Ayala victory blocks return of Newton to Senate

Bridgeport — State Rep. Andres Ayala Jr. won a three-way Democratic primary for the state Senate’s 23rd District seat, defeating incumbent Edwin A. Gomes and blocking the return of former Sen. Ernest Newton II to the state Capitol after a prison sentence.

With a primary victory usually tantamount to election in this heavily Democratic city, the 43-year-old Ayala appears set to become the first Latino member of the Connecticut Senate.

(In two Democratic primaries for open Senate seats, Cathy Osten upset state Rep. Tom Reynolds for the seat held by the retiring Edith Prague, D-Columbia. State Rep. James Crawford defeated Mary Ellen Klinck for the nomination to succeed the retiring Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook.)

Around 10 p.m., the Ayala camp reported that it had beaten its closest competitor, Newton, by about 350 votes. Gomes was a distant third.

Newton’s campaign reported similar numbers, and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who had endorsed Ayala, congratulated him.

“This is a campaign that we started practically three months to the day,” said Ayala, as he celebrated with his campaign staff at El Flamboyan restaurant. “I ran against formidable opponents. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

Unofficial results showed Ayala, an educator in the city’s schools, with 49 percent, Newton with 31 percent and Gomes with 20 percent. The district covers the eastern two-thirds of Bridgeport and a small section of Stratford.

Earlier, at a Barnum Avenue storefront in Stratford near the Bridgeport line, Newton, who had served more than four years in prison for accepting a bribe and other related offenses, gave what seemed like a tentative concession speech.

“We didn’t just stay down … we fought like men. This was always an uphill battle.”

Several dozen supporters stood outside the Newton headquarters as he got the results. A few shed tears of disappointment.

Newton supporter Latanya Whitley, a 39-year-old nurse’s aide, said Newton had been her music teacher at East Side Middle School.

“He did things for our community,” she said. “He knows what it is to live in the worst part of Bridgeport … everybody deserves a second chance. If Bush could get eight years, so can he.”

Gomes, despite being the incumbent, found himself squeezed by Ayala, who called himself Bridgeport’s future, and Newton, a figure from its recent past.

Standing outside Dunbar School, one of Bridgeport’s larger polling stations, Tuesday afternoon, Gomes described the race as “a new experience,” adding humorously, “I’ll leave it at that.”

Gomes’ campaign manager, veteran Marty Dunleavy, pointed to several factors that had made the race unusual: Newton and Gomes split the African-American vote in this majority-minority district, allowing for a viable Latino candidate; the 76-year-old Gomes had had a heart attack and triple bypass last September; the city’s mayor endorsed Ayala over the incumbent; and Newton has aimed for the same seat that he had held when he was arrested.

Some of those factors — and the very low turnout — made the race especially tough for Gomes, even with the endorsements of Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams Jr, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, and Prague, who hoped Gomes would succeed her as co-chairman of the labor committee.

“I’m disappointed that he didn’t win tonight,” Williams said in a phone interview after the polls closed. “I’ll tell you, I think it’s a difficult task to run a primary and get people out in mid-August. It brings a lot of unpredictability.”

He did add, “I am very pleased that Ernie Newton did not win.”