The Connecticut State Democratic Convention ended early Saturday night and from veteran attendees, it was one of the more eventful conventions in years. It was a mix of excitement, tension and incredible tedium plus mass disorganization which seems to the hallmark of the party.
RTM Majority Leader Doug Jones collected three of us and whisked us up to Hartford around 3:30. When we approached the Expo Center, there was a crush of volunteers waving placards and signs supporting the various candidates, getting the rush of the day started. The parking lot was packed with cars and we quickly parked and went inside for our credentials. As I handed over Russ Green’s proxy, I realized I didn’t have one for Saturday so, when they weren’t looking, I stole it back for re-use. On the one hand god for me, on the other, bad security.
Most of the candidates had tents propped up and were ready to wine, dine and glad hand people. Ned Lamont’s tent was a wonderful mix of ribs, chicken and crayfish while the Lieberman tent could have been renamed Joe’s American Bar & Grill with your basic backyard barbecue fare. John DeStefano’s tent had a live band playing salsa music keeping things lively.
At 6, properly stuffed, we went into the Center and found the 24 seats set aside for Fairfield. However, as a sign of the organization’s strength, we wound up shifting seats repeatedly with neighboring towns since our 24 weren’t as carefully marked as you would imagine.
We heard nominating speeches and seconding speeches for Lamont and Lieberman, whipping people into a frenzy of cheers every now and then. After each candidate was nominated, 10 minutes was set aside for a “demonstration” which meant the faithful could whoop it up, loud music could blare and time was wasted. Interestingly, Lamont’s demo was muted while Lieberman’s was a predictable medley of tried and true rock songs twisted for campaign purposes. The one interesting choice in Joe’s mix was Pat Benatar’s defiant “Hit me with your Best Shot.” Finally, it was time to poll all 169 municipalities for their vote. And almost each and every town took the opportunity to plug themselves. Fairfield introduced out vote by proudly casting 18 votes for the next true Democratic senator from Connecticut, Ned Lamont and six for Sean Hannity’s favorite democrat, Joe Lieberman. All the slogans probably added a good 20 minutes to the proceeding but you have to love Oxford, which billed itself as a town too small for a slogan.
Lamont needed 15% of the vote to force an August primary. He received 33% which was a pretty loud slap in the face to Lieberman who will now have a fight on his hands to win back the party faithful or do, as promised, and run as an independent. Should be interesting.
Afterward Rosa DeLauro gave Joe’s acceptance speech, since he did after all win the party’s nod for the moment; we flooded outside where Lieberman’s tent had transformed itself into Dan Malloy’s tent. The highlight to tent’s festivities was the chocolate fountain, something I had never before experienced and it was delightful. Members of Malloy’s family worked the room and we got to speak with several of them.
Since we had an early and long Saturday, Doug chose discretion and we headed out relatively early, before 10.
Doug collected me at 7 and we were back in Hartford just under an hour later. The tents were busy with breakfast foods and once more Malloy had his people everywhere. I have to give his team credit; the volunteers were numerous and did whatever was required to get the job done.
By 9, we were gaveling back to session although this time we knew where our seats were and didn’t have any fights. Each seat had bumper sticks, jar openers, buttons, water bottles, placards, lawn signs and literature from the various candidates (my thought was the poor maintenance staff when this ended). We spent the morning picking the attorney general, treasurer and comptroller before the first battle, which turned out to be a lop-sided affair as Norma Rodriguez challenged incumbent Susan Bysiewicz. Rodriguez had terrific credentials and would have been fine as our candidate, but Bysiewicz had served well and there was no compelling need to make a change. Out of some 1590 votes cast, poor Norman didn’t even crack 100.
It was 12 or so and we were finally ready for the Governor’s nominations. All morning, DeStefano and Malloy worked the room, row by row. Doug, for example, had still not made up his mind. Both sides knew this and made certain Doug had face time. I watched as Dan Malloy buttonholed Doug in the aisle and they chatted and Dan said, “Name an issue” ready to get into it. Later, Dan found Doug a second time and they spoke some more and no less than thirty seconds later, Doug was then chatting the issues with John DeStefano. It was an impressive sight all morning long.
I also took advantage of being there and being in the thick of it to wander over and introduce myself to John Fabrizi, mayor of Bridgeport. I complimented the work he had done to turn his city around but was curious about a recent development that might hurt their plans to expand their ports to bring more goods to the state by boat, one of several plans to ease traffic on I-95. He had only just heard about it himself so didn’t have much to share but it was a nice conversation anyway.
I had realized along the way that the agenda did not have any scheduled breaks. I wondered about lunch and then realized nothing had been allocated. The Party wasn’t going to feed the throngs and the Snack Bar was poorly stocked and way overpriced ($2 for an 8 oz. yogurt?). DeStefano’s tent apparently put out a lunch, but halfway through serving were told to put it on hold until after the Mayor spoke, presuming a victory. And word had it, the straw polling had John in the lead. I was somewhat envious of the town across the aisle that walked in with plastic bins full of sandwiches, chips, canned fruit snacks and drinks.
Each candidate got their ten minutes for the demonstration and DeStefano imported a high school marching band while Malloy just had the faithful waving their placards and marching about. They were both loud and about equally musical.
The nominations all were said and done and it was time for the voting. All day long I had been buttonholed by Tony “The Pit Bull” Jannotta, making sure I was going to vote things Russ Green’s way, for Malloy. I preferred DeStefano and when casually discussing things with my fellow Fairfielders, more than one advised me to vote my conscience. I really did think John had better plans and was really getting annoyed by the strong arm tactics, which Tony began back on Thursday night. Finally, I voted for John.
While each town chose to ignore the advertising for the morning vote, everyone really laid it on thick for the gubernatorial voting, which only added to the length but also to the fun. Malloy’s people had given out cardstock tally cards so to stay alert, many of us kept score. Interestingly, when all was said and done, no two people had the same totals, including three of us in the same aisle.
When Tony learned I had flipped, he said I had promised, I wasn’t truly representing Russ and while he wasn’t mad, thought I should keep my word and he kept at it for a little while until I retreated to the middle of the row to safer ground. On the other hand, a fellow proxy flipped the other way so the vote totals weren’t really altered. Of course, no one beat up on him.
Once the final voting was done, each Congressional District was re-polled to see who had vote changes. Sure enough, town by town, there were changes, as some absent delegates returned to vote, others got their minds changed. The most dramatic moment came just two rows behind me as one Greenwich woman wavered. Suddenly, a ring of spectators formed around her, clearing seats for rows. There was Dan Malloy, chatting her up, begging to be heard. Joining him was Diane Farrell, the Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District (against Chris Shays for those of you keeping score at home) and they were relentless with a TV camera nearby by recording the proceedings. She flipped and a cheer went up as Malloy and Farrell hugged her.
I was steadfast enough that no one came to try and convince me to reverse my vote.
After all five Congressional Districts were heard, then came the challenges. Several towns filed these challengers on unknown grounds and each town brought their delegations, one at a time, to the rear of the stage so they could be heard and rulings handed down. Meantime, the vote tallies appeared pretty close and suddenly we were hearing that the more accurate counts were showing Malloy with a lead. As the process dragged on, as 2 p.m. slipped into 3 p.m. with the challenges continuing, Malloy appeared and grabbed a megaphone and more or less declared victory and rallied his forces. Several minutes later, DeStefano appeared and didn’t declare victory but told everyone to hold tight, stay firm and remain optimistic.
We waited. And waited. It was about 4:30 when finally the challenges were exhausted and Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo (who really should have had someone keeping us informed on what was happening rather than let us grow tired, bored, hungry and annoyed) declared the voting closed. It was several minutes later that we were informed that out of 1607 delegates, there were 1594 votes cast, meaning the winner had to have 798 votes to appear on the ballot. Dan Malloy beat it by 1, with 799 votes to DeStefano’s 795 votes. These races don’t get much closer so that was certainly exciting. We then waited an interminable amount of time for Dan to arrive to give his acceptance speech (I think he went to the movies, we certainly had time to kill). He gave his speech and then DiNardo begged us to stay to vote for Lt. Governor and the Party Platform.
Most of Fairfield had seen enough. Malloy had already chosen Mary Glassman and the Party Platform pretty much said “Do No Evil” so there wasn’t much to debate. Those lingering could do the unanimous voting.
I grabbed a ride home with Heather Dean and we left around 5, first stopping for a snack since we were starved. I walked in the door just after 6, no longer a Delegate, no longer a man to be lobbied or plied with food. It was a stack of mail, a shopping list and routine home chores.
And to think, we get to do this again in just a few years.