfield, as his running mate before jumping at the chance to remove Bysiewicz from the field by bringing her onto his ticket. Winfield had openly expressed an interest in the lieutenant governor position. Winfield Tuesday expressed frustration at Lamont’s announcement. He noted that Democrats have picked women before to run and serve as governor and lieutenant governor, but never a person of color.
“Whether it’s me or anybody else, diversity was something that was part of the conversation from the beginning this year,” he said. “We’ve had a female lieutenant governor and governor before. We haven’t ever had a person of color. I’m not saying it has to be a man. It’s interesting when that was part of the conversation, how little was made toward making an attempt toward that.
“You’re going to rely on certain communities to get over the hump. Those communities want to see themselves reflected on the ticket.”
“It’s not just New Haven,” Democratic Town Chairman Vincent Mauro Jr. said of the grassroots discontent. He said delegates in the major cities, including but not exclusively delegates of color, felt burned.
Indeed, Lamont’s major remaining Democratic opponent for the nomination, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, seized on the discontent Wednesday to issue a statement criticizing the state Democratic Party’s alleged exclusion of people of color. “We believe our Party needs to do a better job to be more inclusive and more fully embrace communities of color which have been a bedrock of the Democratic Party. We need a ticket at the highest levels that reflects the rich diversity of our state,” the release quoted him as saying. Ganim has hired Jackie James, a former New Haven Democratic town chair who is African-American, as his campaign manager.
Ganim has begun petitioning to earn a spot on the August primary ballot even if he fails to win the 15 percent of the delegates needed at this week’s convention. If he picks a running mate of color, that could increase his chances of pulling urban support away from Lamont.
Lamont was asked about the issue at his press conference Tuesday with Bysiewicz.
“Our administration will be the most diverse administration in Connecticut history,” Lamont responded. “It’s not a political calculation. You’ve got to make sure that you have a government that reflects the people of the state. They have to have someone they can believe in. They have to have someone they can identify with.” He and Bysiewicz said they will prioritize appointing people of color to judgeships, commissioner positions, deputy commissioner positions, and other state boards.
Barring a dramatic surprise last-minute gubernatorial candidate, most of New Haven’s disgruntled Dems will probably honor their pledges to vote for Lamont at the convention, Mauro predicted.
“The expectations were different,” Mauro said. “When you have expectations that are not met, you are inherently disappointed when it doesn’t go a certain way. The anger part, you get over. The disappointment part is the real test. Does the disappointment last to the convention? Does it last to the primary? Does it last all the way to November — and does that cost votes?”
The Lamont decision may have potentially cost one vote: Gary Winfield’s. He said Wednesday night that he hasn’t decided yet whether to pursue his lieutenant governor quest. And as for whom he will support for governor? “I was leaning Ned, but I am back in the wait-and-see column. Maybe I get back there, maybe not.”
At the same time, Hartford native, Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, made her candidacy for lieutenant governor official Wednesday night.
Zimmerman is Puerto Rican and a female, which should presumably checks two boxes. However, she’s struggled to get traction with party insiders.
Her campaign talked to Lamont about becoming his running mate, but no offer was ever extended to the 30 year old labor organizer.
“The effort I began back in February was truly an exploration,” Zimmerman said.
She initially was thinking about running for secretary of the state.
“Travelling across the state, I’ve been humbled by the positive reception my potential candidacy has received, and encouraged by many to commit to seeking the office of Lieutenant Governor,” Zimmerman said. “Today, I am making that commitment, because I believe that our party and our state are ready for a truly diverse and representative slate, and because I will contribute new perspective and unique experience at the highest level of state politics and government.”
Zimmerman is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union Local 2001 and was honored by the General Assembly as Latina Citizen of the Year in 2015.
Zimmerman, who was working to help Jahana Hayes win her convention fight on Monday in the 5th Congressional District, said she believes she will receive the 15 percent of delegate support she needs to primary.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.