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Hartford's Democrats Ready For Primaries

WNPR/Jeff Cohen


Wednesday was the deadline for Hartford Democrats to challenge their party's endorsed candidates for mayor, city council, and other offices.  It went down to the wire, and that's because the city's Democrats have a party in flux.

“One minute!  One minute! One minute!” 
That's one minute until 4 o'clock, one minute left for the city's Democratic registrar of voters to accept and time stamp paperwork from candidates who want to run for office but who weren't picked by their party.
That includes challengers to Mayor Pedro Segarra, allies of former Mayor Eddie Perez, people angry that there were no Democratic women chosen for the city council, and others trying to get downtown Hartford a greater political voice.
REGISTRAR: Okay, listen to me, it's officially four o'clock...
"Well, we met our goal and we exceeded our goal."
That’s Ed Vargas, a Democrat challenging Mayor Segarra for his seat.  Vargas says that the mayor has benefited from the fact that his predecessor left office in shame. 
COHEN: Did he get sort of a free pass for a year?  And, as a result, is he benefiting from that?
VARGAS: I think people want more than a maintenance form of government. I think they want a hands-on form of government.  And despite a lot of the glossy press conferences about how crime is under control, people in the neighborhood don't feel it. 
Kate Kowalyshyn is an attorney who wants to primary her way on to the city council as a Democrat.  She initially lost out on the night of the nominating convention -- a night that most observers said was perhaps the most transparent in recent memory, if also the most chaotic.
COHEN: What's been your impression of the whole Democratic town committee process?
KOWALYSHYN:  There's room for improvement.
One problem she saw was that not one woman won the party's endorsement for council. Another candidate who didn't get the nomination was rJo Winch – current city council president. In the Perez days, she didn't have to worry too much about her place on the ballot.  This time, she says she's been shut out because she's a woman.
WINCH: We represent more of the head of the households in the city. We’re the ones who take care of your children, who take care of the household, who keep things together, yet you don't want us to have a seat at the table.
COHEN: Is it rare for people to be challenging the town committee in this kind of way?  I mean, the town committee comes out with its slate, and here we are, people racing in to try and undo what the town committee did.
WINCH:  Absolutely.  If there was ever a time that the town committee should be challenged, it's this year.
Another group rising to challenge the city's Democratic establishment might be voters downtown. For years, the city and the state have tried to build the kind of apartments and condo units that would attract new residents to the city's center.  And now they're here.
Suzanne Hopgood is an active member of a Facebook group called Dwelling in Downtown -- where she posts frequent updates about her effort to register hundreds of new voters. 
"People downtown have always been politically active.  They've only just been about three people.  So now you've got a much greater population downtown and with those additional people a much greater level of cohesiveness."
Richard Wareing was one of the few non-Democrats hanging around city hall.  He's a Republican.  His wife is newly active on the Democratic Town Committee. Together, they live downtown.
"I think that for a long time that downtown was sort of an island, I mean a real island, a very small island.  And now it's a little bit bigger island, and there's more people on the island.  And also, I mean, I think there were some things in the last couple of years that sort of helped developed a semi-downtown consciousness.  And I think that has spurred more people to be active than had previously been the case.  But whether that translates to radically increased turnout -- I don't know. You know?
COHEN:  And that's the proof?
WAREING:  Yeah.  You know, proof's on election day.  Everything else is bull----.
The Democratic primary is September 13. 

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

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