Dissension, Disarray Among CT Democrats Prior to 2014 Elections

Among Connecticut Democrats, this year's municipal elections have displayed a disturbing level of incompetence and internal dissension that should be troubling to Dan Malloy and his political team going into next year's gubernatorial election.

In New Haven, the Democratic Town Committee - "under new management" since the pro-City Hall machine was deposed in 2011 and 2012 -- missed a key filing deadline that nullified all the party's candidate endorsements, forcing even endorsed candidates to petition onto the primary ballot. For a few days, local party leaders who had mistakenly mailed the paperwork to the Secretary of the State rather than the city clerk's office formed a circular firing squad. Ultimately not a single member of the DTC's executive committee was held accountable for this monumental lapse in competence.

In Norwalk the hopelessly divided Democrats failed to endorse a mayoral candidate after multiple ballots. The Democrats' inconclusive convention took place a few weeks after a violent fracas between the chair of the Democratic Town Committee and a disgruntled Democratic Board of Education candidate. It ended only when police were called to the scene.  

In Danbury, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, Democrats could not even field a candidate to challenge incumbent GOP Mayor Mark Boughton.

In Stamford, Democratic mayoral candidates are poised to wage an extremely expensive primary battle that will make defeating probable Republican nominee Michael Fedele much more difficult in the state's most GOP-friendly big city.

Bridgeport and Hartford don't have mayoral elections this year, but Democratic mayors in both cities are embroiled in damaging scandals: in Bridgeport over the construction at taxpayer expense of a driveway to the seaside mansion of a politically connected developer; and in Hartford over the almost unbelievably stupid misbehavior of the mayor's now-former chief of staff and the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between the mayor's office and the city council (both Democrat controlled).

Only in Waterbury, where Mayor Neil O'Leary is seeking a second term, have Democrats managed to avoid embarrassing themselves this year. 

Are Democrats in the big cities simply too complacent to be competent and well-behaved? Except for Stamford, Democrats are not in danger of losing their dominant position in any of the big cities. In the three largest cities, Republicans do not control a single city council seat. But without meaningful inter-party competition, party leaders in the big cities have little incentive to get their act together. GOP irrelevance and Democratic incompetence are interdependent: unless and until the GOP learns to compete in urban areas, local Democratic party organizations will continue to wallow in mediocrity. If the GOP continues to fail at "rebranding" to make itself viable in cities, can the Working Families or Green Party perform the function of keeping Democrats honest in that void?

Meaningful inter-party competition might be conducive to good governance, but it would be wrong to chalk up the Democrats' fumbling and bumbling to mere complacency. The local party organizations are in the worst shape in Norwalk and Danbury, where meaningful two-party competition exists. Those two midsized Fairfield County cities have long-serving GOP mayors who have effectively divided and demoralized Democrats, showing that an effective GOP can be just as dangerous for Democrats.

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