At the chaotic conclusion of her congressional nominating convention Monday, teacher Jahana Hayes briefly had at least 171 votes, the minimum necessary to win. Young spectators, some of them Hayes’s former students getting their first peek at politics, wildly cheered Connecticut’s endorsement of a black woman for Congress.
Then the chairman of the New Britain delegation, Bill Shortell, stepped forward to announce vote switches in his delegation, an integral part of every convention that allows, even encourages deal-making before the vote closes. Three times he announced a switch, each a loss for Hayes.
The changes helped flip a lead for Hayes, a newcomer who had come to prominence as a national teacher of the year in 2016, charming President Obama at the White House and Ellen DeGeneres on television, to the advantage of Mary Glassman, a New Britain native with long experience as an elected official in Simsbury.
“Close the vote!” Glassman and her supporters shouted, clapping hands in the auditorium of Crosby High School in Waterbury. “Close the vote!”
The tally finally was announced: 173 for Glassman, 167 for Hayes.
Glassman, who opened her campaign on April 2, the day U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty of the 5th District abruptly quit the race over mishandling of a sexual harassment complaint, had survived a surge for Hayes encouraged by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and others. They saw Hayes as a charismatic talent, a fresh face and potential groundbreaker as the first black Democrat nominated for Congress in Connecticut.
Now, five days later as the Democrats open their two-day convention, a political debut that could have been a feel-good moment for Democrats, no matter who ultimately wins the nomination in a primary in August, has turned into something else, with angry questions from the NAACP about the motives for the vote-switching away from a black woman, resentment from some Glassman delegates about Murphy’s involvement — and just a whiff of a voting irregularity.
Shortell had announced three vote switches Monday night.
But his paperwork recorded only one.
State party officials, who were informed of the discrepancy Thursday by Ken Curran, a Murphy staffer who is Democratic chairman in Waterbury, were uncertain what happened Monday — or what might happen now.
Under party rules, a dispute resolution committee of three to five Democratic State Central Committee members could be empaneled if one is requested by a delegate or someone else with a stake in the convention. If so, the solution could be a matter of two New Britain delegates signing affidavits attesting to their switches.
“If something went wrong, we want to know,” said Christina Polizzi, the communication director for Connecticut Democrats. “We want to make sure this is handled quickly and appropriately. We want this looked into as well.”
The Hayes campaign is not asking for an investigation, mindful that asking the party establishment to set aside a convention vote undermines an element of their candidate’s appeal: She is from outside a system that never has produced a black nominee for Congress or any statewide office besides treasurer.
On Monday night, Hayes was upbeat, marveling at how close she had come in 12 days as a candidate. In an interview Friday, she reinforced that message, saying it was appropriate that the endorsement was not handed to her.
“Nothing in my life has come easily. I always had to take the alternate route,” said Hayes, who got pregnant at 17 but managed to become a teacher after attending a community college, a four-year school and graduate school. “It cuts all those strings. It really shows people I can stand on my own.”
Scott X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut…