From The Hartford Courant
Boughton is now facing Democrat Dean Esposito, a former common council member and town clerk, in a bid for a third two-year term, which would make him the longest-serving Republican mayor in Danbury since the 1960s.
But the outcome of the election could reveal more than how Republicans and Democrats measure up. It's also the first electoral test for the fledgling immigrant movement in Connecticut that, some observers say, will one day have a dominant role in the city.
And while what could be called pothole issues such as traffic, schools, development and taxes will always hold sway in Danbury, candidates say immigration is on the minds of many voters.
Wilson Hernandez, a former president of the Ecuadorian Civic Center, said the election represents an important, small step for local immigrants.
"The election will give us an opportunity to send a message to the mayor, and that message is everyone should be considered a part of the community and respected," he said.
Boughton, 41, has led a remarkable Republican resurgence in this traditionally working-class, Democratic city of more than 78,000. After serving two years in the state legislature, he was elected mayor in 2001 with a 139-vote margin over the Democrat, who had endured a tough primary.
By 2003, he had secured his political standing, winning 60 percent of the vote and leading Republicans to a 17-member majority on the 21-member common council, an exact flip of the previous common council. These days, his name is mentioned as a possible running mate for Gov. M. Jodi Rell or as a congressional candidate.
Parallel to the GOP ascendancy was another fundamental shift in the composition of Danbury. Drawn by abundant work and cheap housing downtown, immigrants from Brazil, Ecuador and dozens of other countries were flocking to Danbury.
Estimates of the number of immigrants vary widely, from 10,000 to 20,000. Some residents welcomed the influx and the vitality it brought, particularly with new businesses and restaurants in a struggling downtown.
Others were less enthusiastic, pointing to the day laborers who had taken over a small downtown park, crowded apartments and houses, and cultural clashes, such as the sometimes large and rowdy volleyball games Ecuadorians held in residential neighborhoods.
Boughton, a moderate Republican who had had good relations with immigrant communities, stepped into the breach in April when he asked that state police help enforce immigration law, a tactic employed by only a few states.
The move ignited an emotional response. Some immigrants felt the mayor was unfairly targeting undocumented workers who made a contribution to the city. Immigrant groups that previously had little to do with each other formed the Danbury Area Coalition for the Rights of Immigrants, which organized a large unity march in June.
Some longtime residents applauded the move, and last spring a group called Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control started a local chapter, which remains the group's largest and most active.
Democrats say Boughton's plan was an ill-advised political ploy to shore up support among longtime residents.
"It was a desperate attempt, in my opinion, to appease a certain voting bloc," said Esposito, a painting contractor.
Danbury suddenly was the focus of stories carried by national newspapers, magazines and news shows, as well as Spanish- and Portuguese-language media from here to South America.
Esposito, 45, said much of the coverage depicted Danbury in a bad light, and he blames the mayor. He said illegal immigration needs to be dealt with at the federal, not the local, level.
"We had a march in this city that showed a lot of support for people living here, legally or not," he said.
When you talk to people on the street, the immigration situation doesn't get as much traction as the traffic problems, the resentment over condominium overdevelopment, the numerous issues with the police department, and lack of quality schools. Why the immigration issue is unique is because it was Boughton's creation from the start. At first, he was willing to build a depot for the day-workers who wait in the center of town for work but his conservative political base grew angry so Boughton suddenly changed gears and started a campaign against the undocumented immigrants with his state police request. Boughton whacked a bee's nest with his action that he has yet to recover. The Ecuadorian population is growing and shows no sign in decreasing so they could become an important voter bloc in the future but probably not so much right now.
Many local observers don't think immigration or the Latino vote will be the thing that turns it around, at least this year.
"Remember, we're talking about registered voters here and a lot of registered voters want something done" about immigration, said Chris Kukk, an assistant professor of political science at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. "Mayor Boughton actually tried to make things happen."
Boughton may have inspired immigrants to organize, but the percentage of citizens and permanent residents is still small compared with undocumented immigrants. Though Kukk does not think their votes will be pivotal in this election, he expects that will change in the coming years.
"It's a fledgling movement, but one with a lot of strength," he said.
Former Mayor Jim Dyer made a comment that I made on numerous occasions (but remember, Dyer is supporting Boughton and he has had his own set of problems) which is Esposito needs to get tell the voters how he would run things differently in Danbury or in other words, get his message out to the public. People are not going to come out and vote for you simply because you're a Democrat so if Esposito explained how he would deal with the immigration issue differently, he might get more support.
One seasoned political observer, former Mayor Jim Dyer, said the Democrats have failed to mount a cohesive campaign. Dyer, a Democrat who says he supports Boughton, lost his bid for a fifth term in 1998 while he was facing federal corruption charges, which he later beat.
"I haven't seen [Esposito] sink his teeth into anything that is sticking with the voters," Dyer said.
Finally, the Courant brings up an important point about Danbury, there are more Democratic registered voters than Republicans as Danbury has been traditionally a Democratic stronghold in the Republican dominated fifth district but Esposito is running behind in terms of cash on hand.
Registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans, but both are dwarfed by unaffiliated voters. In fundraising, Boughton had raised $74,064 by Sept. 30, outpacing Esposito by a 10-1 ratio.
That bring said, I think that Esposito could of used the immigration issue to rally up more support from his base if he would of explained how he would of done things differently and repeat it loudly time and time again. Esposito could also draw more votes by rallying support among the Latino population before the voter registration deadline passes and then make sure that those registered voters come out and vote. Every vote counts and with limited funds the best way to get votes is by getting your base to show up on election day.
The good thing is that getting support in the Ecuadorian population is that Esposito doesn’t can get a campaign surrogate to do this for him therefore, here are some things to consider when thinking about this election:
1. Republican support: (I talked to many Republicans who say they're simply not voting because they are unhappy with the condition of the city but won't vote democrat).
2. Minority turnout: (the Brazilian population could make a difference as this is really the first time that section of the population will come out and vote and you can be sure that most will not vote for Boughton),
3. Police union supporters: You think they're going to vote for Boughton?
4. Overall turnout: Again, many people are unhappy with the condition of Danbury and won't come out to vote because a). they're unhappy with Boughton and b.) they don't know enough about Esposito and could consider him more of the same. This could be to the challenger's advantage if he can rally up his base and get his message out there with two weeks to go. Not impossible but it's a uphill battle.
All these factors will make this election rather interesting but as I said in the past, the Democrats HAVE to get their message out there as soon as possible. I've seen progress in the last few weeks but time is running out and like Esposito said, it's all uphill from here.