Waterbury — On a wild series of vote switches Monday night, former First Selectman Mary Glassman of Simsbury edged Jahana Hayes, the charismatic newcomer encouraged to run by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, to win the Democratic endorsement for Congress in Connecticut’s most competitive district, the 5th.
Glassman, 59, and Hayes, 45, will face off in a primary in August. Hayes appeared to win by a single vote on the second ballot, but vote-switching dropped them into a tie and then yielded a 173-to-167 win for Glassman. A third candidate, Manny Sanchez of New Britain, qualified for a primary by exceeding 15 percent on the first ballot, but he was unsure about continuing. Two others, Rabbi Shaul Praver and a psychiatrist, Roy H. Lubit, got single votes on the first ballot.
The two women each could celebrate: Glassman overcame a strong headwind that developed as soon as it was clear that Hayes, a Waterbury history teacher who was the national teacher of the year in 2016, had significant political patrons led by Murphy; Hayes nearly won an endorsement on her first try for public office with less than two weeks of campaigning.
“I am not disappointed,” Hayes said. “Listen to me, something amazing happened tonight.”
Glassman, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and 2010, took the stage before the vote to tamp down enthusiasm for Hayes, indirectly criticizing her lack of experience. Glassman, who grew up in New Britain, was the first Democrat to announce after U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty abruptly ended her campaign a month ago.
“We need someone who is ready to work for the people of the district on the first day,” Glassman said. “We need a candidate with experience, a proven track record of winning and the ability to hold our Democratic values. I am that candidate.”
In the city where Hayes was raised and teaches, she asked for support while standing on the same Crosby High School stage where she missed getting a diploma as a pregnant 17-old who would give birth a month after graduation. Hayes, who lives in Wolcott, was the hometown favorite, greeted by raucous screams, applause and chants of “We love Hayes! We love Hayes!”
Hayes, who would be the first black Democrat sent to Congress from Connecticut, was embraced by some delegates as an educator with the potential to help turn out the urban vote for down-ballot candidates. She has been endorsed by the UAW.
“I’ve heard chatter about my lack of experience, but let me tell you that’s my greatest asset in this contest,” Hayes told delegates. Now married to a Waterbury police detective and the mother of four, Hayes said she would bring a necessary and long-missing perspective to Washington and Connecticut congressional politics.
“You got this!” one woman yelled.
Under fire for mishandling a complaint of sexual and physical harassment against her chief of staff, Esty quit the race on April 2, a stunning fall for a three-term congresswoman seemingly on a cruise to re-election with a $1.5 million campaign treasury and no Republican with significant resources.
Republicans endorsed former Mayor Manny Santos of Meriden over the weekend. He faces a primary from at least one challenger, Ruby O’Neill, a founder of the National Latino Republican Coalition. Rich Dupont also qualified.
The contest is the first open race for a congressional seat in the state since Chris Murphy, who represented the 5th District, successfully ran for the U.S. Senate.
Former U.S. Rep. James Maloney of Danbury, whose 31-member delegation favored Hayes over Glassman by a single vote, said he liked both women, but he thought Hayes had the ability to bring out new voters and help down ballot candidates.
“We think she can mobilize voters who might not turn out,” Maloney said.
On the first ballot, the vote was Glassman, 44 percent; Hayes, 39 percent; and Sanchez, 17 percent. Once Sanchez released his delegates on the second ballot, Hayes gained as 13 Sanchez delegates from Meriden voted for her, but Glassman took 26 Sanchez delegates from New Britain, compared to 11 for Hayes.
But the New Britain chairman, Bill Shortell, twice stepped to the microphone to announce vote switches that added to Glassman’s tally, prompting Hayes to sprint to the Newtown delegation in a vain effort to flip some of Glassman’s votes. Once she had a clear lead, Glassman and her supporters clapped and chanted, “Close the vote! Close the vote!”