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Conflict in South Hartford

mike McGarry

February 21, 2008

Both major parties in Hartford are in for an interesting spring. First district, Democratic Senator John Fonfara, may be challenged by Edwin Vargas, the 6th district (deep South End) Republicans have a three-way race for the Republican town committee (see ballot below) and the Democrats are at it again in the same district! (See story, page 1.)

Because of the timing – a March 4th primary – we will discuss the G.O.P. battle this week. Some observers dismiss the Republican party and think the whole thing is a waste of time and money. However, those who remember the late 1980s saw a G.O.P. in worse shape. At that time, its only elected official was Pat Kennedy, a lone Board of Education member. “People For Change” actually had a hand in running Hartford with all three minority seats. A few years later, the backing of Republican voters propelled Mike Peters into the Mayor’s seat and the three G.O.P. Council members had a major influence on policy – especially taxes, with reductions not increases.

So, who knows what the next few years will bring? The “Working Families Party” could prosper or break up like People For Change did. New residents Downtown could – a few are already – enliven the Grand Old Party. Scandal (remember the Hat lady) could draw odd customers together.

All this said, let’s look at the Republican primary, which will involve 600-700 potential voters. Campaigns have been lost with a lot fewer voters – John O’Connell once lost a council seat by about 50 votes. Town committees pick candidates, often raise modest cash, and, occasionally, can boost neighbors into office. This race may have another level – the six votes (out of 21) are crucial in picking a town chairman and endorsing a candidate for Registrar of Voters. In most towns and cities, the registrar’s office is a great help to fellow Republicans (or anybody under the law) and control of the few jobs involved are important to party stability. As for Republican Town Chairman, most think it is a thankless position. However, the current chairman serves on the MDC board and the Republican State Central Committee. Understand?

The three teams vying for the six seats on the 6th District Republican town committee include:

“A” line (incumbents endorsed at caucus)

“B” line (organized by Angel Morales)

“C” line (led by Mike Lupo, GOP town chairman)

See the beginning of this column on page 2 for a sample ballot.

The reasons for the primary seem arcane but not unusual to old pols like your servant. On the night of the caucus, Republicans from each district get together and elect members of the town committee. Generally, any ten registered voters could march in and take over – it’s been done. But on that evening, just a few voters – most already town committee members – picked a slate for the 6th district that did not include the GOP town chairman, Mike Lupo. It did include his father, John Lupo. Obviously, Mike Lupo was not pleased, therefore he mounts a challenge. His father resigned the seat he was elected to already to run with his son, friends and family members on Row C.

It’s very cloudy to this observer (sitting only 20 feet away) as to the exact reasoning and sequence of it all but this does show that a caucus demands close attention (right, Hillary?). So, we have a contest, kind of a civil war among families that have been political allies for decades.

In steps another factor, Angel Morales and his friends are upset that Puerto Ricans are not represented. He is running a complete ticket of registered Republicans, Row B. He has registered many voters over the last year or so, but new Hispanic voters on the GOP roles in the 6th district, add up to about 20, important in such a primary but certainly not overwhelming. He has quite a task ahead.

So, laugh if you will, but with jobs and influence at stake, expect mailings, fundraisers, points made and friendships upset. Many are caught in the middle, with allies on both sides. Losing any of the participants as active Republicans will certainly hurt Hartford’s Repub¬lican Party, leaving the city open to continued division that comes from left wing third parties.

Republicans claim historic accomplishments that are at the base of any progress Hartford is seeing today. Many think it is too bad that any resurrection of a solid two party system might be harmed by any bad feelings that linger after March 4th.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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