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Wednesday, April 25 Local

Lots of empty chairs for Malloy's "annointment"

HARTFORD -- Bridgeport Democrats had front-row seats for the action Friday night as state party members nominated their top-of-the-ticket candidates.

But in fact, many of those seats stood empty during the least controversial Democratic state convention in a generation. Bridgeporters voted with their feet, by not showing up.

Some missed the convention to apparently attend a retirement dinner in Testo's Restaurant on Bridgeport's Madison Avenue for John Fabrizi, the former mayor and long-time head of the city's adult education program.

The proprietor of Testo's, perennial Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa, was also missing from the convention, instead putting in a Friday night shift at his nearby pizza operation, according to his employees. A request for comment was not returned.

In a contested race, it would be Testo standing up with the microphone to announce the delegation's votes. But with no opposition, there were no town-by-town roll calls.

So the spotlight on the sometimes dysfunctional delegation shined upon Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Ernest E. Newton II, the former long-time lawmaker and prison inmate who plans on running again for the state House of Representatives.

"It's kind of like you're going to a wedding and you get to see your old friends," Finch said of the anti-climactic gathering of Democrats, whose unanimous endorsements went to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and four other constitutional officers.

Half-convinced, Finch said the rows of empty folding chairs might not be indicative of the city's full presence at the convention.

"I think people come and go," he said. "I've been working the lobby, seeing people that I haven't seen in ages."

Newton, still facing state criminal charges on a mysterious $500 that showed up when he needed it to attain public financing for a 2012 General Assembly race, said he wants to show that he can still serve the city.

"It's a good example of the Democratic Party in Bridgeport opening up the democratic process," Newton said in an interview. "Being a delegate, I'm seeing a lot of old friends. I'm getting a lot of encouragement. There are a lot of people glad to see me."

He hopes to get a nomination for his former state House of Representatives seat on May 21. "Never let people tell you what you can't do," Newton said. "Let the people decide."

Bridgeport delegate Dan Roach sat in a fourth-row aisle seat, his arms crossed, saying the lack of attendance was a victim of the party's appearance of success.

"It's an anointment session," he said. "When you compare it to four years ago, when every office was challenged, it's a big difference. But it's a lot simpler this time around."

Bridgeport delegate and former town chairman John Stafstrom said the Friday rush hour, combined with the lack of political drama, hurt the city's turnout.

"It's a long ride for people when they know it's a forgone conclusion," Stafstrom said. "I wouldn't read anything into it."

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Ken Dixon's Capitol View appears Sundays in the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers. You may reach him in the Capitol at 860-549-4670 or via e-mail at kdixon@ctpost.com. Find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KenDixonCT. His Facebook address is http://www.facebook.com/kendixonct.hearst. Dixon's Web log, Connecticut Blog-o-rama, can be seen at http://blog.ctnews.com/dixon/

Ken Dixon|State Capitol reporter/columnist Hearst Connecticut Media