Retired lawmaker and Connecticut Superior Court judge Eric Coleman is staying in the Hartford mayoral race, announcing Tuesday that he is campaigning as a write-in candidate.
“I will fight to prove to each and everyone person in our city that I can and will represent them well in City Hall,” he said during a press conference outside his campaign headquarters on Barbour Street.
Coleman lost the Sept. 12 Democratic primary to Arunan Arulampalam, with Sen. John Fonfara coming in third.
Arulampalam received 40% of the vote, while Coleman garnered 31% and Fonfara got 29%.
Coleman also said Tuesday that he sought the Working Families Party’s endorsement, but the party decided not to back a candidate for mayor.
State Director Sarah Ganong said the party prefers to cross-endorse Democratic mayoral candidates. The party did cross-endorse Democratic candidates in a handful of cities, including New Britain, New London, Danbury and Middletown.
That deadline for endorsements came before the primaries, though, meaning the Working Families Party would have had to pick a candidate in Hartford from a competitive field.
“We kind of decided it didn’t make sense to weigh in before the primary,” Ganong said.
Coleman said he was not deterred by the primary because only 5,000 of a registered 40,000 Democrats in the city voted.
“All the citizens of Hartford deserve to have a say in who’s going to be their mayor,” he said. “Not enough people have spoken, not enough people have voted.”
Coleman’s decision further crowds an already packed ballot. Along with Arulampalam and Republican Michael McGarry, petitioning candidates J. Stan McCauley, Giselle Jacbos and Nick Lebron are also in the race.
Write-in candidates tend to have a major disadvantage, though.
“It’s an uphill battle to convince voters to go in and write in a candidate as opposed to actually being on the ballot and having the endorsement” of a party, University of Hartford political science professor Bilal Sekou said.
Endorsed candidates have support from a political party, which can bring money and volunteers to help a candidate build name recognition. For Arulampalam in particular, that support has also included endorsements from current Mayor Luke Bronin, Gov. Ned Lamont and other prominent Democratic public officials.
Coleman is confident he can pull off a victory though, noting Mike Jarjura was able to win a third term as Waterbury’s mayor thanks to a write-in campaign in 2005.
Jarjura had the advantage of being the incumbent, but Coleman is confident he, too, has name recognition.
He served 11 years in the state House of Representative and 22 years in the Senate, retiring in 2017 to become a judge.
“I’m not the mayor, but I think my name is fairly well known throughout the city,” he said.
Sekou agreed that Coleman has significantly more name recognition than most write-in candidates.
“This isn’t someone who is coming from left field or anything,” he said. “This is someone who has a long track record of running successful campaigns here in the city.”
Recognition alone may not be enough, Sekou said, especially in a municipal election as turnout is lower and voters tend to have less information about candidates than those in presidential or gubernatorial races.
Sekou said those conditions favor the endorsed candidates, so Coleman will need to boost turnout, especially in North End neighborhoods where he found the most support. He also will need to teach voters to write his name and not just choose a different candidate when they don’t see him on the ballot, Sekou said.
Coleman said he’s confident his supporters will write his name onto the ballot and has a plan to turn voters out in November, although he declined to share any details.
“That will be another opportunity for me and my campaign to engage with voters in a meaningful way,” Coleman said.
The crowded field is seeking to replace Bronin, who announced last November that he would not seek a third term after winning elections in 2015 and 2019.