From the Hartford Courant (subscriber-only)
Hartford Democratic Town Committee members will meet Monday evening to endorse a candidate for mayor and other city offices. Luke Bronin’s decision not to seek reelection propelled a host of candidates into a race that would otherwise have seen Bronin glide to a third term.
Hartford is a one-party town and it belongs to the Democrats. The race for Democratic nomination for mayor will be decided in a Sept. 12 primary, but getting to it provides an embarrassing reminder of Connecticut’s high hurdles to ballot access.
The Constitution State persists in its embrace of anti-democratic barriers.
The three top competitors seeking support from the 77 town committee members are Arunan Arulampalam, Eric Coleman and John Fonfara. Each is an insider in his own dispiriting way. One of them will win the town committee’s endorsement, the other two, no matter how many votes each wins, will need to collect a couple of thousand signatures to get on the primary ballot. J. Stan McCauley and city council member Nick Lebron are also expected to collect signatures to qualify for the primary.
State law requires municipal primary candidates to collect signatures from 5% of the voters who are registered members of their party where they are running. The precise number of registered Democrats in Hartford will be determined Monday, Democratic Registrar of Voters Giselle Feliciano said. There are about 36,000 registered Democrats in Hartford. Each candidate will need approximately 1,800 signatures plus a cushion of a few hundred in anticipation of some signatures being disqualified.
Petitions from Feliciano’s office will be available the day after the convention. Candidates will have until 4 p.m. August 9 to submit their petitions to the registrar. That’s 16 summer days wasting time and money hunting for registered Democrats, confirming their identity and persuading them to sign a petition in these suspicious times.
The system is intended to keep challengers from giving rank and file party members a say in the nominating process. Party leaders often prefer to have these critical decisions made by a handful of close colleagues, not thousands of unpredictable party voters.
Two of the candidates had decades to support dismantling this archaic system that protects party-endorsed candidates from what in other states are routine primary contests. Coleman served in the legislature for nearly 40 years before winning a nomination to the Superior Court less than two months after he won re-election in 2016. Fonfara won his state Senate seat in 1996 after serving in the House for 10 years.
Arulampalam is a former lobbyist who made an unsuccessful bid for state treasurer in 2018, served as a deputy commissioner in the Lamont administration and left it in 2021 to become the head of the Hartford Land Bank. Arulampalam omits his lobbyist gig on his campaign website. With the support of town committee Chair Marc DiBella, Arulampalam appears to have the most votes going into Monday’s convention.
Arulampalam’s campaign website asks voters to join him in believing in Hartford. What he wants to do as mayor — treat people with respect, bring music into schools and do something about out-of-state landlords — feels like a purposeful mystery to avoid controversy. Fonfara highlights the funding he’s brought to Hartford as an influential legislator, but complains it is still not enough. Coleman’s most specific proposals are to put Hartford into the utility company business and raise the number of Hartford police officers to 500 or 600.
Not one of the three leading candidates has been willing to follow Bronin’s lead in calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to get state employees back to work in Hartford. Without economic activity in the capital city even the most modest aspiration will not be transformed into action.
The candidates have been quiet on the Metropolitan District Commission’s manifold failures in operating the sewage and storm water systems in the city’s North End neighborhood. This month’s torrential rains flooded local homes and businesses—again. A plan to finance improvements was announced with fanfare earlier this summer—and Fonfara was included in the rollout. The program will take time to launch and so residents continue to be tormented by human waste water entering and destroying their homes and possessions.
Hartford’s large delegation on the MDC board, including Chair William DiBella, a Fonfara booster and father of Marc DiBella, the city Democratic chief who supports Arulampalam, has not been an effective advocate for suffering residents.
A candidate for mayor who wants to make life better in Hartford would promise to replace those MDC members with the local activists who have shamed state and federal officials to act. If no candidate will make that easy pledge, their vows to take on broader issues have no meaning.
Kevin F. Rennie of South Windsor is a lawyer and a former Republican state senator and representative. Column appears first here: