As Rosa DeLauro did a last-minute tarantella at Bella Vista, New Haven Democrats were working on their own moves to try to deliver the votes that could make the difference Tuesday in electing Connecticut’s next governor and senator.
DeLauro, who’s seeking an 11th term representing the Third U.S. Congressional District, joined a brigade of fellow Democrats at two dinner events in town on Monday, the eve of Election Day.
At the Bella Vista senior housing complex on Eastern Street, she hit the dance floor, warming up the room where voting will take place. And at a downtown church, she and fellow Democrats urged union members to work from “8 to 8” on Tuesday to provide a margin of victory in close races.
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At Bella Vista, about 150 residents gathered for plates of baked ziti, chicken parmesan, salad and mini-cupcakes. They heard speeches from nearly the entire Democratic slate, including Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, who’s running against Republican Linda McMahon for the open U.S. Senate seat; and Democrat Dan Malloy, who’s running in a dead-heat race with Republican Tom Foley for governor.
Blumenthal and especially Malloy are counting on a big turnout in Democrat-saturated cities like New Haven to counter a Republican mood sweeping voters this year.
After the meal, DeLauro locked arms with 79-year-old Luis Grimaldi (pictured here, and in video). Grimaldi said he has known DeLauro’s family for years—he used to wash the windows of her family’s Wooster Square pastry shop, Canestri’s, in exchange for a cream-filled pie. The two danced a traditional Italian dance called the tarantella.
Grimaldi came away with an autographed campaign flyer from DeLauro. (“I got my girlfriend’s autograph, Rosa!” he boasted.) DeLauro came away with a promise: Grimaldi vowed to hit the polls, which will be in the same room they were dancing in, at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Seated at the keyboard in front of a bingo screen, Vinnie Carr (pictured) crooned tunes from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. He said he’s been attending the annual pre-election event every year since the 1970s. He started as a “5-year-old” boy, playing the accordion.
DeLauro said she’s danced at the event for “many years.”
“It’s a tradition,” she said, still catching her breath from the dance floor. “I love this event, ‘cause we set the stage for Election Day.” DeLauro predicted the city would have “outstanding turnout” Tuesday.
Seniors at Bella Vista will be a key piece of the puzzle: “These folks get it. They understand the issues very, very well. It’s important, important to have them come out.”
Turnout Is Key
State Sen. Martin Looney, who’s being challenged this year by a Hamden Republican named Matthew Corcoran, co-sponsored the event along with DeLauro and New Haven State Rep. Bob Megna, who has no opposition in the 97th District.
Looney noted that Bella Vista, with over 1,400 apartments, is “one of the largest concentrations of seniors” in town. He said he hopes the event would energize the seniors in the room—and “create a buzz in the buildings about the election.”
With two tight races for Senate and governor Tuesday, “turnout is going to be key,” Looney said. “We need a strong turnout in the central cities and the first-ring suburbs, areas that are strongly Democratic.” He said Democrats need not just a majority, but a “strong plurality” in those spots.
Campaign operatives admit it will be hard to match the voter turnout from the last governor’s election in 2006, when Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. was running against Gov. M. Jodi Rell. That year, 25,538 New Haveners showed up to the polls.
The Democrats’ coordinated campaign, which is getting out the vote for the entire party slate, has made an extra push this year to reach early voters. The campaign sent out a mailing to everyone who voted absentee in 2008, according to former local party chairman Nick Balletto. The letters had a self-addressed stamp envelope with an absentee ballot application inside.
The effort paid off, he said: nearly 1,800 absentee ballots have been requested citywide, and over 1,370 have already been returned.
“These are very good numbers,” Balletto said.
A New “Best Friend”
To get the rest of the voters to the polls on Tuesday, Democrats are relying heavily on union ranks.
They made that clear at a 5:30 p.m. rally at the basement First and Summerfield United Methodist Church at 425 College St., which UNITE HERE rented for the occasion. Top-ticket Democrats addressed the crowd of cafeteria workers, firefighters, schoolteachers, and employees of Yale.
“You will be the margin of victory,” Blumenthal told the crowd, repeating a line he has used in several settings. About In the audience, about 110 people ate plates of vegetarian or meat lasagna, most of them wearing red UNITE HERE T-shirts.
“This is our opportunity,” said former Stamford Mayor Malloy, who’s trying to be the first Democrat in 24 years to win the governor’s seat. He urged the crowd to work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to deliver a victory. If cities turn out the vote, he argued, public opinion polls can be
“There is no way that Tom Foley is going to get as many votes in this town as Jodi Rell,” Malloy predicted. (Rell got 8,274, or 32 percent of the vote, in 2006.)
“Alls we have to do is get as many people to the polls, and we’ll have a larger plurality here,” he said. If that happens, “every model that every poll is using goes out the window,” because “we will have shown that the towns and the cities are gonna actually vote.”
To get there, Malloy said, “I just need you to work for every minute between now and eight o’clock tomorrow night.”
Tyisha Walker (pictured), who lives in the West River neighborhood, accepted the challenge. A 32-year-old cook’s helper at Yale’s Commons dining hall, she has been with Local 35 for 12 years, and serves as a union steward. Before this year, she knocked on doors for President Obama in Virginia and for Mayor Scott Jackson in Hamden. She plans to work 12 hours Tuesday with a member-to-member union operation based out of that church basement, which sits on the border of Yale’s campus.
Her task lay on the wall on one of many large paper charts. According to the charts, the two Yale unions have scheduled rides for 108 voters and have identified another 600 voters’ transportation plans: whether they’ll drive themselves, walk, or hitch a ride with a friend.
A dozen oversized sheets of paper list each voter’s name, address, phone, and their plan for making it to the polls. Each is assigned to a union member, who will make sure the person follows through. Walker pointed to the wall, where her nickname, Peaches, is scribbled next to 30 different voters.
Walker has written down what time each person intends to vote. If they say they’ll vote at a certain time, she’ll check the voter rolls to make sure that happened, then call their phones if not. If anyone needs a ride, she’ll pick them up in her Ford Explorer, which holds four passengers.
“I’m attached to all 30 of these people until the end of tomorrow night,” she said. “If they tell me they’re going to vote in the morning,” and they don’t do it, “I’m going to stay on them. I’m going to be their best friend until the end of Election Day.”