State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez and a challenge slate of city council candidates filed suit in court Monday to fight the exclusion of their names from the Democratic primary ballot Sept. 11.
"I'm looking for justice," Gonzalez said, standing outside Superior Court in Hartford. "I want to see my name on the ballot."
Gonzalez and the slate of six city council candidates - Andrea Comer, Eric Crawford, Maria Diaz, David Morin, Paulo "Paul" Mozzicato, and Beatriz Ramon - were bumped last week from participation in the primary. The city's Democratic registrar of voters, Shirley Surgeon, said they had not gathered enough signatures to qualify. Surgeon said a 30-year-old law invalidated many of the primary petitions because they had been circulated by the same person for more than one mayoral candidate.
But Gonzalez and the slate, in their complaints filed in civil court, said they had not violated any election laws. They said that the disqualified petitions should be honored and that the law in question was so vague it violated their constitutional rights to free speech and association.
A judge scheduled a hearing on the matter for 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Gregory W. Piecuch, the lawyer for the challenge slate, said Monday that the suit was to protect not only the candidates, but also the 600-plus voters whose signatures were tossed out.
"At the end of the day, it is the voters who signed the petitions," he said. "It is their will that should be recognized."
The court, however, did not honor a request Monday by the challengers to stop the city from distributing absentee ballots for the coming election without Gonzalez's name and the names of those on the slate.
Hundreds of absentee ballots will be sent out to voters over the next several days, according to the city clerk's office.
To qualify for placement on the primary ballot, all non-endorsed candidates and any slate of candidates had to gather 5 percent of Hartford's registered Democrats, which translates to 1,392 signatures. Mayor Eddie A. Perez, the endorsed Democrat for mayor, and the party's six endorsed city council candidates automatically appear on the ballot.
The problem has come up because some of the same volunteers circulated petitions for both Gonzalez and the challenge slate. The petition for the slate included a "place-holder" for mayor - who had no intention of really running for office - to avoid favoring one of the four real challengers to Perez.
After seeking a legal opinion from the secretary of the state's office, Surgeon said it was a violation of the law to have the same person circulating petitions for two mayoral candidates.
But Gonzalez and Piecuch said that it took several days before the secretary of the state's office clarified its legal opinion. That opinion said the petitions violated the law only if they were circulated simultaneously for the two candidates - a circumstance the candidates say their volunteers will testify never happened.
Gonzalez said she submitted nearly 1,600 signatures to the registrar's office, and only stopped gathering them after Surgeon told her she had already qualified. It was at the last minute that Surgeon informed her the petitions would be invalidated, too late to gather more, Gonzalez said.
Three mayoral challengers - former state Sen. Frank Barrows, state Rep. Art Feltman and former Deputy Mayor I. Charles Mathews - succeeded in getting their names placed on the primary ballot to face Perez.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at