The Democratic statewide ticket that emerged from Tuesday’s primary is not lacking in diversity, including an Asian and an African-American, but once again the state’s largest minority group, Hispanics, did not made the cut with either major party.
Eva Bermúdez Zimmerman, a 31-year-old labor organizer of Puerto Rican descent, made a spirited run for the lieutenant governor nomination, in only the second time a Latino has gotten this far in the electoral process (New Haven’s Gerry Garcia unsuccessfully ran for Secretary of State). However, Democratic voters put a better-known, party endorsed opponent, 56-year-old Susan Bysiewicz on a slate that will be lead by Greenwich millionaire Ned Lamont for governor.
The Democratic lineup for the seven constitutional offices includes state Rep. William Tong for attorney general and former Hartford council chairman Shawn Wooden, an African-American, for treasurer.
“We fought a good fight,” Bermúdez Zimmerman observed as she responded to emails early Wednesday morning. The previous night, she had told supporters, after it was clear that Bysiewicz would get more than 60 percent of the vote, that she was going to continue to work hard for change. “We have time (before the November 6 election) to tell every politician (Democrat) who was just elected we are with you because we need that Democratic value to stand forward.”
Despite Bermúdez Zimmerman’s loss there were some bright spots for Hispanic Democrats, especially in the state Senate contests where three candidates with Hispanic backgrounds, Jorge Cabrera of Hamden, Matthew Lesser of Middletown and Dennis Bradley of Bridgeport, won close races to gain nominations. Currently, there are no Hispanic Democrats in that chamber.
In the few primary contests for state House of Representatives nominations, Puerto Rico-born Minnie Gonzalez turned back a rare challenger, Gannon Long, to continue representing one of the state’s most heavily Hispanic and Democratic districts in Hartford. Other Hispanic Democratic incumbents already were assured spots on the November ballot with several having no opposition.
Gonzalez drew about 65 percent of the vote against Gannon Long, a Hartford native who recently moved into the district and was a last-minute petition candidate. Long’s supporters complained of bullying by her opponent’s backers and misuse of absentee ballots.
While the Republicans will field a ticket in November lead by businessman Bob Stefanowski for governor that is less diverse, they actually came closer to including a person of Latino heritage. State Senator Art Linares, a Cuban-American from Westbrook, received about 44 percent of the vote in the intra-party race for the state treasurer nomination.
Ruby Corby O’Neill, a retired college professor who was born in Honduras, came in second in a three-way race for the Republican nomination in the Fifth Congressional District won by former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos.
In Bridgeport, Bradley’s Republican opponent in the 23rd Senate District, John Rodriguez, faces an uphill battle, while in the 17th District, incumbent George Logan, whose mother is Hispanic, awaits Cabrera who only got 39 percent of the GOP votes Tuesday.
State Rep. Chris Soto, who had been Bermúdez Zimmerman’s campaign treasurer, expressed disappointment with the primary’s outcome, but like many Hispanic Democrats will support Lamont. “I don’t think Latinos are happy with the top of the ticket,” but definitely do not want the Republicans to win, said Soto who is unopposed for re-election in his New London district.
Bermúdez Zimmerman, waging an almost non-stop campaign, drew nearly 79,000 votes and 37.9 percent of the overall tally. New Haven’s Gerry Garcia received about 63,000 votes and 37.1 percent overall in 2010 when he sought the Democratic secretary of the state nomination and turnout was lower.
Bysiewicz, who had served as secretary of the state for a decade and had been a candidate for governor, sealed her victory by running up big margins in suburban and rural towns and doing well in cities with large Hispanic populations and won in Meriden, New Britain, Norwalk and even in Hartford, Bermudez’s hometown, by 114 votes.
Bermudez came out ahead in New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Windham (Willimantic) and tiny Eastford.
Although there was obvious disappointment at the outcome of the lieutenant governor’s race, Hispanic leaders took pride in what had been achieved in a short period. Bermúdez Zimmerman had declared her candidacy for the No. 2 spot on the ballot less than two days before the state convention where she received 40 percent of the delegates’ votes.
“We were the underdogs from day one and yet we made it today,” said Joseph Rodriguez, a former chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus and a top aide to Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Rodriguez also said in a Facebook posting late Tuesday that a statement was made against the status quo by Bermúdez Zimmerman and political novice Jahana Hayes, an African-American teacher from Waterbury who is the nominees for Congress from the Fifth District. “Diversity is our strength and new emerging leaders must have a seat at the table,” Rodriguez said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto congratulated Bermúdez Zimmerman for “everything that she brought to the conversation in the primary.” In a press release, Balletto said, “Eva is dedicated to promoting causes Democrats care about and helping channel excitement from activists. I hope and expect that Eva will continue to be a strong, progressive leader in Connecticut.”
State Rep. Juan Candelaria was enthusiastic about the nomination of Lamont, who easily defeated Bridgeport’s Joseph Ganim in the primary and will face Republican businessman Robert Stefanowski in the general election. Candelaria, speaking online Tuesday night from the Democratic nominees headquarters in New Haven, said, “Lamont insures we will win in November.”