March 23, 2006
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
Mayor Eddie A. Perez has largely been
able to have his way as he navigates the tricky waters of Hartford
But his latest move may backfire on
Perez's effort to shut a political
rival out of the statewide Democratic nominating convention has
sparked a complex dispute that now threatens to rob Hartford of
any representation at the convention.
And it's all happening just when Perez
is trying to help Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy win the nomination
for governor. It was only Monday that Perez, who has been rumored
as a potential running mate, publicly embraced Malloy at a city
hall press conference.
But if the dispute is not resolved
by March 28, the third-largest delegation to the state convention
could be a no-show, with no say on who the Democratic candidate
for governor, the U.S. Senate or any other public office will be
The matter has elevated a clannish
urban street fight in Hartford into statewide political theater,
as the mayor and his declared nemesis, state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez,
battle this one out under the gaze of party heavyweights.
"It's very unfortunate,"
said John B. Kennelly, a member of Hartford's Democratic town committee,
"that personality differences couldn't be overcome to ensure
that the city of Hartford's delegation was properly selected [Tuesday]
"I do believe that had there been
more of a spirit of compromise, we would not have reached the impasse
we did," he said.
The impasse came down to this: Gonzalez
and her 12-member district of the town committee were completely
excluded from a proposed list of 54 delegates to the state convention
in May. The town chairman, a lockstep ally of Perez, said Gonzalez
and company don't deserve to be delegates.
Their attendance at other Democratic
Party functions has been spotty in recent years, the chairman, Noel
F. McGregor Jr. said.
So Gonzalez and veteran Hartford politico
Nicholas Carbone, another Perez detractor, found a loophole - and
stuck their fists through it.
They discovered that the Hartford Democratic
Town Committee had not updated its party rules with the secretary
of the state's office since 1983. And so, they said, the party itself
and all of its committee members were illegitimate.
If the illegitimate party were to go
ahead and select delegates, they argued, those delegates would be
illegitimate, too. And the whole illegitimate matter, Carbone said,
would surely end up in court.
The challenge forced Tuesday night's
committee meeting to immediately dissolve without any delegates
selected, leaving prominent Democrats statewide shaking their heads
in disbelief Wednesday. None wanted to be quoted in a newspaper
In this critical week, when every town
in the state is picking delegates to the convention, the question
of who will get the party endorsement - Malloy or New Haven Mayor
John DeStefano Jr. - has political junkies counting heads. The flap
also caused some buzz at both Malloy and DeStefano headquarters,
"Even though there's 1,600 delegates,
most are pretty much locked up by now," said George Jepsen,
former state Democratic chairman. "With fewer and fewer uncommitted
delegates, it becomes a small numbers game. Every delegate counts."
The majority of Hartford's 54 proposed
delegates were expected to commit to Malloy. Even though Gonzalez
backs DeStefano, her inclusion as a delegate would not have altered
the balance of support for Malloy in Hartford.
Malloy campaign manager Chris Cooney
said Wednesday he was sure the matter would be resolved, and when
it was, the result would stay the same. "It would have been
nice to have it locked up at this point - not really for our sake
but for the sake of the political process in Hartford," Cooney
Derek Slap, spokesman for the DeStefano
campaign, took a different spin on the news out of Hartford. "It
represents that there is strong DeStefano support in Hartford,"
Party insiders say the scenario of
Hartford fading to meaninglessness as the Democratic Party gears
up for a fall campaign against Gov. M. Jodi Rell is so extreme it
will no doubt be diffused.
The Gonzalez camp is offering what
it sees as a simple solution. Should the town committee revise its
list to include Gonzalez and her friends, they said, the challenge
might disappear, and the Hartford delegation, with its 54 votes,
would have a smooth path to the state convention.
"The choice on where we end up
on this is in the hands of others," Carbone said Wednesday,
adding, "I would hope that the mayor doesn't act in a stubborn
But Perez did not appear interested
in that solution Wednesday.
"This is a procedural question,"
Perez said. "And we're going to address the procedural question."
"There's plenty of time to do
research," the mayor added. "There's been enough recording
of the information. There's been an election held."
State elections officials Wednesday
could not say for sure what would happen if the dispute ended up
in their hands. A spokesman for the secretary of the state's office
said that the statute of limitations has long passed to file a legal
complaint in court.
They said the matter, most likely,
would have to be resolved by the state Democratic Party. Justin
Kronholm, the party's executive director, said he could not comment
on the merits of the case because it may end up before the party.
Democrats in Hartford will meet again
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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