Did Party Insiders Torpedo Jahana Hayes At Convention?

Hayes is challenging Mary Glassman in a Democrat primary Tuesday, August 14th.


Story and Photographs

By John Murray


   In the current political climate favoring outsiders, there are new allegations that Jahana Hayes’ attempt to win an historic Democrat Party endorsement to Congress this Spring was upended by an inside game.

   Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary has accused two influential Democrat Party leaders of blackballing Jahana Hayes at the 5th Congressional District convention in May. The charges were leveled this week at Tom McDonough who ran the convention, and at Wolcott Democrat town chairman Antony Casagrande.

   O’Leary, an ardent supporter of Hayes, said both men blocked Hayes from winning the Democrat Party endorsement to settle a seven-year grudge with the mayor. The alleged grudge hinges on a lost job and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost legal fees.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary on election night 2011.

    In 2011 McDonough was the Assistant Corporation Counsel in Waterbury under the administration of Mayor Michael Jarjura, and Casagrande was working at Carmody & Torrance performing extensive work for the Waterbury Development Corporation. Both McDonough and Casagrande were longtime political supporters of Jarjura, who O’Leary toppled in a bruising mayoral showdown in November of that year. After O’Leary was elected mayor he drastically reduced legal work to Carmody and Torrance, and ousted McDonough from the Corporation Counsel’s Office.

Wolcott Democrat Town Chairman Antony Casagrande


Attorney Thomas McDonough

   “One of my campaign promises was to stop spending millions of dollars in outside legal fees and to bring the work in-house and save the taxpayers money,” O’Leary said. “Under Mike Jarjura the city was paying outrageous legal fees to outside counsel and it was neither economical or responsible. Additionally, most of the money was going to the boys in Jarjura’s political network.”

   In the three years before O’Leary took the helm the city paid Carmody and Torrance $599,496, $546,004 and $423,542 in outside legal fees. In O’Leary’s first year as mayor Carmody and Torrance fees were slashed to $27,000.

   “That’s a lot of lost income and Tony Casagrande reminded me of that at the convention when he refused to support Jahana Hayes,” O’Leary said.

   Hayes briefly held the lead at the nominating convention after a second roll call vote, and that’s where the allegation against Tom McDonough comes into play. With Hayes holding a four-vote lead McDonough asked if any delegate wanted to switch their vote, which is normal procedure at a convention to allow for negotiation and debate. McDonough asked any town that wanted to change its vote to step to the microphone, and for five minutes, no one did. McDonough continued to leave the floor open and continued to ask towns that wished to change their vote to come to the microphone.

Jahana Hayes trying to convince a delegate to support her at the convention.

   “Over and over again Tom McDonough reminded delegates that they could switch their votes,” O’Leary said. “But there was no line at the microphone and no one was rushing up to change their vote.”

   Ten more minutes passed with no change before New Britain flipped enough votes to give Glassman the lead.  Then Avon flipped votes to give Glassman a four-vote lead.

   Shortly after Glassman secured the lead McDonough closed the voting and declared Glassman the endorsed party candidate.

   Hayes was stunned and O’Leary was disgusted.

   McDonough told the CT Mirror that “he saw the candidates and others trying to get the delegates to switch votes and he was simply allowing that process to take place.”

   Waterbury alderman Chris D’Orso told Intercept news, “I can’t say if they were doing something on purpose, but you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to walk away and say ‘what just happened?”

Tom McDonough on stage chairing the May 14th nominating convention in Waterbury.

   O’Leary and the NAACP contested the outcome of the convention and a special hearing was called on June 7th by the Democrat State Central Committee, the party’s governing body. O’Leary claimed the voting was left open for 40 minutes while others contended it was closer to 15 minutes. The panel examined voting irregularities and concluded that two votes were improperly recorded.

   Two votes cast by members of the New Britain delegation were nullified and Glassman was declared the winner by two votes, instead of four. The new final delegate vote total under the ruling was 171 votes for Glassman and 169 for Hayes. The panel also recommended the party consider reforming its rules to eliminate ballot switching.

Waterbury Democrat Town Committee Chairman Kenny Curran.

   Kenny Curran is the Democrat Town Committee Chairman in Waterbury, a Hayes supporter, and said his concern with the 5th District Convention was the amount of time the vote was left open. “The following weekend we had a state convention and the chair announced specific times that delegates could consider changing their votes,” Curran said. “They announced voting would be left open for five minutes, eight minutes or three minutes. There was a deadline. That didn’t happen in the 5th District convention. There needs to be consistentcy.”

   And then there is the Shakesperian drama swirling around the votes cast by the Wolcott delegation. Wolcott had six votes at the convention and if Casagrande had cast one vote for Hayes the convention would have been tied, if Wolcott had cast all six votes for Hayes she would have been the first African-American endorsed by the Democrat Party for Congress in state history. And if she runs the table and wins election in November, Hayes would be the only black person serving in the U.S. House or Senate from all of New England.

   Adding to the drama is that Hayes lives in Wolcott, and Casagrande withheld support for a congressional candidate that was his Wolcott neighbor.

   When contacted, Casagrande said there was a lot more to the story than O’Leary’s version.

   “What Neil said about losing legal fees is true,” Casagrande said. “But I’m a big boy and know how the game is played; to the victor goes the spoils.”

   Casagrande, however, denied withholding support for Hayes as a way of getting back at O’Leary. “He’s trying to make it about himself,” Casagrande said, “but my decision was about doing the best thing for the residents of Wolcott.”

    Registered Democrats will have the final say when Hayes and Glassman collide in a Democrat primary on Tuesday, August 14th, and if the process is now in the hands of the voters, why dredge up a nominating convention that took place three months ago?

   “What took place at the convention wasn’t right,” O’Leary said, “Jahana Hayes should have been the endorsed candidate. It was stolen from her and the voters need to know that.”

   O’Leary said there is a considerable advantage to being an endorsed party candidate as it’s easier to raise money, and “many older voters simple vote for the party’s endorsed candidate.”

   Kenny Curran said being the party’s endorsed candidate has advantages. “Some people are more inclined to support the endorsed candidate with contributions,” Curran said, “and in all Glassman’s mailers and TV commercials she clearly states she is the party’s endorsed candidate.”

    The first sentence of Glassman’s Wikipedia page states, “Mary Messina Glassman is the current Democrat endorsee for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District.”

   In the three months since the bruising convention there have been a series of debates staged between Glassman and Hayes in Washington Depot, at Torrington City Hall, and televised on NBC-30. Both candidates have shared their stories with the district with mailers and television commercials, and there is little that separates Hayes and Glassman on the issues.

Glassman and Hayes debating inside Torrington City Hall.

   The glaring difference is in perspective and political experience. Mary Glassman is a member of the Democrat Party establishment in Connecticut. She served 15 years as First Selectman of Simsbury, was chief of staff to Lt. Governor Kevin Sullivan, was the Lt. Governor candidate in 2006 on a ticket with New Haven mayor John DeStefano, and ran for Lt. Governor again in 2010, losing to Nancy Wyman.

   Glassman has been actively engaged in the Democrat Party in Connecticut for three decades and has placed her name before the voters at least half a dozen times. When Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty dropped her re-election campaign in early April after admitting she covered up sexual harassment and abuse allegations against her former chief of staff, Glassman announced her candidacy that same day.

Mary Glassman ran for Lt. Governor in 2006 and 2010.

   The decision making process for Jahana Hayes was more complicated and less certain. Hayes was born and raised in Waterbury, became a single mother at the age of 17 and dropped out of high school. And for the past 28 years she has clawed her way forward outside the political arena. She earned her high school degree, her college degree and a Masters degree in education. Hayes became a history teacher at Kennedy High School and in 2016 was honored as the teacher of the year in Waterbury. A few months later she was selected to be the first teacher in city history to be named the teacher of the year in Connecticut, but her magic carpet ride was only beginning. A month later Hayes was selected the National Teacher of the Year and was touted in a White House ceremony by President Barack Obama. Hayes then spent the next year traveling across the country championing education, listening to teachers, and immersing herself in issue and events well beyond Connecticut’s borders. Hayes has a wealth of real-life experience, all of it outside the political arena.

Hayes is a political outsider who was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016.

   As she told the nominating convention in her opening remarks, “My greatest gift to you is my lack of political experience. When I go to Washington I will work for you, and for no one else.”

   O’Leary and Curran recruited Hayes in early April to consider a run for Congress. With the country embroiled in #MeToo, and President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about race and immigration, Hayes seemed to be an ideal candidate for the times; a minority woman outside the political process.

   “I was flattered by the option,” Hayes said, “But I needed to consider how it would affect my family.”

   Hayes told O’Leary and Curran she needed time to think and asked them to keep the offer private until she made a decision. In the next few weeks her decision vascilated back and forth; she was in, she was out, and then leaning towards back in.

   In late April, and still undecided about a run for Congress, Hayes said she received a call from Bobby Ficeto of the Wolcott Town Committee asking if she would consider running for State Representative in the 80th District, or State Senator in the 16th District.

   “I told him I was flattered but I needed to speak with my husband,” Hayes said, “and I didn’t mention about a possible run for Congress because I still wanted to keep that private.”

   Two weeks later, and 12 days before the 5th District nominating convention, Hayes made her decision to run for Congress and it made headlines across Connecticut. In the 12 days before the convention Hayes made a flurry of calls to delegates in the 5th District and said she made calls into Wolcott that were never returned.

   “I began to hear rumblings that Tony Casagrande was upset that I hadn’t given him a heads up about my run for Congress,” Hayes said, “I tried to reach out to him afterwards and he didn’t respond.”

   Casagrande told the Observer that he had been unaware that Hayes was considering a Congressional campaign and had committed Wolcott’s six delegates to Glassman. “I gave Mary Glassman my commitment and I wasn’t going to break my word because Jahana jumped into the race at the last minute,” Casagrande said.

Tony Casagrande has vehemently denied Neil O’Leary’s accusations.

   Casagrande said he and Ficeto did try and recruit Hayes for state races because “we recognized her strong and impressive background as National Teacher of the Year, but I was not happy to read about her decision to run for Congress by reading it the newspaper.”

    Casagrande said, “Normal protocol is to reach out to the party structure and let them know in advance of any announcement, and it was rather odd that no one did that.”

   Hayes made a stunning splash in 12 days and with the backing of U.S. Senator Chris Murphy was able to garner the support of more than 100 delegates before the convention – but her hometown of Wolcott remained committed to Glassman.

   Hayes’ late entry into the race created problems for other town committees besides Wolcott. Unaware that Hayes was an option they had promised Glassman their support. After the first roll call vote Glassman was narrowly ahead of Hayes, with Manny Sanchez of New Britain in third, and three other candidates trailing badly. Sanchez had 17% of the vote and qualified for a primary, and he and the other three candidates dropped out of the race. It was down to Glassman and Hayes.

   Hayes said she approached Casagrande about switching his votes for the second ballot and was told, “You didn’t think you need to tell me you were running?” Hayes said, and Casagrande refused to budge. Hayes said she told Casagrande, “You just told me I was a great candidate two weeks ago when you recruited me. What changed?”

Hayes watched in disbelief as her lead slipped away.

Democrat voters in the 5th District will decide who they want Tuesday, August 14th

   In addition to being approached by Hayes, Casagrande was approached by O’Leary. “Mayor O’Leary was pressuring me to switch, but we’d already played our cards for Glassman.” Casagrande said. “Why would I switch?”

   O’Leary asked Casagrande to split Wolcott’s vote and Casagrande said no. “Not one vote?” O’Leary said he asked.

   No. Not one.

   O’Leary said he asked why, and said Casagrande told him he had been disrespected. O’Leary said Hayes had meant no disrespect and had been undecided until the last minute.

   At this point O’Leary said Casagrande threw the lost legal fees in his face and said he hadn’t forgotten what took place in 2011. Casagrande, however, said it was O’Leary who brought it up and asked if that’s why Casagrande wasn’t budging.

   “It might be hard for Neil O’Leary to accept but our decision had nothing to do with him,” Casagrande said. “We had gained strong leverage with the Glassman campaign and decided to stick with her. If Glassman wins she will remember that Wolcott helped win her the nomination. This is to Wolcott’s benefit. We decided to rise or fall with Glassman.”

   The only part of the conversation that O’Leary and Casagrande agree on is that they exchanged harsh words with one another, and in the end Wolcott ignored their hometown candidate.

   When the Observer asked Casagrande if he had ever considered giving a few delegate votes to the hometown candidate, he said, “No. Jahana Hayes has never shown any love to Wolcott.”

   O’Leary, who was the police chief in Wolcott for two years, said, “there is no reasonable explanation why Jahana Hayes could not get one delegate from her hometown. She got caught in the crossfire of an old grudge and that’s not fair to the voters of the 5th District. Jahana should not have to kiss Tony Casagrande’s ring to get support in Wolcott. This kind of behavior is why the Democrat Party is in trouble, and why we need fresh faces in the party.”

   Hayes was disappointed at Casagrande’s final decision. “That move didn’t represent the people of Wolcott,” she said. “I don’t know the backstory between Neil O’Leary and Tony Casagrande, or about any possible grudge. I believe this election should not be decided by an old vendetta but on what is best for the people. This is one of the reasons why I’m running, people don’t want this nonsense anymore.” •


(The Observer made multiple attempts to reach Tom McDonough for this article, but was unable to make direct contact)