NOW YOU KNOW
7:21 PM EDT, May 25, 2012
Bridgeport continues to challenge Waterbury as the home of the most embarrassing and bewildering politics in Connecticut. Former state Sen. Ernie Newton did last week what few in Connecticut politics have achieved: He subdued bumptious Working Families and Democratic Gov.Dannel P. Malloy.
Newton is the Bridgeport Democrat who served in the state Senate and was arrested and convicted for soliciting and accepting a $5,000 bribe from a nonprofit entity seeking a state grant. Other charges included misusing campaign funds for personal expenses and evading taxes. The heart of the case, however, was the bribe, a betrayal of Newton's public trust.
The vivid Newton went off to federal prison to serve his four-year sentence in 2006. He took a mighty step toward reclaiming his Senate seat Monday night when he won the Democratic endorsement for the party's nomination. He defeated the incumbent, Newton's successor, Edwin Gomes, and state Rep. Andres Ayala Jr. The three will face each other in an Aug. 14 primary.
Connecticut legislators rarely lose a party endorsement for re-election, so Gomes must have alienated local party activists by ignoring or insulting them over the fullness of time. Startled Democrats in Bridgeport and other parts of the state sounded on Tuesday as if they had not expected a resurgent Newton to win the party endorsement for office he misused.
Politics and a dollop of philosophy combined to provide us with the fascinating spectacle of hard-bitten politicians paying careful homage to redemption and second chances. They declined to acknowledge the essential consideration. Malloy's sliver of victory over Republican Tom Foley in 2010's race for governor came from Bridgeport. A late campaign visit from President Barack Obama helped boost turnout. The city's chaotic voting procedures cast doubt on the results for six days after voting ended.
Malloy needs Bridgeport more than ever. He's less popular today than when elected. A considerable portion of the Bridgeport Democratic organization may fall into the hands of the felonious Newton. Even if Newton loses in August, he's showing that he's a force in city politics, someone not to be offended.
So Malloy delivered an uncomfortable ode to second chances on Tuesday as he refused to say what everyone was thinking: This is crazy. The Democrats are giving their endorsement to the man who only a few years ago was sent to prison for defiling the public office he once again seeks. Of the scores of thousands of people who live in that district, this is the best choice? Even with two legitimate alternatives in the nomination contest?
Newton redux caused huffing and puffing among Republicans as some of them contributed to the farrago of opinions. Republicans, of course, bear considerable responsibility for the hideous spectacle of corruption that engulfed the state during former Gov. John Rowland's administration. Many Republicans have welcomed Rowland's return to the public arena through a suspiciously loose economic development job in Waterbury, now terminated, and a radio program on WTIC.
Mayor Mark Boughton of Danbury tweeted his outrage at Newton's winning his party's endorsement. There ought to be a law preventing this, he declared a few days after delivering a nominating speech for Lisa Wilson-Foley for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 5th District.
Wilson-Foley, however, is an unabashed Rowland booster, whose web of nursing homes engaged in a complicated consulting contract with Rowland while he served as a "volunteer" on her campaign. Rowland did his best to cajole and browbeat delegates into supporting Wilson-Foley while using his radio show to bash state Sen. Andrew Roraback, who defeated Wilson-Foley for the party endorsement.
Boughton had no objection to Rowland's role in the Wilson-Foley campaign. Malloy sneered at Rowland's radio program as he dodged taking a stand on Newton's comeback last week. He does not listen to it but he engaged in a sick-making, obsequious appearance on it with Rowland as Election Day drew near in 2010. Malloy did not mind adding his prestige to the corrupt former governor's return then. Under that disappointing standard, Malloy may have no trouble supporting Newton if he decides the cost of condemning him is too inconvenient.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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