Arrest may end Newton's political career
Updated 10:04 pm, Saturday, January 5, 2013
It was supposed to be different this time.
Ernest E. Newton II said he had a new campaign team and vowed to stay away from the financial aspects.
But on Friday, state investigators charged that Newton didn't stay away and instead convinced five campaign workers to fraudulently sign cards claiming they made donations so he could qualify for $80,555 in public campaign financing. They charged him with first-degree larceny, five counts of illegal campaign practices and a count of tampering with a witness.
Newton, who maintains he's innocent, finds himself back where he was in 2005 -- facing prison time, if convicted.
And not just on the state level.
He also could be sent back to federal prison for violating the terms of his supervised release. That three-year term kicked in as soon as Newton completed his five-year prison sentence in August 2010 after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges which including misusing campaign finances.
A standard condition of supervised release is that the offender not commit another local, state or federal offense.
"My expectation is the federal government will bring a charge that he violated his supervised release and then hold it in abeyance until after the state proceedings are completed," said Jeffrey Meyer, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at the Quinnipiac and Yale University law schools. He said a conviction on the violation could lead to Newton returning to federal prison.
Shortly after Friday's arrest, Newton, 56, of Read Street, maintained it's "not what you all are writing, trust me."
He declined further comment Saturday, referring questions to his lawyer, Darnell D. Crosland. Crosland could not be reached for comment Saturday.
In addition to prison time, another conviction could forever end Newton's future political ambitions, according to several political watchers and players.
"There are judges who might make it a condition of his sentence that he not seek elected office," said Richard Foley, a former state Republican chairman who now heads the Prince Group, a political consulting firm.
Even without that, Foley said: "It would be hard to contemplate him running again and winning. But if anyone can figure a way to get around that, it would be Ernie, and I say that with a little bit of admiration."
Others, like Donald Greenberg, an associate professor of politics at Fairfield University who closely watches the controversial Bridgeport political scene, and Craig Kelly, a former president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, don't see much of a political future.
"I think he has zero chance of coming back," said Greenberg, who noted that Newton, despite being the Bridgeport Democratic Party-endorsed candidate, lost his bid to regain his state Senate seat by finishing second in a three-way primary in August. "It's clear he's finished in politics, even assuming these charges are dropped."
"I think it would be very difficult for him to run again," added Kelly, who considered running in that August primary. "It's obvious authorities are sending a message to him, `Don't run again, we're watching your every move.' "
Even Carolyn Nah, also a former Greater Bridgeport NAACP president and longtime Newton backer, said he would not get her support if he is convicted again.
"But if he is innocent and the Lord calls him to run again, I would support him," she said.
Nah said she attended a meeting of about 25 black leaders Friday night. She said some viewed Newton's latest arrest as "the white folk way of sitting him down and putting him in his place."
"Ernie perceives himself as some kind of messiah," Rose said, citing Newton's 2005 declaration of being the "Moses of my people."
"But pursuing office is one thing; getting elected is another," Rose said. "If it was any other city but Bridgeport, I would give him little chance. But here, in the right circumstance, against a weak opponent, I could see his supporters electing him."
It was Newton's reference to Moses that irked now-retired U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas during the 2006 sentencing.
Before imposing sentence, Nevas told Newton that he doubted Moses "asked for money in return for leading his people across the desert."
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