NB Politicus

Turning Red To Blue: Charlotte Koskoff’s 2020 Congressional Campaign

Posted in 5th Congressional District, state politics, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on October 5, 2019

By John McNamara

In 1996, Plainville Attorney Charlotte Koskoff was the upstart nominee for CT’s old 6th Congressional District against New Britain’s Nancy Johnson, the entrenched incumbent considered unbeatable by pundits, consultants and especially national Democratic Party bosses who put only a pittance into the Koskoff campaign.

By a razor-thin margin of 1,587 votes (C-Span at one point said Koskoff had won), Johnson survived amid her evasive handling of an ethics scandal involving House Speaker New Gingrich and the GOP’s vulnerabilities on weakening Medicare and global trade induced job losses.

Koskoff, who won handily in New Britain with her brand of progressive politics, credentials and genuineness, made two other attempts to oust Johnson before another upstart, Chris Murphy, came along in 2006 to end Johnson’s incumbency as one of the last of the “moderate” Republicans. Murphy, by the way, was Koskoff’s 20-something campaign manager in the tight ’96 race, demonstrating his ability to mobilize Democrats and Unaffiliateds across the district that won him the House prize in 2006 and the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Twenty three years later Charlotte Koskoff isn’t done with Congressional politics, not for herself, but to put progressive Democrats into Congress in districts where Democrats aren’t supposed to win or need a boost to break through.

Koskoff is the co-founder of Save Democracy 2020, an independent organization that targets races around the country where Democratic challengers are making that uphill climb. Save Democracy 2020 is not a political action committee (PAC) doling out donations for its chosen candidates. Instead it shines a light on candidates that need the help to be competitive and directs you to give directly to their campaigns and to help in other ways.  Koskoff formed the group with George Poulin, a labor leader from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) who shares Koskoff’s commitment to social and economic justice. Former State Comptroller Bill Curry, who write commentaries for Salon, The Daily Beast and other publications, is an advisor.

Fundamental to Save Democracy is  a “50-state strategy” for Democrats that says the party needs to have a presence and run in all 435 districts. You may not win everywhere but by being everywhere you broaden the base and make the right wing and GOP expend resources in their “safe” districts. Democratic candidates in red districts are “doing the heavy lifting.” They aren’t preaching to the choir but gaining converts and deserve support that pundits and inside-the-beltway, lobbyist-influenced elements of the Democratic Party ignore.

This strategy was proven right when Howard Dean became Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2005. Dean was scorned by the likes of corporate Democrat Rahm Emanuel and Clinton’s Carville-Begala team. But in 2006 Nancy Pelosi won her first Speakership as Democrats regained the House majority.

Declares Democracy 2020: “We are The National Coalition for Democratic Congressional Challengers, a small, self-funded, grass-roots group acting on our conviction that the public policy debate and political culture in this country will not fundamentally change until Democrats and progressives have a working presence in each Congressional District After years of hearing national Democratic leaders proclaim that they were now committed to a “50 State Strategy,” but do nothing, 2018 moved the needle. In 2018, we closed the gap, and turned the House Blue, only 3 Republicans ran unopposed”

Last month Save Democracy got an early start on 2020 recommending Democrats in two special elections in North Carolina, a state prone to voter suppression and GOP gerrymandering

In North Carolina’s 9th District Democrat Dan McCready narrowly lost by 1,000 votes in a district marred by the GOP campaign’s voter fraud in the 2018 general election and with district lines stacked against him.

For 2020  Save Democracy plans to choose ten candidates to promote among non-targeted Democratic Congressional challengers and campaigns. “In choosing our races we consider personal strengths of the candidates and the vibrancy of their campaigns, says Koskoff. “We are especially drawn to strong challengers from rural and agricultural districts. Family farmers and their communities have been struggling for years, and right now their crises are acute. Our strong, rural Congressional challengers tell their stories with credibility and eloquence. If elected, they could be catalysts and leaders for meaningful change in national farm policy. And they could win. Their districts used to be full of Democratic voters. It’s time to bring them back. We also look at the power, far-right activity, and rhetoric of the Republican incumbent/challenger. With regard to some of them, it’s a moral imperative, as well as a tactical one, to mount strong electoral challenges.”

In 1996 Charlotte Koskoff was a candidate with “personal strengths” and a “vibrant” campaign that came up short because she wasn’t one of the “targeted” races when a modest boost from her party’s Congressional campaign committee and the DNC would have toppled the “unbeatable” Johnson.  Groups like Save Democracy had they been around then could have been the margin of victory. Koskoff remembers. Through her grassroots, national organization, she and her associates will help 2020 challengers as they push the Democratic Party to leave no district behind in turning red to blue.

Will Erin Stewart Get Another Off The Books Push From An Absentee Landlord in 2017?

By John McNamara

On the eve of  the 2015 municipal election scores of  tenants in New Britain got a notice about a possible rent increase from their landlord.

It wasn’t an official increase but a not so subtle endorsement of Mayor Erin Stewart who at the time was cruising to re-election for a second term.

The unsigned communication in English and Spanish read:

“To our residents: In order to help keep your rent from increasing we suggest that on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, you vote for  Mayor Stewart and her entire Row B Team.  It’s important that we all work together to keep rents from increasing by electing responsible leaders like Mayor Erin Stewart  as she has restored New Britain to a place where people can afford to live.”

If anyone thought this message  — mailed first class by The Carabetta Companies of Meriden —- was  a civic-minded promotion of voter turnout by a major out-of-town landlord they were mistaken.  Carabetta’s  tenants were being warned in intimidating fashion: Vote for the Republican Stewart or your rent will go up.

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Bilingual letter to tenants of Carabetta properties mailed on the eve of the 2015 municipal election.

The “To Our Residents” note amounted to an unreported  corporate contribution with promotion of  the Stewart re-election phone number for a ride to the polls and offer of help on getting registered to vote.  “A Team Stewart member will assist you,” said the notice not attributed to any political committee as it should have been.

State election law spells out the kind of violation that could be involved here (see below).  Moreover, penalties could potentially  apply to the Stewart committee for “coordinating” activities with their off the books landlord friends.

Sec. 9-613. (Formerly Sec. 9-333o). Business entities. (a) Contributions or expenditures for candidate or party prohibited. No business entity shall make any contributions or expenditures to, or for the benefit of, any candidate’s campaign for election to any public office or position subject to this chapter or for nomination at a primary for any such office or position, or to promote the defeat of any candidate for any such office or position. No business entity shall make any other contributions or expenditures to promote the success or defeat of any political party, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.

 

No doubt the tactic from one of the city’s absentee property owners was a throwback to the 2013 municipal campaign when Stewart and the Republicans teamed up with outside landlords to wage a scorched-earth, months-long campaign against Democrats pouring as much as $100,000 of dark money into the election.

At issue was a controversial  ordinance that set fees for non-owner occupied properties to pay for housing and code enforcement — a policy subsequently repealed that can be found without controversy in hundreds of communities across the country.  Ironically — aside from concerns about blight and raucous parties in rentals around CCSU — the issue that caused the vitriolic campaign in 2013 never surfaced in 2015.

Team Stewart and friends just couldn’t help themselves go low when they could have taken a pass on intimidating tenants into voting a certain way in 2015.   In the era of Citizens United and the anonymous corporate money throughout the political and legislative system it’s easier to make the calculation that any judgment on blatant violations of the law would come months later when the State Elections Enforcement Commission rendered a decision.  And any SEEC fine levied would be worth the  investment to get away with messing with tenants about how they should vote.

As Election Day 2017 approaches consider this a cautionary tale.  Team Stewart — now in an increasingly tight race for City Hall — won’t hesitate to use all manner of 11th hour mischief to stay in power like the tenant notice of two years ago.  Voters need to know that their franchise is personal and private and not subject to influence by their landlord, their boss or anyone else.

Full disclosure: I was the late starting and under-funded Democratic nominee for Mayor and the Democratic Chair in 2015 not willing to see Ms. Stewart go unchallenged. Consequently, any rent increases incurred over the last two years have come on Ms. Stewart’s watch) 

 

 

Wave Of New Voters Includes New Britain: 4,154 Added Since June; Registration Deadline Nov. 1

Posted in Democrats, Uncategorized, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on October 23, 2016

By John McNamara

A wave of new voter registrations statewide may push New Britain enrollment past 30,000 for Election Day on November 8th.

One week prior to the November 1st deadline,  there are 29,100 eligible to vote according to Democratic Registrar of Voters Juan Verdu’s office. In addition, unregistered voters may go to City Hall on Election Day to enroll and vote under the Same Day Registration (SDR) law that will add to the number voting in the Presidential election.

The citywide breakdown shows enrollment at 53% Democratic; 34.7% Unaffiliated; 10.8% Republican, and; 1.5 % other parties.

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State Rep. Betty Boukus (22) greets children at voter registration event at Royal Pizza on Horseplain Road on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)

A Democratic Town Committee (DTC) task force reported last week that 4,154 have been added to the city’s rolls since June.  Of the newly registered 46.6% became Democrats, 45.4% registered Unaffiliated and 8% Republican. The record-setting voter surge has been fueled by reforms initiated by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill that have introduced the “motor voter” option at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a statewide system enabling residents to register to vote online.   In New Britain several hundred new voters have been added on the ground through canvassing and outreach by the DTC task force led by Don DeFronzo, Mario Santos, Isabelita Cancel and Willie Justiniano.

Historically voter enrollment reaches its peak every four years in the presidential election and then falls off in subsequent years.  DTC Chairman Bill Shortell said the task force will continue voter registration efforts and will work with incoming Democratic Registrar of Voters Lucian Pawlak to improve the annual canvassing of voters that occurs every year between January and April to maintain the peak levels being set this year.

State Rep. Peter Tercyak (26) and State Senator Terry Gerratana (6) serve up pizza registering voters on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)

State Rep. Peter Tercyak (26) and State Senator Terry Gerratana (6) serve up pizza registering voters on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)

 

 

Registrars Move To Re-Locate Two Polling Places For Primary, November Election

Posted in city politics and government, polling, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on June 19, 2016

By John McNamara

New Britain’s Registrars of Voters are moving to change polling places in Districts 6 and 13 in time for an August 8th Primary and the November 8th Presidential Election.right-to-vote1

Republican Peter Gostin and Democrat Juan Verdu have identified Angelico’s Cafe restaurant on East Main Street to replace the State Armory in Voting District 6 in the 25th Assembly District. Angelico’s is a stone’s throw away from the Armory location which is located at the corner of East Main and Smalley Streets.

In Voting District 13 in the 26th Assembly District the vacant  Holy Cross School (Saint John Paul II) is the proposed site for a new polling station. Registrars have contacted  the parish to use the school property at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Boulevard to replace the HRA (formerly Ben Franklin School) on Clinton Street.

In letters to Angelico’s and Holy Cross Church the registrars have proposed use of the new sites for $500 each for this year’s voting in what appears to be a temporary move

The pending relocations in two of the city’s 15 voting districts follows a March feasibility study on polling locations presented to the Common Council by the Registrars.  The study backed off from a sweeping draft plan  developed by Gostin and supported by Verdu that drew strong opposition and a City Hall protest,  especially over shutting down on-site voting at the Graham and School Apartments where older and minority voters reside. Democrats  argued that radical changes in polling places ahead of the Presidential election would impede voter access.  The feasibility study identified  the State Armory as the most costly of the polling places and cited parking issues at HRA, the city’s community action agency and Head Start center, as reasons for relocation.

The possible moves in this election cycle to Angelico’s in District 6 and Holy Cross (JPII School) for District 13 appear to be less controversial than what was proposed earlier this year. The draft plan, floated under the guise of saving the city money, raised voter suppression concerns because of the impact on locations in the center of the city. The Registrars, backing down from the original draft plan and any immediate changes, recommended “that any actions to merge, consolidate and/or move district lines and polling locations should be delayed until the 2017 election cycle” in their feasibility study. The relocations in District 6 and 13 are proposed for this year but may be extended.

Polling location changes are generally made only when district lines are re-drawn after the 10-year census that will next be implemented after 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside City Hall: Republicans Seek To Eliminate Polling Places in Center of New Britain

Posted in City Hall, city politics and government, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on January 27, 2016

By John McNamara

Republican Mayor Erin Stewart and Registrar of Voters Peter Gostin are moving quickly to reduce voter access to polling places for the November Presidential election.

A  plan drafted by Republican Gostin will  come up for a fast-tracked feasibility study vote at the Wednesday January 27th Common Council meeting. right-to-vote1

The feasibility study apparently has the support of Democrat Carlo Carlozzi, Jr., the council minority leader. Consideration of the plan would appear to be a done deal if the Council majority  agrees to look into sudden changes in where the electorate votes in 2016 . Carlozzi, however, maintains that he will oppose sudden changes in polling places despite supporting the feasibility move by Republicans.

Democratic legislators and other Democratic leaders are expected to strongly oppose any changes so close to a primary and the general election especially for its impact on elderly and minority voters.

Facing a tight timeline,  GOP leaders and the Registrars met on Monday to float the plan to reduce the number of polling places in the city from 17 to 13 on the eve of an April 26th presidential primary and the November general election.

The plan takes direct aim at two polling places in the central part of the city — the Graham and School Apartment polling places — where a minority and older population reside.

The GOP plan would eliminate those polling places and residents would apparently be offered a shuttle to the New Britain Senior Center to vote, according to Democratic Registrar Juan Verdu.

Also under consideration is the elimination of two additional polling places including the Holmes School (District 11) and the Armory (District  6). The Armory District is also in the center of New Britain where many minority residents live.

Republican Registrar Gostin has previously floated a plan to reduce polling places in the city from 17 to 10.  Gostin, who lobbied heavily for a pay raise for himself in 2015, is calling for reduced voter access as a way to save the city money,  but apparently not to reduce  the payroll and administrative expenses in his office.

The Common Council meeting on January 27th begins at 7 p.m. with public participation.