Two big city primaries Tuesday; Bridgeport vote delayed

The mayors of Connecticut’s three largest cities, each one a Democratic bastion that contributed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s paper-thin victory last year, face make-or-break September primaries. But only two are on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, John DeStefano Jr. of New Haven faces three challengers trying to block him from a 10th two-year term, while Pedro Segarra of Hartford tries to win his first nomination since becoming mayor last year after a corruption conviction forced the resignation of Eddie A. Perez.

In Bridgeport, where Bill Finch is a seeking a second term as mayor, a judge delayed the primary for two weeks after finding that the Democratic registrar erred in denying a challenger, Mary-Jane Foster, and her slate a place on the ballot.

“It’s a very unprecedented event,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said.

Foster is a co-founder of the Bridgeport Bluefish, a minor-league baseball team based at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard, built in 1998. With another challenger, John Gomes, dropping out and endorsing Foster, she became a stronger opponent for Finch, a former state senator.

Bridgeport has had an unsettled run with its mayors. After a dozen years in office, Joseph Ganim was convicted in 2003 of federal corruption charges. His successor, John M. Fabrizi, did not seek re-election in 2007 after acknowledging cocaine use.

In Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, winning the Democratic primary usually is tantamount to election, though Michael Peters initially was elected mayor of Hartford in 1993 as an independent.

Democrats comprise 72 percent of voters in Hartford, 69 percent in New Haven and 63 percent in Bridgeport. Republicans run a distant third in those cities behind unaffiliated voters.

In New Haven, there was a flurry of late endorsements over the weekend. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro endorsed DeStefano, as did several prominent Latino politicians and community leaders.

But the most intriguing endorsement came a week ago, when the mayor won the backing of the local firefighters’ union, whose members had successfully sued his administration in a nationally prominent reverse discrimination case over promotions.

The Democratic nominee for governor in 2006, DeStefano is a statewide figure who finds himself hustling to win another term at home.

He is a backer of public financing of campaigns, but he was unwilling to cede the fundraising advantage he enjoys as an longtime incumbent and agree to participate in New Haven’s voluntary system of publicly financed campaigns.

According to the New Haven Independent, he has a fundraising advantage of more than 8 to 1 over his closest opponent. He was television this weekend with campaign commercials, something none of his challengers can afford.

John Daniels, who preceded DeStefano as mayor, endorsed challenger Tony Dawson, calling him “the only candidate who can beat John DeStefano.” But unlike Finch and Segarra, DeStefano is facing a opposition divided into different camps. The other challengers are Jeffrey Kerekes and Clifton Graves.

In Hartford, Segarra has seen his field of challengers shrink to one: Edwin Vargas, a longtime activist and a former president of the teachers union in Hartford. But the shrinking field has benefited  the incumbent, not the challenger. Shawn Wooden, a one-time mayoral challenger, endorsed Segarra and is now a candidate for city council on the mayor’s slate.

As president of the City Council when Perez was convicted on state corruption charges, Segarra became mayor last year. Vargas has tried to paint Segarra, who also was the corporation counsel 20 years ago, as a political insider. Last week, Vargas also questioned Segarra’s ethics.

All three of the big-city mayors under challenge endorsed Ned Lamont in last year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, and Malloy has stayed out of the intra-party fights in Bridgeport and New Haven.  He has endorsed Segarra, however, as well at Democratic mayoral candidates Tim O’ Brien in New Britain and Dan Drew in Middletown.

Unaffiliated and new voters have until noon today to register with a party if they wish to vote in a primary. In Bridgeport, they have until noon on Sept. 26.

Merrill said her office will be checking today to ensure that sufficient ballots are available in the 21 cities and towns holding primaries Tuesday. In Bridgeport last fall, the city had too few ballots, causing a judge to extend voting by an hour.

Registrars should have printed more ballots than the highest turnout in the last four municipal primaries, she said.

Merrill said the number of cities and towns with primaries is typical.

While the Democratic fights in the three largest cities have generated most of the press attention, there also are Republican primaries in more than a dozen towns.

There are GOP primaries in a single aldermanic district in New Britain, a single council district in Trumbull and two council districts in Stratford. In Norwalk, Republicans will go to the polls to nominate a commissioner in a taxing district.

There also are Republican primaries in Brookfield (finance board), East Hartford (council, school board), Farmington (council), Lebanon (selectman), Lisbon (selectman), Killingworth (a half-dozen offices), Middlebury (first selectman, selectman) North Stonington (first selectman), Oxford (first selectman, selectman), and Scotland (selectman).

Democrats will nominate mayor candidates in East Hartford, Hartford, Middletown, New Britain, New Haven, New London and West Haven. Many of those communities also have primaries for other offices.

There also are Democratic primaries in Cromwell, (selectman), Guilford (school board), Lisbon (first selectman), and Stratford (council).