As the mayor’s race entered a new phase, the Kermit Carolina campaign was ready with pages and pages of spreadsheets to hand out to 140 “street captains” assigned to pull in the 2,406 signatures their candidate will need to secure a place on the ballot.
That was the scene Wednesday afternoon in Carolina’s new Dixwell Avenue campaign headquarters. After a pep talk and a prayer, Carolina deployed his troops for a two-week sprint to get on the ballot for the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.
Carolina is one of five Democratic candidates for mayor, and one of four who didn’t receive the party’s official endorsement at Tuesday evening’s Democratic Town Committee (DTC) convention. State Sen. Toni Harp got the nod from the party establishment, which means she has an automatic spot on the ballot.
In order to get their names on the ballot, Carolina and the other three candidates—Justin Elicker, Henry Fernandez, and Sundiata Keitazulu—have to collect signatures from 2,406 registered Democrats, or 5 percent of all of New Haven’s registered Democrats. Keitazulu isn’t sure he will seek to collect all those signatures (or seek to collect just 155 to appear on the general-election ballot instead). The others, meanwhile, started racing Wednesday to meet a 4 p.m. Aug. 7 deadline.
A 4 p.m. Wednesday, volunteers inside Carolina’s new color-coordinated campaign HQ slapped stickers on brand new clipboards as coordinator Bethany Watkins (at right in photo) collated spreadsheet packets. Each packet was for a different “street captain” and contained a list of registered Democrats in his or her ward, plus a map with a highlighted route for the captain to walk, in search of signatures.
“We’ve been getting ready for this for a long time,” Watkins said.
Lori Frazier, who lives nearby on Orchard Place, came in and collected her clipboard. She said she’s known Carolina a long time, from the neighborhood. “He was always a very nice young man.”
At 4:30 p.m., volunteers gathered in a circle and Carolina began speaking. He acknowledged that Harp won the town committee endorsement Tuesday night. “We’re fine with that. That’s no problem,” he said. The endorsement means only that 60 people “controlled by special interests” chose their candidate.
“Our job is to take it to the voters,” he said. “We’re done with machine politics. We want a government that listens to the people.”
Carolina said he is looking to “double, if not triple” the number of necessary signatures.
After volunteers held hands in a prayer, Frazier headed out the back door to start signing people up. She got her first signature at the home of the Carolina volunteer who was supposed to have joined her, but wasn’t feeling up to going door to door.
Then came a dry spell. People in the neighborhood either weren’t home yet or didn’t want to sign. One woman said she was “looking at Toni Harp’s views.” Another said she wanted time to think about it. Frazier promised to come back.
Frazier ended up having more luck collecting signatures by standing still rather than knocking on doors. Standing outside 23 Orchard Pl., she ran into her daughter, Shanice Johnson, who signed.
“Now you’ve got two signatures,” Johnson said.
“I’m about to have three,” Frazier said, and put her own name down.
Then up came Jesse Hardy (at right in top photo), who was returning from Carolina headquarters himself. He signed, although he said he’d probably end up voting for his cousin Sundiata Keitazulu, and he had a Harp sign in his front lawn. “I’m a supporter,” he explained. “I support Kerm. I support Harp. I support Ferguson? Fernandez.”
Paris Dickey (at center in top photo) passed by and signed. Then Marie Staton came home to 23 Orchard Pl. She signed, too, making six signatures for Frazier. Only 2,400 left to go.
At noon Wednesday, Elicker’s team was set up on Chapel Street downtown, hitting up passersby at the corner of Chapel and High streets.
“Excuse me, are you registered to vote in New Haven?” clipboard-wielding volunteer Max Bloom (at left in photo) asked everyone who walked past.
Elicker campaign manager Kyle Buda had two teams of three posted at downtown intersections. He said he planned to send teams in the evening to East Rock and Westville, strongholds of Elicker support.
Alexandra Taylor-Mendez (at left in photo) was headed back to work when she was stopped by Elicker volunteer Hannah Lifset to sign the petition.
“I’ve heard him speak,” Taylor Mendez of Elicker. She said she’s still deciding between Fernandez and Elicker for mayor. “I may not vote for him, but I believe he should have a chance” to be on the ballot.
Over at the Casa Otonal senior housing complex on Sylvan Avenue, Fernandez and his wife Kica Matos were finishing up lunch with complex director Linda Kantor. Afterward, Fernandez headed into the kitchen and collected his first signatures, from kitchen staffers Israel Vasquez (in photo, center) and Migdalia Rivera (right).
Matos translated for Fernandez, who doesn’t speak Spanish. Rivera asked if Hernandez is Puerto Rican.
“I’m Puerto Rican. He’s American,” Matos said. “He looks more Puerto Rican than I do, right?”
Matos again translated for Fernandez when he headed to the dominoes table in the corner of the cafeteria, where four men were playing quinientos. Matos chatted with them about what towns they are from in Puerto Rico, then Fernandez asked for their support.
As Vicente Aguilar (at right in photo at the top of the story) signed the petition, Matos helped 81-year-old Candido Rodriguez (at left) to register to vote for the first time.
Afterward, Fernandez made a campaign pitch to about 30 Casa Otonal residents, who sat lined up in chairs in the cafeteria. Through Matos, he spoke about improving schools, cutting crime, creating more jobs and opportunities for young people, and providing services for senior citizens. He said Casa Otonal is a model of what Section 8 public housing for seniors could and should be like.
“You are a tremendous resource to our city,” Fernandez told the seniors. “My son is 8 years old. He is a proud Puerto Rican.” (“Un boricua muy orgulloso,” Matos translated.) “But he needs to learn from you all what it was to grow up on the island.”
Fernandez said his campaign will be knocking on doors throughout the city to collect signatures. “We feel very confident,” he said.