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Wednesday, October 17 Local

Incumbent becomes challenger in Bridgeport’s 126th; 128th candidates face hard road

BRIDGEPORT — Two years ago, state Rep. Charlie Stallworth fought off a tough primary challenger.

As he heads into another Democratic primary Tuesday in his 126th legislative district, Stallworth is missing something that helped him win in 2016: party support.

This year Stallworth, though the incumbent, is the challenger. He lost the endorsement at May’s nominating convention to Shante Hanks, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.

Theirs is one of two primaries for House seats Aug. 14 in Bridgeport. The second contest features Republicans Luis Colon and Ethan Book in the 128th House District.

Asked about her biggest criticism of Stallworth, who has served in the House for eight years and is aligned with Mayor Joe Ganim, Hanks said, “He just hasn’t produced anything. ... I’ve seen first hand someone who gets in office and really tries to make a difference (Himes), versus someone that doesn’t.”

That was the message Democratic leaders in the 126th District like Steve Nelson had for Stallworth when, in a close 9-7 vote with two people absent, they made Hanks their candidate. Nelson at the time said residents “are tired of supporting candidates who only come to our neighborhoods when it’s time for (an) election.”

“I think my work is capable of standing alone,” Stallworth, who is also pastor of the East End Baptist Church, said when asked recently about his convention loss.

Stallworth emphasizes his seniority as a good reason constituents should return him to the legislature: “You get to help shape the agenda.”

He said voters should be wary of candidates who over-promise, because “there are 151 of us in the House. There’s no one person that does all of this solo work. We have a strong (Bridgeport) delegation that works together.”

Stallworth has a reputation as a team player but not a legislator who leads the charge.

He made news in May when he suddenly and briefly announced a short-lived and failed bid for lieutenant governor. Asked about having to campaign for his House seat after his flirtation with higher office, Stallworth said, “The ability to serve in the most productive office should be anyone’s desire.”

Hanks claimed that Stallworth wants another two-year term for purely selfish reasons. Hanks said she told him of her decision to run, and that he asked her to hold off so he could serve 10 years and qualify for a state pension.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hanks said.

Stallworth laughed at that story, adding: “I would not put any confidence in that. (And) I’m not going to run or participate in a negative campaign. That’s just not my character. If she chooses to do that, that’s her choice.”

Education, public safety, economic development and taxes are priorities for Stallworth and Hanks. Hanks said education tops her list because “everything else falls right under that large umbrella” with good schools and an educated workforce attracting companies to the city that will pay taxes and provide jobs.

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Hanks said many voters support a proposed Bridgeport casino; Stallworth said he wants one built as well.

“Bridgeport needs jobs. Bridgeport needs economic development. I have supported it and will continue to,” he said.

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In the 128th District, Colon, the GOP’s endorsed candidate, and challenger Book could be said to be competing for the role of sacrificial lamb in November’s general election against incumbent state Rep. Christopher Rosario.

As of this week, there are 46,509 registered Democrats in Bridgeport and 4,096 Republicans.

Ask Book how hard it is to be a member of the latter party in this city — this is his fourth bid for elected office.

“There needs to be a good , conservative Republican voice in Bridgeport,” Book said. “The single party monopoly of the Democrat Party has created both some extremes and a void.”

Book, who runs a limousine service, has had some legal clashes with his town committee, which, Colon said, is why he was drafted to challenge Rosario.

“The party asked me to run — they needed somebody they could trust,” Colon, who operates a photography business, said. “Right now, Ethan Book is not in good standing.”

Book said he is not campaigning on his fight with party leaders, but added frustrated voters have expected more from the local GOP.

Both men want to lower Bridgeport’s high property taxes.

“Republicans need to realize even though the chances are slim, it’s still possible and if we work together with the right message, we can win,” Book said. “The Democrats have a record that makes them vulnerable.”

Colon said he feels confident he will win his primary and hopes to convince voters in November to look beyond party labels.

“This is individual people trying to help the community,” Colon said. “The one thing that hurts us now is the (Hillary) Clinton/(Donald) Trump (presidential) fight that has not stopped since the (2016) election.”

Both Colon and Book back the divisive Trump, though the latter admitted, “The man’s mouth gets him into trouble every time. ... I will say it would do better for us if he thinks really good about what he’s going to say.”

Book said, “While I, at times, disagree with his style, he’s (Trump) accomplishing some good things.”

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