Tiny Hill Vote Might Put “Lou Who?” Over Top
by Thomas MacMillan | Aug 15, 2012 9:07 am
Posted to: The Hill, Campaign 2012
Thanks to recent redistricting, Hill Democrats like Freddie Amaker had never heard of the man who now represents a tiny sliver of their neighborhood in Hartford. But they may nonetheless have ended up putting the West Havener over the top in his bid for another term in office.
That was the temporary outcome of perhaps the most bizarre primary election Tuesday night—made especially bizarre by some creative gerrymandering.
The occasion was a primary for the Democratic nomination for the 116th state General Assembly district seat. State Rep. Lou Esposito has represented that district for 20 years. He lives and works in West Haven. He and his district had nothing to do with New Haven.
Until state legislators started drawing new voting districts this year. They put a sliver of New Haven Hill’s neighborhood into that district, a sliver smaller than even a New Haven aldermanic ward. West Haven still covers most of the state district. In the statewide redistricting this year, Esposito’s new slice of the Hill includes streets like Ann, West, and Bond, along with parts of Columbus and Congress avenues.
Esposito was “Lou Who?” to voters on those streets Tuesday—even to those who think they may have voted for him.
A grand total of 452 registered Democrats from the Hill are now eligible to vote in that West Haven district. A grand total of 15 of them cast votes in Tuesday’s primary, when Esposito faced a strong challenge from David Forsyth.
And yet ... that might have made the difference.
The Hill might have kept Esposito in office.
After votes were counted Tuesday night, state Rep. Esposito was ahead of his challenger by the razor thin margin of only 10 votes. If that number remains unchanged by a likely recount, it will be the Hill that provided the margin.
Twelve of Esposito’s 547 votes came from the Hill Tuesday; the rest came from West Haven. Challenger Forsyth captured 537 votes, including three from New Haven.
Disempowering A Neighborhood
On Tuesday, a day when Esposito (pictured) faced off against Forsyth, a West Haven city councilman, a quick tour of the New Haven section of the 116th found no one who knew either candidate’s name.
Redistricting may have created a fragmentation of the neighborhood’s voting power, and confusion among its voters, with the end result that only a handful of voters even bothered to cast a vote. But despite those challenges, the Hill may emerge as the election’s kingmaker. Whether that’s a fluke, and will be true for this election year only, remains to be seen.
New Haven state Rep. Juan Candelaria, who represented the neighborhood until last year’s redistricting, said it’s not good for part of the Hill to be lumped in with West Haven.
“Lou is an excellent representative, but I think it’s a disservice—it’s a disconnect [for these voters] being part of the Hill but voting with West Haven,” Candelaria said. He said he had come across a lot of upset and confused voters Tuesday. He said he walked the neighborhood with Esposito last Friday.
Amaker, who’s 72 and has lived on Ann Street since 1979, answered her door Tuesday afternoon to say she hadn’t voted yet. Subjected to a pop quiz on who her state rep is, Amaker had a couple of guesses: Rosa DeLauro? Toni Harp?
“I forget,” she said. Told the correct answer, she said, “Lou Esposito? Oh, I know him from back in the day.”
As it turned out, she was thinking of a different Esposito. “No, I don’t know him,” she said
“Who’s that?” her neighbor Cynthia Cotten asked, when informed the identity of her new district’s state representative. “I haven’t heard anything about him. ... How you going to represent people when they don’t even know what’s going on with you?”
“I Just Took A Guess”
Both Cotten and Amaker said they didn’t know whom they would vote for when they hit the polls that evening. Another voter, a man who was trimming his lawn wearing an “I voted” sticker on his Obama/MLK T-shirt, wasn’t sure whom he had voted for. He said he didn’t recognize either of the names.
“I just took a guess,” he said.
Informed that his neighborhood was part of West Haven’s 116th district, the man said, “That’s astounding to me.”
“I don’t even know who’s representing who anymore.”
Over at the Hill’s polling place, Truman School, the turnout was anemic. Head moderator Maritza Gant said only 95 voters had come in as of 5 p.m.
Luz Colville, assistant registrar for the 116th, said people had been confused about who their representative is. “We’ve had to explain that a lot. Lou Esposito was here earlier. and no one knew who he was.”
“It’s like nobody knows,” Gant said. “They just don’t know, basically, is what it comes down to.”
Hill Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks (pictured) said she learned only two or three weeks ago that Esposito now represents part of her ward. She said she advised him to go door-to-door with state Rep. Candelaria. “I told him, ‘Juan needs to go out with you. These people support Juan. They think Juan is their representative.’
“People will be shocked Juan is not their state rep anymore,” Jackson-Brooks said. “I was shocked.”
No one said anything to her about the situation before two or three weeks ago, she said. “I would have thought a little more thought and more communication would have been healthy.”
Reached by phone, Esposito confirmed that he did walk the Hill with Candelaria.
“I treat all of my areas with importance,” he said. “We did try to increase turnout this afternoon.”
“A 15-vote turnout is horrendous,” Esposito said after the polls closed.
Esposito acknowledged that most people in the Hill still don’t know him. “No, because it’s the first year down there. ... I was just given the ward this year.” He said he plans to make it “part of his ritual” to visit voters in the Hill regularly.
On Kossuth Street, 58-year-old Willie Sanders (pictured) said someone had indeed stopped by last week, claiming to be his representative.
Was this the man? a reporter asked, showing Sanders a picture of Esposito.
“That’s him,” Sanders said. He was with another guy, a younger man, Sanders said.
That’s it, Sanders said.
Esposito “seemed like a decent guy. He seemed like he knows what he’s doing. We talked about roads and schools.”
“He’s like, ‘I’m the state rep,’” Sanders recalled. Sanders’ reply: “I never heard of you though!”
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I am always amazed at how many ways we slice and dice this tiny state into little bitty unmanageable peices. Not only does there seem to be no will at getting rid of the silos but we keep creating new ones. Or at least manipulating the old ones. At the end of the day the result is the people are confused.
posted by: streever on August 15, 2012 11:24am
Right on, RevKev—the new redistricting is an unimaginable mess on top of the old mess.