Some might say that state Sen. Edwin Gomes, D-23, has a daunting race ahead of him. He is defending his seat against not one, but two fellow Democrats in the upcoming Aug. 14 primary: former state senator Ernie Newton, who is endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee and state Rep. Andres Ayala Jr., D-128, who is backed by the city administration.
But ask Gomes if he considers himself the underdog in this race, and he just laughs.
“I’m the champ,” he said recently at his new campaign headquarters in the old Stratford Avenue Post Office. “I’m the one with the belt. Come get it.”
Gomes was paraphrasing district leader Warren Blunt, a supporter. The belt in question is Connecticut’s 23rd state senatorial district, in which Gomes has served seven years, ever since he replaced Newton, who resigned from office in 2005 as a result of corruption charges.
Gomes’ headquarters, which opened this past weekend, is just a little more than a mile from Steel Point, a piece of land close to Gomes’ heart for several reasons: he worked at the property when it was the site of the Carpenter Steel Mill, and he’s seen plans for the property undergo countless changes during his 30 years as a Bridgeport lawmaker.
The development also plays into one of his campaign issues: labor.
As vice chairman of the state Senate’s labor committee and a long-term union official with United Steelworkers, Gomes believes that labor issues are the key to revitalizing the city.
“One of the things I think will be the salvation of Bridgeport is small business,” said Gomes.
Gomes wants to encourage small business to grow throughout Bridgeport, but added that building the infrastructure at Steel Point will create jobs for people in the area who are “on the bottom rung of the ladder.”
Proud of jobs bill
Gomes counts the 2012 Jobs Bill, which was passed by the General Assembly, among his achievements. The legislation will, among other things, provide grants and low-interest loans to help companies, subsidize the salaries of new employees, and offer subsidies to companies that hire recent veterans.
He also discussed the Urban Revitalization pilot program, which will promote home ownership and housing in Bridgeport and other large cities.
The two other major issues in the Gomes campaign are housing (he’s the co-chairman of the Senate’s housing committee) and education. He said that he supports an elected Board of Education, as opposed to the state-appointed school board that took office a year ago. He feels a move toward an appointed school board disenfranchises the people who voted for the school board members.
“This concerns their children,” he said.
Gomes describes himself as “a youthful 76.” His family moved to Bridgeport in 1944. He served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1963, and began work at Carpenter Steel the same year he left the Army. At Carpenter Steel, he became active in his union, and in 1977, he departed Carpenter Steel to become an international representative for the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), representing all of New England. He first ran for local office in 1983, and served two six-year stints on the Bridgeport City Council. He won the seat in the state Senate in a special election in 2005, to fill the void left by Newton, and was re-elected in 2010.
Newton wants the seat back.
“This district doesn’t have a voice for the people, the little people,” said Newton, who won the party’s nomination in May.
Newton, who served time in a federal prison after leaving office, is running a redemption-themed campaign. He said his big issues are jobs, taxes, and making the community feel safe again. He’s concerned that unemployment is higher in the 23rd District than elsewhere because there are many people, who, like him, have made mistakes and served time in correctional institutions and who can’t get jobs because of their criminal records. Newton said that Bridgeport needs “an urban agenda.”
Like Gomes, he believes that large infrastructure projects — transportation projects, in his case — are necessary to create jobs for the area’s unemployed. He believes that he’s the man for the job.
“Ed is a nice guy, but we don’t need nice people,” said Newton. “We need people who will fight… That’s what leaders do, and we don’t have that.”
Ayala, who wants to move from the House of Representatives to the much smaller state Senate, was more tactful, but just as critical.
“We need to have a senator in that position who can bring more resources into the city of Bridgeport,” said Ayala. “You should be able to bring some more back home.”
Ayala believes that Bridgeport isn’t getting the money it could be getting from the state of Connecticut.
He cited the Educational Cost Sharing formula, which he feels is not bringing nearly enough educational funding into Bridgeport. He also believes that there is more state money to be had for projects such as Steel Point.
Ayala said that he decided to run earlier in the year after speaking to some of his supporters. He said it was unclear at the time that Gomes would seek re-election. Gomes didn’t make his announcement until after the legislative session ended on May 9.
“At the time, Senator Gomes was rather ill,” said Ayala.
Gomes, who underwent triple bypass surgery last fall, said his health is not a problem and that his surgery did not affect his voting record in the last session.
“It’s been an issue because they had to make it an issue,” he said.