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Bridgeport went big for Lamont

November 11, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — When the rain began to pour on Election Day, state Rep. Christopher Rosario grew worried about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont’s chances of getting enough urban votes to win.

“I was standing in front of Geraldine Johnson (school) and (turnout) was brisk all morning. At 10 a.m., we had a torrential downpour,” Rosario recalled. “I said, ‘There goes the election.’ May God strike me dead, the voters came out heavier than the rain — it was non-stop. I could not believe it.”

From Aug. 14 when Lamont, a Greenwich millionaire, bested Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim in their party’s primary, it was uncertain whether Bridgeport’s political factions and regular city voters would unite behind Lamont by November.

But Connecticut’s largest municipality delivered for the Democrats’ pick for governor — bigtime. According to the Secretary of the State’s Office, 22,973 Bridgeport Democrats showed up to help elect Lamont governor and Susan Bysiewicz lieutenant governor.

By contrast, when Bridgeport contributed to now-retiring Gov. Dannel Malloy’s close 2010 and 2014 victories over Republican Tom Foley, 17,038 and then 15,664 registered city Democrats voted.

Who deserves the credit for the impressive Election Day showing in Bridgeport?

“All the different Democratic factions in Bridgeport, combining with the state (party) and the Lamont campaign, everyone realized how important this election was and how much was on the line,” said former City Council President Tom McCarthy.

Or, as state Sen. Marilyn Moore put it: “They had a ‘come to Jesus’ moment.”

On the line was electing a governor who talked about the need for not just strong city economies, but other issues impacting urban voters like gun control — something Lamont did throughout his run and during his stepped-up campaign stops in Bridgeport.

Republican Bob Stefanowski campaigned almost exclusively on eliminating the income tax and lowering other state taxes, and he rarely campaigned in Bridgeport.

“We all knew the end goal had to be Ned Lamont, for Bridgeport’s sake,” McCarthy said.

It was also about trying to ensure that the city is not ignored by Lamont and other state decision-makers after the election.

Av Harris, a Ganim aide, said: “We were going to make damn sure that every vote that could be a Democratic vote out of the city, we would leave no stone unturned to make that happen. ... There are major economic development projects we want to move forward and we want to be in a strong partnership with the governor. It’s important people across the state are reminded of the importance of Bridgeport.”

Filling the coffers

The day after the end of their bitter primary, during which Team Ganim attacked Lamont as wealthy and out of touch with urban needs, the rivals tried to make peace at Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa’s restaurant.

But by mid-October,the level of enthusiasm for Lamont and Bysiewicz in Bridgeport remained uncertain. Bysiewicz, for example, lunched with Testa and afterward admitted, “He said people are still undecided. And Ned and I know that.”

Some insiders complained that the Testa/Ganim political machine was idling, and they wondered whether the party chairman and mayor were looking to cut some sort of deal with Lamont. Others criticized the Lamont campaign for not being organized enough or not working hard enough in Bridgeport.

Marc Bradley, Lamont’s campaign manager, and Christine Bartlett-Josie, a veteran Democratic activist from New Haven who briefly worked for Ganim in City Hall, met with Testa and leaders of Bridgeport’s various Democratic districts.

“That was the meeting to tell the district leaders how are they going to support the Democratic Party?” one of the leaders present, Steve Nelson, recalled. “Are we going to get out there and push?”

According to Moore, who had endorsed Lamont over Ganim in the primary, it helped when the self-funded Lamont began spending money on get-out-the-vote efforts in Bridgeport.

“Once the (local Democrats’) coffers were full, they all got on board,” Moore said of Bridgeport’s Democratic machine — something she takes pride in not being a part of. But even Moore conceded that Lamont would not have performed as well in the city without support from Testa and Ganim.

Ganim stepped up his public appearances with his former opponent, and just a few days before Election Day the mayor led a rally and fundraiser at Testa’s restaurant, firing up the crowd with an enthusiastic speech about Lamont and the Democratic ticket.

Still, some Bridgeport voters were never quite able to muster a lot of enthusiasm for Lamont. After the polls had closed on Election Day, for example, one campaign worker was overheard saying she “loved” Lamont.

“I don’t know about ‘love’ him,” responded another person involved with the campaign. “He’s bearable.”

Bigger than one candidate

It benefited Lamont to be on the ballot with several locally popular candidates, including U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, and state legislators like Moore, who were similarly working hard to ensure their own re-election.

“I worked the hell out of my district,” said Rosario. “I walked my district dozens of times, touched voters dozens of times through Facebook, phone calls, texts, events. And I saw each and every one of those people at the polls.”

Moore also credited the grassroots IndivisibleCT group: “They were powerful all over the state (and) for me in Bridgeport.”

State Rep. Steven Stafstrom said city voters also realized that Stefanowski’s tax-cutting pledges meant less state aid for Bridgeport, which would translate into higher local property taxes and “decimate education.”

Nelson, who is black, agreed. He said minority voters concluded Stefanowski’s tax cuts were too good to be true.

“From a minority perspective, usually that means cuts in social programs, and most people are already struggling,” Nelson said.

Constance Vickers, head of Bridgeport’s Young Democrats, also credited youth turnout.

“We were seeing 2008 (voting) numbers at some precincts,” she said, referring to the year Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. “I think a lot of that was young people coming out to vote, some for the first time.”

Vickers said the enthusiasm and unity Democrats displayed in Bridgeport was for Lamont, but also a response to divisive Republican President Donald Trump.

“We wanted to make sure Bridgeport turned out for Ned in good faith, and Ned is going to deliver for Bridgeport and not forget what happened,” Vickers said.

But, she added, “This election was bigger than any candidate. Our values were on the ballot. Our rights were on the ballot. And we had to protect those.”

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