Mary Glassman

Chris Powell: 'Diversity' Democrats start at the top

With two zillionaire candidates hoping to win their party's primary for governor with pervasive advertising, Connecticut's Republicans aren't the only ones being asked to nominate candidates nobody knows but who want to start at the top.

Connecticut's Democrats are being asked to do it as well, only instead of money, the basis of the pitch to start at the top is "diversity."

In the 5th Congressional District, the candidate endorsed last week by the party's district convention, former Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, the party's candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, is being challenged in a primary by Jahana Hayes, of Wolcott, a Waterbury teacher who was national teacher of the year in 2016. Hayes has no record in public life and her claim on the nomination is frankly that she is black while Glassman is white and the Democratic ticket needs racial diversity. So much for Glassman's having been Simsbury's first Democratic chief executive in 40 years, diversity in political substance.

At the Democratic State Convention last the weekend, ethnic diversity was claimed as justification for a primary for the nomination for lieutenant governor.

Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who in pursuit of party unity ended her candidacy for governor to become the lieutenant governor candidate of Ned Lamont, the choice of party leaders for governor, was challenged by Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, of Newtown. Zimmerman is a government employee union organizer who lost a race for state representative two years ago. Her claim on the lieutenant governor nomination is only that she is of Latin American descent and Bysiewicz is white.

What is Zimmerman's expertise for high state executive office and what are her positions on the big issues? Announcing her candidacy, she didn't say and none of her supporters knew, though maybe, after her ethnicity, they think it is enough that she is a government employee union organizer, as if the Democratic Party needs to be even more identified with that predatory special interest.

Lamont has played along with this as much as he reasonably could. He has pledged to have the most diverse state administration in history and he solicited New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who is black, to run with him as lieutenant governor. Harp would have been not just a "diversity" candidate but a well-qualified one, having been a state senator for many years before becoming mayor -- completely vetted and a known quantity. She declined Lamont's offer and the Democrats had no other well-qualified minority prospect for the lieutenant governor nomination.

Since the last eight years of Democratic rule have dragged state government into insolvency and given Connecticut nearly the worst economy in the country, it may be no wonder that the party prefers to stress race and ethnicity. But such things won't pay the bills.

This year's proliferation of candidates without records in public life emphasizes the usefulness of party conventions for vetting purposes. For conventions test the character of candidates and delegates alike in public, pushing some into betrayals or opportunism.

Further, while primaries properly provide the ultimate democracy in party politics and at last are fairly accessible to candidates in Connecticut, conventions introduce the party to itself and confer the judgment of its most committed members on its prospective nominees. That judgment isn't infallible but it's usually worth something.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.