The Connecticut upcoming Democratic Party convention is already rigged, Guy Smith declared. Against him.
So Smith, a longshot contender for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, declared during a sparsely attended press conference on Wednesday morning held outside of the old Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) building at 194 Bassett St. in Newhallville.
Smith, a 68-year-old retired liquor distribution executive and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, held the press conference outside of the long-shuttered state welfare building to draw attention to a proposal he has advanced to attract young entrepreneurs to the state. He was joined by two local ministers, Pastor Aaron Moody from the Agape Christian Center on Goffe Street and Reverend John Cotton from the New Hope Baptist Church on Butler Street.
He proposed that the state buy up and renovate abandoned sites like the old DSS building to offer free temporary office space and internet connections to young people looking for an affordable place to start new businesses. He also said he supports first-time homebuyer tax credits that would further encourage young people to stay within Connecticut or relocate from out of state when looking to start a job, buy a home, and raise a family.
But the focal point of the press conference was Smith’s declared decision to skip the state party’s May 18-19 nominating convention and try to petition his way onto the primary ballot in August. Smith needs to gather signatures from 2 percent of registered Connecticut Democrats, which comes in at just under 15,500 signatures, in order to make it onto the ballot.
Smith said that he plans to skip the convention because the state party is prejudiced against outsider candidates in general, and against his candidacy in particular. He also contended that state party leadership does not represent the party base.
“Unfortunately, the convention nominating process is a rigged system that locks out people with new ideas,” Smith said.
He listed three primary complaints with the convention process: The demographic make-up of the rules committee that establishes the rules for the party and the convention; the partisan nature of rules committee appointees; and an alleged lack of transparency from the party itself about who sits on Democratic Town Committees (DTCs) throughout the state.
Christina Polizzi, the communications director for the Connecticut Democratic Party, offered a point-by-point rebuttal to each of Smith’s complaints. She said that the party treats his campaign like it does all other campaigns, and that the current convention process is transparent, fair and responsive to the base.
State party Chair Nick Balletto issued a statement confirming that the petition option is open to all candidate who don’t receive 15 percent of the delegate vote at the convention. The statement also questioned Smith’s credibility as a candidate.
“Why is it a rigged process?” Smith asked during his press conference. “The rules committee that sets the rules for the nominating convention has one person of color on it. That’s not reflective of our community. It’s not reflective of Democrats. It’s exclusive, not inclusive.”
Polizzi explained that two rules committees establish the guidelines for any given state party convention: The Pre-Convention Rules Committee and the Convention Rules Committee.
The pre-convention committee consists of 20 individuals appointed by state party Chair Balletto. This committee is charged with recommending rules for the upcoming party convention as well as changes to the current party rules independent of the convention.
Polizzi said examples of rules voted on at the 2016 state convention include rules governing the order of voting roll call at the convention (alphabetical by town name) and the length of nominating, seconding and accepting speeches. Click here for a complete list of current state Democratic Party rules.
Polizzi said Balletto has already appointed the 20 members to this pre-convention committee, and that the committee will hold three public meetings at 11 a.m. on Saturday April 14, Saturday April 28, and Saturday May 5 at the party’s headquarters at 30 Arbor St. in Hartford.
“We want this to be a fair and transparent process,” she said, emphasizing that the Pre-Convention Rules Committee meetings were open to the public.
She said the party received hundreds of recommendations as to whom Balletto should appoint to the pre-convention committee. She said that she knew the names of the 20 that Balletto had picked, but that she could not speak to the race and ethnicity of everyone appointed.
“The chair made the decision to appoint who he appointed,” she said. “We could not accommodate everyone’s requests.”
The twenty people appointed to the Pre-Convention Rules Committee are Bill Bloss, Kristin Campanelli, Allison Dodge, Ed Farrow, Josh Fedeli, Christine Fortunato, Jamie Foster, Matt Gianquinto, Carol Goldberg, Susan Goldman, Ron Kowalski, Elizabeth Krumeich, Tom Luby, Tom McDonough (Chairperson), Eloisa Melendez, Dennis O’Brien, John Olsen, Al Onerato, Joe Stafford, and Gerry Weiner.
Polizzi said that the names and meeting dates for the Pre-Convention Rules Committee have all been shared with the Smith campaign.
The Convention Rules Committee, as opposed to the Pre-convention Rules Committee, will consist of 36 people voted on by convention delegates in each of the state’s 36 senatorial districts. This committee will go through the recommendations offered by the pre-convention committee, make changes, and then present their own recommendations to delegates at the contention. The first order of business at the convention will be to vote on the rules presented by the Convention Rules Committee.
Polizzi said that the members of the Convention Rules Committee have not yet been voted on, but that the committee should be formed and will begin to meet later this month.
Smith’s second bone of contention was that other gubernatorial campaigns have representatives and advocates on the 20-person pre-convention rules committee.
“Some of the campaigns have representatives on the rules committee,” Smith said. “Our campaign does not. It’s an arbitrary rule to cut us out.”
Polizzi reiterated that the state party received hundreds of recommendations as to who should be on the pre-convention rules committee, and that the state party chair picked who he picked without any bias towards or against any particular candidate.
Smith’s final reason for calling the convention “rigged” was because the party had not sent his campaign a complete list of all of the members on all of the DTCs in the 169 cities and towns throughout the state.
“They won’t give a candidate a list of the members of the DTCs,” he said. “It’s like a secret society. You can’t run a democracy that way. What’s happen is that my campaign is being excluded from the process on purpose. We’re not going to stand for that.”
Polizzi said that the state party had shared the exact same information with every campaign, and had by no means excluded Smith from its outreach. She said that the party has shared a contact list for all of the chairs of the all of the DTCs throughout the state. She said the party is currently assembling a contact list of all of the members, not just the chairs, of all of the DTCs in the state, and that they would share that list with the different candidates when they have finished putting it together.
“We have provided the same information to every single gubernatorial candidate,” she said. “The contact information for DTC chairs is listed on our website. And that is where we refer our candidates to. Anything that has been provided to any one candidate has been provided to all of the candidates.”
State party chair Balletto issued a statement in response to Smith’s announcement to avoid the convention.
“The option to petition is open to all candidates who don’t receive 15 percent of the delegate vote at convention,” Balletto writes, “and it’s completely up to the candidates if they choose to bypass the process. It’s interesting that Guy Smith does not feel he is a credible enough candidate to qualify for funding or to receive support from Democratic leaders across the state a month out from convention.”
When asked about his strategy for collecting enough signatures to petition his way onto the primary ballot, Smith said, “You take a petition and you go to a citizen, and you say, ‘Will you sign a petition for this candidate to be on the ballot.’ And the citizen says yes. And we’re going to do that 15,327 times.”
When asked why so few people attended his press conference, Smith said that his decision to skip the convention is all over local news throughout the state, and that he didn’t invite many supporters here, just the media. (The Independent was the only outlet to send a reporter.)
“We didn’t invite a lot of people,” he said. “We invited you.”
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch Guy Smith’s press conference.
Click above to listen to an interview with Smith about his candidacy on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.”