A federal judged has blowtorched Connecticut’s groundbreaking program to fund state political races.
U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill ruled the Citizens Election Program “imposes an unconstitutional, discriminatory burden on minor party candidates’ First Amendment-protected right to political opportunity.”
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a supporter of the legislation, is seeking an appeal. State Rep. Chris Caruso was one of the archiects of the clean money campaign that went into full force during the 2008 state election cycle. Under the program candidates have 85 percent of their respective campaigns financed by public money if they raise a small amount of money from small donations.
It’s been two years since Caruso lost the mayoral primary to Bill Finch by a measly 270 votes, four years after his loss to John Fabrizi by a similarly close margin. Caruso is reemerging at a number of city meetings as he gears up for 2011. Caruso will always be a factor in a mayoral race as long as he maintains his popularity in his legislative district. Quite simply, Caruso starts with the largest voting bloc of any mayoral challenger by virtue of his super popularity in voting districts that include portions of the North End and Whiskey Hill.
Right now Caruso is the leading challenger to Mayor Bill Finch who has suffered through a couple of tough years of tax increases, a rotten economy and dubious decisions. Finch still has time to turn it around but his window is closing. Once the Bridgeport electorate shuts the door on an incumbent it’s hard to get them back. And Finch has all kinds of issues to address with upcoming budgets. He also desperately needs an economic development initiative he can call his own. Can Finch get Steelpointe Harbor moving?
Who else is out there? Johnny Fabs would love to have his old job back. Now director of the Board of Education’s Adult Education Program, Fabs has been sitting back quietly taking a look to see if the time is right for a comeback. In 2007, party regulars that feared a Caruso mayoralty recruited Finch to run after polls showed Fabs could not beat Caruso. Finch’s polling showed him 10 points behind Caruso at the start of the race. Finch outspent Caruso two to one, Caruso focused his campaign on corruption (although he says he spoke to a variety of issues) and come primary day Finch closed the gap and a little more.
But Finch has lost part of the electorate that supported him two years ago. An anti-Finch segment of the Democratic party has reached out to former Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez to make a run. Every Bridgeport mayor has been male and white except for Mary Moran who had the job from 1989 to 1991. The Latin community is now the largest single demographic in the city but has never truly coalesced behind one of their own. Board of Education President Max Medina came the closest in 2003. Some say State Rep. Andres Ayala, former president of the City Council, is a comer.
Bridgeport has never had a Latina candidate for mayor. Lopez, a resident of Black Rock, has made a name for herself trying to get the city to address the rat problem in the city’s West End. And a number of party regulars say she appeals to a cross section of the city. Other candidates may emerge in the next year.
Meanwhile, Caruso is still very much in play.
(Check out my daily blog at www.onlyinbridgeport.com)