NB Politicus

Campaign dollars soared in ’21 municipal election but voter participation declined

Posted in Campaign Finance, city politics and government, Voting by nbpoliticus on March 27, 2022

28% Turnout Continues A Downward Trend In Voting For Local Office Holders

By John McNamara

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics” goes the observation first coined in the 1960s that applies to almost every state and federal election cycle as all kinds of committees and special interests raise billions in reported and anonymous donations.

That old saying about money in politics applies less frequently to local elections where votes are more easily won (or should be) on the ground and neighbor to neighbor without big outlays for media and consultants. You can’t say that about New Britain’s 2021 municipal election when the money race accelerated, voter participation declined and the status quo at City Hall was overwhelmingly sustained.

Last year marked the first time in memory that turnout dropped below 30 percent while mayoral campaign money for the November 2 election exceeded $30 for every vote cast. New Britain is not alone in a decline in voter participation for local elections, especially in mid- and large-sized cities. Cities across the state and nation continued to register lower turnouts last year. But by bottoming out at 28%, New Britain fell below the already dismal 32.13% statewide turnout.

Last year marked the first time in memory that turnout dropped below 30 percent while mayoral campaign money for the November 2 election exceeded $30 for every vote cast

Incumbent Erin Stewart handily won a fifth term over State Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-25) and swept a Council majority in with her as a super majority of eligible voters failed to show up.

Because of a Presidential Year bounce in 2020, there were 2,270 more eligible voters in 2021 than in 2019. In her landslide win, however, Erin Stewart received fewer votes than the 2019 totals as the turnout gap widened between municipal and state and federal ballots.

Despite campaign cash aplenty voter turnout continued a decline in the 2021 municipal election. (newbritainprogressive.com)

Four mayoral campaigns involving three Democrats and Republican Stewart reported contributions totaling $384,900 by the end of 2021. The Democratic and Republican Town Committees added another $53,000 to the “off year” election cycle bringing the reported political cash to $437,900 to get out the vote. The totals do not include under ticket slate or candidate committees that drove donations well past $450,000.

Mayor Stewart’s “Re-Elect Erin” Committee raised $178,835 and spent $175,835. Stewart, tapping the advantages of incumbency, outpaced Bobby Sanchez’ fundraising by nearly $60,000. Sanchez’ committee raised and spent $116,518. Democratic mayoral challengers Veronica DeLandro and Alicia Strong raised another $90,000 combined. Strong raised and spent $21,000 in losing to the endorsed Sanchez in September’s primary. DeLandro’s committee raised approximately $69,000 but her committee failed to gather sufficient signatures to get on the primary ballot. DeLandro has subsequently formed her own “Bee The Change” political action committee (PAC), and may have converted a significant treasury into an ongoing PAC.

Last year’s surge in fundraising can be attributed to several factors. Incumbent Stewart did not take the potential of a serious and well-funded challenge for granted. She ramped up her fundraising and leaned into the perks that go with incumbency. “The Democrats showed early signs of political energy, with three determined candidates running for mayor.” observed a post-election story in The New Britain Progressive. “Whether that early momentum will continue into success in future elections remains to be seen, but it certainly did not manifest in the November elections in 2021.”

Stewart effectively pursued a Walnut Hill Park “Rose Garden strategy” in winning a fifth, two-year term. Few sparks flew between Stewart and Sanchez to stir voter interest with the incumbent largely ignoring the Democratic nominee. The incumbent even managed to ungracefully ignore a traditional League of Women Voters debate that would have been the only public forum of the campaign. Her salvos were directed at the school administration over social media related disruptions at the high school last fall making it seem at times that Erin Stewart was running against School Superintendent Nancy Sarra. For his part Sanchez earnestly pointed to his work as the Legislature’s Education Chair in delivering record amounts for school construction and school aid and called for a City Hall more responsive to neighborhoods. Stewart, meanwhile, cut the ribbon on renovations at the Chamberlain School and other developments in romping to a low-turnout victory.

While voter turnout in the 2020 Presidential Election was close to 70 per cent in the year of the pandemic in New Britain, the 2021 municipal race continued the widespread slide in the number of voters who elect local office holders. Some reformers at think tanks that study voting patterns have proposed aligning all elections from dog catcher to President to even numbered years for bigger turnouts. Legislatures or localities, however, show no signs of taking that step which involves a lengthy process of changing statutes and charters.

For New Britain it will surely take more than campaign dollars that were so plentiful last year to reverse that decline in voting in 2023.

Voter Participation In Last Three Municipal Elections In New Britain

  • 2017 Voter Participation 30% | 31,899 Eligible and 9,684 Voting
  • 2019 Voter Participation 32% | 31,205 Eligible and 9,945 Voting
  • 2021 Voter Participation 28% | 33,475 Eligible and 9,333 Voting

Remembering Senator Joe Harper: “One Of A Kind”

Posted in In Memoriam, New Britain history by nbpoliticus on May 23, 2018

By John McNamara

Joe Harper, New Britain’s  former state senator and a local Democratic Party leader for a generation, died May 20th at the age of 69.

Harper’s public service — mayoral aide, state representative, state senator  — is being remembered as “iconic” and legendary by former colleagues and state Capitol observers. Mark Pazniokas in the Connecticut Mirror aptly described Joe Harper as “a Falstaffian, old-school politician who zealously protected his New Britain district as a Democratic state lawmaker.”

That stemmed from Joe’s reputation as a consummate and crafty lawmaker.  His legislative career began as the 24th District State Representative. Reflecting his labor and progressive roots, he was a liberal firebrand in his two terms in the the House at one point calling for a state takeover of public utilities to rein in electric rates.  By the time he reached the Senate he knew how to wield his legislative powers as the Chair of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee with his House Co-Chair Bill Dyson of New Haven. Working with then Senate President John Larson and Governor O’Neill, Harper’s priorities over six terms usually prevailed to the benefit of his constituents in New Britain.  In that state senate triumvirate  of Larson, Majority Leader Cornelius O’Leary. and Harper, Joe was the strategist who drove the legislative train.  O’Leary and his close friend, Congressman Larson, would be the first to say so.

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Joe Harper at a rally for Democrats in 2010.

For Harper’s political “family” in New Britain Joe became an unofficial patriarch and mentor to contemporaries and those who would follow him into the Legislature and politics over the last 30 years.

Outside of the state capitol the “old school”  politics, going back to Joe’s time as an aide to Mayor Matthew Avitabile, included its share of Town Committee fights and  local contests tinged with the rough and tumble of ethnic politics.  And most of the time Harper won because he brought people together.

Former Town Chair John King recalls his election as Party Chair came in 1984 when Harper teamed up with unlikely allies Don DeFronzo and Mayor William “Billy Mac” McNamara to win 14 district races for town committee.   “Joe was a very good friend and mentor and was responsible for my becoming Chair,” recalls King, an ally of Mayor McNamara. Five years later, in 1989,  Harper was the driving force in the coalition that formed around DeFronzo in his successful bid to unseat the six-term Mayor McNamara.

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30 Years Ago: Joe Harper (back center) led New Britain friends and delegates, including Connie Wilson Collins, Emma Pierce and John McNamara, to the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.  Harper, working  with SANE Freeze and the United Auto Workers, formed the delegation in the old 6th Congressional District in a display of his coalition building skills.

Following his legislative career, Harper’s work continued by serving as a deputy state treasurer, vice president of Central Connecticut State University and a vice president at the Hospital for Special Care (HSC).

In recent years Joe Harper, with care and support from HSC,  took on the disease of  obesity,  displaying extraordinary character and courage to overcome a personal health challenge that would not defeat him and never stopped his public service that leaves a legacy of benefits and accomplishments in New Britain.

To all who worked with him through the years on campaigns and policy making Joe Harper’s  loss is like losing a brother in your own family.

His gregarious nature and good humor brought a joy to politics that is increasingly harder to come by these days.  He was, in the words of 24th State Representative Rick Lopes ” one of a kind.”

 

 

Art Perry’s Fighting Spirit and Boundless Optimism Will Not Be Forgotten

Posted in In Memoriam, labor by nbpoliticus on August 13, 2016

New Britain’s and SEIU’s Art Perry died this week after an extended and brave battle with cancer at the age of 63.

I knew and will not forget Art as a union organizer of fighting spirit and boundless optimism through too many political and union organizing campaigns to count. He worked at it for 34 years mostly for District 1199 and from 2004 to 2011 as political director for SEIU’s 32BJ – a period of inspiring and successful union drives at public and private employers on behalf of janitors who won better wages and working conditions for the first time.

In New Britain Art Perry, with Susan McKinley Perry, always has been here for progressive candidates and working people,  mostly winning and sometimes losing, but always standing up for fairness and social justice. “You are who you hang with,” he quipped last year. And Art Perry was one of us in the labor movement and progressive politics in New Britain.

Art Perry (right) in the New Britain delegation at a Democratic State Convention (Gerratana photo)

Art Perry (right) in the New Britain delegation at a Democratic State Convention (Gerratana photo)

In 2011 Art joined the CT Labor Department in the commissioner’s office where he applied his organizing skills to public policy and allocating resources to job creation and workplace rights. Notable has been Art Perry’s work to bring the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program to Connecticut. JAG is a national non-profit working with state-based organizations delivering supports and interventions to help “most at risk” young people stay in school, get to college and obtain sustainable jobs.  Says Liz Dupont-Diehl, the JAG-CT Director: “Art was the heart and soul of Jobs for America’s Graduates, Connecticut. It would not exist without him. He worked tirelessly to bring this program to CT and it has already touched hundreds of young people.”  The JAG program has been established at New Britain High School and in other communities in Connecticut since it began.

 

At Democratic dinner: from left Alton Brooks, Emma Pierce Susan McKinley Perry and Art Perry (Gerratana photo)

At Democratic dinner: from left Alton Brooks, Emma Pierce Susan McKinley Perry and Art Perry (Gerratana photo)

There are sure to be many war stories and remembrances of Art’s work and life in the days ahead that will let Susan, Art’s sons and family know that they are not alone in their sorrow. “To many people he was a mentor, a leader and a walking vacation if they needed,” posted his son Joshua Perry. “To our family he was an individual of never-ending wisdom, subtle smoothness, and a provider of the deepest love you could find.”

I am better for having known Art Perry because he was able to instill some of that  fighting spirit and boundless optimism in me.

John McNamara

 

 

 

 

Your Tax Dollars At Work: Erin Stewart Does Politics On Dem. Primary Day From City Hall

Posted in City Hall, city politics and government, New Britain Republicans by nbpoliticus on August 9, 2016

Republican Erin Stewart  is taking time from her  duties at City Hall to jump into today’s Democratic Primary for State Senate and Registrar of Voters,  posting a pitch from her official Facebook page to support the challengers.

Acknowledging she “is not a Democrat” Ms. Stewart urged her social media followers to oppose endorsed candidates State Senator Terry Gerratana and Registrar of Voters candidate Mike Trueworthy.

In an earlier post on her personal Facebook page Ms. Stewart resorted to name calling that was caught by Courant Columnist Kevin Rennie on his Daily Ructions blog.  Rennie has been a chronicler of Erin Stewart’s foul-mouthed rants and drinking episodes that have been an embarrassment to the city and may come back to haunt the young Republican as she seeks higher office.

Stewart Post

Erin Stewart in full campaign mode ripping up a Vote Democrat sign.

In his pursuit of a return to public office Registrar candidate Lucian Pawlak is relying heavily on Republican financial support.  A fellow Democratic supporter of Pawlak’s recently asked the former four-term Mayor if he would co-sign a letter to the editor opposing the controversial sale of the city’s Patton Brook Well in Southington that is up for a vote this week at the City Council.. Pawlak initially agreed but purportedly backed off telling his supporter that the Stewarts offered to get his committee contributions for the Democratic Primary.  Pawlak, in other words, allowed himself to be bought off on a key public issue.

Beloin-Saavedra, touting her advocacy for education and support of the schools in her challenge, has also embraced Stewart but that embrace has come at a price for what Beloin-Saavedra has said she stands for. When Mayor Stewart illegally attempted to cut $4 million already appropriated for the school budget in her first budget  Beloin-Saavedra never said a word in protest,  acquiescing to the raid on school funds. That was a disappointment for those who have always admired her BOE leadership and advocacy for education through the years. It took New Britain’s Democratic legislators  to block the loss of funds for education.

If nothing else in today’s Democratic Primary  Mr. Pawlak and Ms. Beloin-Saavedra are giving new meaning to the acronym  DINO – Democrats In Name Only.   And contrary to Ms. Stewart’s “people not politics” slogan  it’s about politics, pettiness and self aggrandizement on the city’s dime.