“Dirty Dozen” Ditch Hometown Joe

by Tess Wheelwright | May 20, 2006 5:20 AM | | Comments (3)

“Conspiracy!” called out playful local delegate Jessie Phillips as party leaders read out the results from New Haven: 57 delegate votes for incumbent U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, 12 for Greenwich-based challenger Ned Lamont. Really, it was just “subtle pressure” Phillips and the rest of the “dirty dozen” rank-breakers withstood from majority voters (like alderwoman Katrina Jones, right) convinced that local party strength meant sticking with Joe.

The 69-person New Haven delegation was openly stacked for DeStefano and Saturday’s gubernatorial nomination, not for Lieberman for senator. “We put together a DeStefano slate: that was the criteria. We never asked about the Senate,” said Susie Voigt, the Democratic Town Committee chair (pictured below keeping party secrets safe). But for the most part Friday night at the convention, pro-John meant pro-Joe.

“Joe is our hometown guy. I support John DeStefano, and I’m supporting Joe Lieberman,” said Voigt. Not that Joe is perfect. The senator’s support for anti-abortion Supreme Court nominees like Sam Alito (he ended up voting against Alito’s confirmation but cast a crucial vote to prevent a filibuster) and especially his pro-Iraq war stance had even his supporters frowning Friday evening. “But he’s a straight shooter,” said Voigt. “I may be more liberal, but I know I don’t represent the whole party.”

“There’s room for disagreement, but there’s still a lot of room for common ground,” was how DeStefano’s chief of staff, Karen DuBois-Walton, explained her Joe-vote. She voted in Alderman Joe Jolly’s stead: The late decision to hold the convention over two days instead of one meant that a lot of the delegates were missing Friday. Before the convention, Susie Voigt was busy tapping unsuspecting spouses, friends, and on-hand staffers to vote as proxies. “I really had a very different delegation tonight” than expected, she said.

Fifty-five other delegates seemed to agree: How could we dump our steady, our senior democrat, our hometown Joe, for an unknown upstart?

Near wafflers like DeStefano Deputy Chief of Staff Pierette Silverman, upset by Lieberman’s lack of pro-choice resolve, were pulled back by the weight of his seniority. “At least with him we’re at the table.”

True fence-sitters like State Rep. Toni Walker were worried a divided vote would send signals of a local party in crisis. “I’m unhappy with Lieberman’s commitment to this war that’s taking money away from our very important community programs.” She was unhappy enough to be undecided one hour before the convention started. She planned to put out some more feelers about her pro-Ned leanings. “I just want to make sure not to jeopardize how people view the city.” Someone must have said something: Walker, too, went for Joe.

Other supporters sounded only the notes of hometown allegiance to the Lieberman, measured fondly in years known, neighborhood experiences shared.

“Joe Lieberman is indirectly related to me,” joked delegate co-chair John Cox (pictured here conferring with State Rep. Toni Walker in the DeStefano tent). “His sister was married to my cousin’s wife.” Cox said he wasn’t happy with some of Lieberman’s decisions, but he wasn’t going to quit him. “That would be like kicking a relative out the door. You can’t do that.”

“I’ve been to his house,” said Jim DeStefano, one of the mayor’s two sons. “He’s like part of our extended family.”

“I worked on his first campaign. My wife jogs with him!” said Brian McGrath, former chief of Traffic and Parking. “Lamont? I never even heard of Lamont.” No, “We don’t need him on the ballot. It’s a meaningless gesture. It’s not appropriate for a Don Quixote to run for office, when we have a Republican governor to face.”

The Break for Ned

Ned knew they’d say that. “New Haven is an uphill battle for me,” he said outside the Expo Center Friday, eyeing DeStefano who made it over to Lamont’s tent for a visit, and almost said hello.

Delegates Susan and Timothy Yolen said they did feel “subtle pressure” from the heavy majority to stick with Joe. “On a very casual and limited basis,” said Timothy. But they were unwavering in “exercising [their] conscience,” said Susan. “I’ve been to every protest since the war started. I would have felt hypocritical” voting for Lieberman.

Others in the “dirty dozen” like Bill Myerson and Rebecca Riofrio, labor leaders with the DeStefano-endorsing SEUI 1199, shook off any pressure either way in Friday’s vote. “Pro-DeStefano doesn’t mean pro-Lieberman to me!” said Riofrio, who said she was surprised by the Joe-vote in such an anti-war town. “We’re here to vote for DeStefano. No one ever asked us about Lieberman.”

The subtle pressure may have run the other way from pro-Lamonter Paul Wessel, the city’s director of traffic and parking. Wessel went for Ned — and so, unexpectedly, did his co-ward chair, Alex Marathas. For these guys, Democratic Party strength depends on debate. So it depends on Ned. “The primary is a way to engage Lieberman in debate. It’s healthy for the party,” said Wessel. “People need to vote their conscience. It’s time for us to figure out where our soul is.”

Marathas said he voted for Lamont as his duty as a representative. “I’ve been listening to my ward. I personally support Joe, but people want to have a debate.”

Late-game breaker for Ned Carl Goldfield, the city’s aldermanic president, said he came to his decision unpressured. “I had a hard time making up my mind, but I feel good about it. I wanted to send Joe Lieberman a message.”

The other New Haven votes for Ned came from LCI’s Rafael Ramos, Larry Ivy, Lamont campaign staffer Rick Melita, Larry Hughes, and mayor’s aide Jessie Phillips.

The dirty dozen would have been at least the dirty baker’s dozen if Migdalia Castro had been a delegate. As an alderwoman and a town committee ward co-chair she would have been, if the slate proposed by party vice-chair Norma Rodriguez-Reyes had been adopted, instead of Susie Voigt’s DeStefano slate. And she would have broken for Ned, she said Friday. “It would have been totally different,” said Castro.

The night’s big conversion story starsthe parks department’s Sabrina Bruno (pictured).

At 4:30 she said, “I have a few hours left to decide. I have two sons age 18 and 22 who are anti-Lieberman because of the war… It’s very hard for me.”

At 5:30 she said, “I’m still undecided. I’m very pro-DeStefano. I’ve been for Lieberman all of my Democratic life, and he’s done a lot of wonderful things. But with two sons in my house. … It’s just very hard.”

At 6:30 she said. “I told the others. They’re all surprised, but they understand.” Bruno had turned Ned.

How did she decide?

“I went up and asked him! I raised concerns about losing the seniority Joe has. He said as a successful businessman” he was confident he could deliver for Connecticut. “I asked him about the small voice. He said he would listen. He doeslisten.”

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Posted by: TrueBlueCT | May 20, 2006 2:09 PM

Excellent piece of community reporting. Thank You!

Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | May 21, 2006 11:02 PM

To all who vote for joe lieberman I will be mailing you the marbles that you seem to have lost
How can you sit there when the body count is climbing. how many of you have children in this
corporate american.joe lieberman is nothing but a dixiecrat and a carpetbagger water boy for the bush camp.

Posted by: Wrench of democracy in the gears of NHDTC | May 23, 2006 12:53 AM

Great Reporting! Thanks so much. I am disappointed. Not in the campaign. In the Joementum names named above.

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