A Superior Court judge in Hartford on Wednesday rejected Hartford mayoral hopeful Minnie Gonzalez's bid to get her name on the ballot for the city's Democratic primary.
Gonzalez and a slate of six city council candidates were bumped earlier this month from participation in the Sept. 11 primary after some of their voter petitions were disqualified.
After learning the judge's ruling, a dejected Gonzalez said that she planned to appeal the decision and to continue her campaign for mayor as an independent in November.
I am very disappointed," Gonzalez said. "From the beginning, I was looking for justice. Not only for myself but for the many residents who signed the petition. The people want change. They want honest government, and I can give that to them."
"This is not the end," she said.
Gonzalez, who represents Hartford in the state House of Representatives, is among a crowded field of challengers trying to unseat incumbent Eddie A. Perez - the party's endorsed candidate.
Her bid hit a snag this month when the city's Democratic registrar of voters, Shirley Surgeon, said that many of the primary petitions gathered by Gonzalez and the council candidates were invalid because they had been circulated by the same person who circulated petitions for more than one mayoral candidate.
As a result, Surgeon said, Gonzalez and the council candidates had not gathered enough signatures to qualify for the primary. Surgeon could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In complaints filed in civil court, Gonzalez and the council slate said they had not violated any election laws, primarily because no petitions for more than one mayoral candidate were ever circulated by the same person "simultaneously."
They argued that the mayoral candidate on the slate's petition was a "placeholder," and should not have been considered a bona fide candidate by Surgeon. Also in their effort to have the petitions honored, they argued that the law in question was vague and violated their constitutional rights to free speech and association.
But their bid was turned back on all counts Wednesday.
In his ruling, Judge James T. Graham said that Surgeon had properly applied the laws in question. The law does not distinguish between petitions that were circulated at the same time or at separate times, he said.
The placeholder candidate was a candidate under the law, and Surgeon should not be charged with determining who is a serious candidate or not, Graham said. And to allow straw candidates goes against the intent of the legislature in passing the law - which was to lessen the chance of electoral mischief and gamesmanship, he said.
The judge also disagreed with Gonzalez's and the slate's claim that the law was vague and unconstitutional.
Eric Crawford, a member of the slate whose petitions were among those rejected, said that most of the slate's members would also be on the general election ballot.
"We are going to keep going," Crawford said. "I just feel bad for those 1,000 people who signed those petitions and now won't get the opportunity to vote for us in September. Hopefully, they will be there to support us in November."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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