Now that the dust from primary night has settled, what have we learned?
Let’s start with what was billed as potentially the most exciting primary of the evening, the contest between incumbent New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and challenger Justin Elicker. This was supposed to be a referendum on Harp, but it was also supposed to be close and hard fought.
It wasn’t. Harp got absolutely annihilated. The Democrats of New Haven spoke, and they want a new mayor.
Elicker won by over 2,000 votes, which was good for an astonishing margin of 18%. The support of organized labor doesn’t seem to have helped Harp, whose tenure in office has been plagued by budget cuts and scandals. Negative ads taken out by Harp against Elicker all backfired, especially an over-the-top TV ad that literally said that Elicker would send “police drones to spy on our neighborhoods.”
In short, Harp’s campaign was a mess. Democrats were left feeling frustrated and shut out by both her tenure in City Hall and her campaign, and a lot of big names in the party decided to sit this one out.
Right now Elicker is in great shape for the general election in November. Harp can still decide to challenge him — she has the Working Families Party ballot line — but the size of her loss among the members of her own party should give her pause. If Democrats don’t want to keep her around, why would the rest of the city?
The conventional wisdom on Bridgeport, by contrast, was that Mayor Joe Ganim would have an easy night. Instead, he was nearly upset by state Sen. Marilyn Moore, who actually won the machine counts on primary day. But Ganim’s narrow victory came in the most Bridgeport way possible — a flood of controversial absentee ballots.
Moore raised concerns about Bridgeport’s infamous absentee ballot operation back in May, and was looking for supervised balloting in senior and low-income housing locations throughout the city. These places produce a large number of absentee ballots, which is a situation ripe for fraud, as several special election candidates complained in the spring.
Absentee ballot fraud is hard to prove if no one is watching, sadly, so Moore has to swallow this tough loss. This may be the end of the road for her, since her campaign somehow didn’t submit enough signatures to qualify to run in the general election. Her only option is a write-in campaign.
This should be an eye-opener for Ganim, though. There’s a lot of discontent out there with how he’s running the city, some of which may be left over from his failed run for governor. Bridgeport gave Ganim a second chance, but if he doesn’t shape up they likely won’t give him a third.
Speaking of second chances, Hartford was in no mood to give one to disgraced former mayor Eddie Perez. Luke Bronin won 59% of the three-way vote, with Perez getting 27% and State Rep. Brandon McGee getting just 14%. Whatever grumbling there was about Bronin didn’t translate into votes for his rivals. Bronin now faces token opposition in the general election, and will almost certainly win a second term.
So it sure looks like there will be white men leading all of Connecticut’s major cities, none of which are majority white. That’s a bad look, and it’s worth asking just how that could come to pass. Maybe Democrats in those cities need to ask themselves some hard questions about who they nominate and why.
Democrats nominated 27-year-old Ben Florsheim as their candidate to run against former mayor Seb Giuliano in the race to succeed Dan Drew. Young mayors are nothing new, ask Erin Stewart, but it’ll be interesting to see how Florsheim does against the much more experienced Giuliano.
The best news of the night, though, was that a guy whose name appeared on the ballot as “Big Steve” won the Republican mayoral primary in East Haven. Bless local politics.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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