Campaign in 23rd District full of surprises

Published on July 5, 2012 by

There is little question that the most dynamic race in the city this year will be the primary showdown for the 23rd state Senate District. The primary participants will be incumbent Ed Gomes, Ernie Newton (the endorsed candidate) and Mayor Bill Finch’s favorite, Andres Ayala.

The primary will be held on Aug. 14, but it already has contained a number of subplots and should be sure to contain many twists and turns as the election date nears.
The biggest surprise was Newton stunningly winning the endorsement of the Democratic Town Committee last month. The former state senator pulled this off despite the opposition of several of the DTC’s heavy hitters, including Finch.

Since his return from a federal prison stretch for taking kickbacks, the veteran politician has kept a high profile. There was little question of him running for office, only what office that would be. There was even speculation that he might have thrown his hat in the ring during last year’s mayoral quest. Instead, he opted to try and win back his old Senate seat, which has been occupied by Gomes since Newton’s departure for the hoosegow.

To say that Ernie Newton’s garnering the nomination was stunning is no exaggeration. The party leaders were clearly opposed to him even entering the race, let alone winning the nomination. For the most part, party leaders were supporting Ayala. But, like veteran pols will do, Newton worked the room and won. He cultivated many old friends, especially Ralph Ford, the able DTC District leader in the 139th District.

In fact, Finch was so distraught at Newton winning the nomination he released the following statement: “As a former state Senate colleague, Ernie and I worked together for many years. While I wish him well in all his endeavors, when Ernie and I recently spoke I told him that I do not think that this is the best decision, for him or the city.”

As for Ayala, one has to wonder if he made the wrong decision by jumping into the race. Clearly, he was encouraged by party leadership, but when the votes were counted, he was of two guys on the outside looking in. Now he has to run as a petitioning candidate and scramble for votes.

Sure, Ayala has always been considered an able and affable politician, and he is quite popular in the 127th District, where he usually trounces any opposition for his state representative seat. But this is an entirely new ballgame, and many voters in the 23rd Senate District may be unfamiliar with the former City Council president.
Gomes is clearly the injured party by all that has transpired in this race. He certainly has done a credible job since taking over for Newton seven years ago and has unquestionably earned the party’s backing. But he didn’t get it, for whatever reason. Most likely the reason would be Gomes’ backing of Mary Jane Foster for mayor in her quixotic race against Finch.

What is especially galling in this instance is the fact that Gomes underwent triple bypass surgery last fall, yet despite months of illness, the North Ender returned and served throughout this past legislative session with as much energy as he ever has. I’m sure residents in the 23rd District appreciated Gomes’ dedication, even if the Democratic Town Committee did not.

So there it is. Three candidates with three distinct stories. This should be a closely contested primary and it is certainly difficult to handicap at this point. Ernie Newton? Andres Ayala? Ed Gomes? At this point it is impossible to say.

Let the games begin.