Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A millionaire, an Asian-American, an African-American and two white women walk into a barbecue joint …
All they needed was the gay guy, who in this case was state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who could not attend the unity/diversity lunch summit at a downtown Hartford restaurant the other day. Maybe he was wondering — like I — what the point was of a photo op on a sizzling sidewalk.
The sun, unlike this endorsed Democratic ticket, was dazzling.
So, there was Ned Lamont, ordering a salad in a rib place? In fact, there wasn’t even a drop of hot sauce on any of the shirt or suit fronts of these five candidates, led by the rich guy from Greenwich.
There was Lamont’s designated running mate, Susan Bysiewicz, a former secretary of the state whose political career will be really, truly snake-bitten if she loses the August primary for lieutenant governor in what would be a protest vote on the issue of diversity on the ticket that emerged after Lamont anointed her in the run-up to the convention.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, in a spring-green linen suit, was along for this PR ride.
Maybe the two candidates who benefited the most from the event, staged for TV and print reporters in the commercial zone between UConn’s Hartford campus and the
Connecticut Convention Center, where they won their endorsements a couple weeks earlier, was state Rep. William Tong and Shawn Wooden, who represent actual diversity.
Tong, a Connecticut native born to Chinese immigrant parents, whose father was given special dispensation to stay in the United States by none other than Richard M. Nixon, won the endorsement for attorney general. Wooden, a tax attorney in Hartford, is black and got the endorsement for treasurer.
Both face what could be stiff challenges in the Aug. 14 primary. Wooden, of Hartford, is running against Dita Bhargava of Greenwich, a newcomer, a recently former candidate for governor who is flowing toward the perceived path of least-resistance.
“We do have a great ticket,” Wooden said. “I absolutely agree that as a state, as a party, as a country we need to look at diversity and what that means. But I do not believe that we should let the discussion of diversity obscure the great talent that we have on this slate right here.”
Tong, of Stamford, has two primary opponents: his co-chairman on the legislative Judiciary Committee, Sen. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield; and Chris Mattei, a former federal prosecutor from Windsor.
“It wasn’t just a historic slate of candidates,” Tong said. “It was a historic convention and I think we presented at the convention the most diverse group of candidates that we’ve ever seen in this state by any party.”
It didn’t take Mattei long to take umbrage at the optics, with the five endorsees walking up the sidewalk toward the TV cameras in one of the least-candid moments I hope to see on the 2018 campaign trail.
“It’s disappointing to see party insiders presumptuously declare ‘we’re the Democratic Party’ long before actual voters get the chance to do so in August,” Mattei declared.
“This is exactly the type of establishment, top-down politics that voters in Connecticut have been frustrated with for years.”
That’s kind of an amusing assessment of the process by which town committees select delegates to represent them at conventions and to cast ballots for those candidates they think can or should win in the primaries and general elections.
It’s even more interesting in the sour-grapes/spilled-milk subcategory of political quantification, when I remember that a few days earlier and less than a block away, Mattei gathered about half the delegate support that Tong won in what was bordering on a nasty little floor fight, as Mattei’s people whispered that Tong didn’t have enough legal experience to satisfy the statutory requirements for attorney general.
But the big red herring this summer among self-loathing Democrats will be the issue of diversity.
So, for starters, the top-of-the-ticket is way more reflective of Connecticut demographics than the all-white conservatives who emerged from the secondhand smoke-filled convention center at Foxwoods last month.
But I am looking forward to see how the Democrats frame the self-funding Lamont, who is likely to oppose a Republican participating in the voluntary Citizens’ Election Program. “He’s not in the 1-Percent,” the Dems might say. “He’s a minority.”