Democracy Goes Live

Thomas MacMillan PhotosFresh from handing in signatures to join a crowded primary ballot, four mayoral candidates will debate incumbent John DeStefano as well as each other—and you’re invited to join the conversation.

Clifton Graves, Jeffrey Kerekes, Robert Lee, and Anthony Dawson all claim to have collected more than the 2,092 signatures of registered Democratic voters needed to land a place on the Sept. 13 Democratic Party primary ballot. Mayor John DeStefano’s name is on that ballot too because he received the endorsement of the Democratic Town Committee in his quest for a record-breaking 10th two-year term.

This year is shaping up as the most hotly contested mayor’s race in a decade, supplemented by some of the most contested aldermanic races in just as long.

The Registrar of Voters office must still certify that the candidates collected enough legitimate signatures to make the ballot. Democratic Registrar Sharon Ferrucci predicted the process would be completed by the middle of next week.

In the meantime, all five candidates will participate in the campaign’s first formal debate Thursday night in the Metropolitan Business Academy cafeteria at 115 Water St. The debate, sponsored by La Voz Hispana and the New Haven Independent, is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

The candidates will answer questions posed by reporters from La Voz, the Independent, the New Haven Register, WNPR, and One World. NBC30 will live-stream the debate; you can watch it on the Independent, NBC and WNPR “Your Public Media” websites. The Register also plans to live-stream the debate on its site.

Meanwhile, a second panel of journalists will be present at the debate leading a live-blog discussion of the event in real time. People in the audience or watching the debate at home can join that live discussion at the Independent, NBC, WNPR, and Register websites.

Ditto Lee

The candidates all handed in last-minute petitions just under the 4 p.m. deadline Wednesday in the registrar of voters office. They all said they got more than the required number of signatures; those claims can’t be verified until the registrars finish their days of checking and counting.

Robert Lee, for instance, dropped off what he said were 2,400 signatures collected by just eight campaign workers earlier in the day. He returns later with a batch that he claimed would bring the total to around 2,700. “I’m going as high as I can go,” he said. “Johnny’s not going to make it easy for us. You know that.”

It wasn’t immediately clear that all the signatures on the 115 pages he submitted at 1:30 p.m. would pass the test. Ferrucci (at left in photo above) pointed out a column on ditto marks where the signers should have printed their names. Lee (at right) shrugged it off.

“You’re going to see all kinds of crazy stuff in there,” he said.

Some of the writing is unintelligible because some of the seniors he petitioned couldn’t hold a pen well, Lee said. And other seniors didn’t want to put down their ages, he said. He said he would be bringing in 300 more signatures before the 4 p.m. deadline, in order to have a big buffer against potential disqualifications.

Ferrucci said the ditto marks wouldn’t automatically disqualify those signatures. If the name is readable in the signature line, and it matches the age, that might make a signature valid, she said.

Paul Bass PhotoFerrucci (pictured) has called in reinforcements to supplement her office’s six staffers in checking the petitions. She had eight people total working on Wednesday. She said she expects to have 10 on Thursday and more on the weekend. “I’m calling everyone in,” she said after the clock struck 4 and the deadline for submitting petitions passed.

In the early counting she found that her office was certifying about 13 of every 20 signatures submitted, she said. (A page contains up to 20 signatures.)

A festive air filled the crowded registrar’s office on the second floor of 200 Orange St. as candidates handed in their last batches in the final moments Thursday.

Tony Dawson said he ended up handing in around 2,700 signatures. He was confident that his campaign took care to get valid names. “I didn’t go to supermarkets,” but rather went door to door with lists of registered voters, he said.

Clifton Graves claimed that his final haul brought his total of signatures to around 3,000.

The biggest haul, according to candidates’ unofficial self-reported numbers, was Kerekes’. He said he turned in around 3,500 signatures. “That’s almost half the number of people who voted for the mayor in the last election,” he noted, referring to the 2009 general election, in which 10,399 voters cast votes, 7,715 of them for DeStefano.

Click here for a story about a last-minute scramble among some aldermanic candidates to qualify for both the Democratic primary and the general election.


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posted by: anon on August 10, 2011  2:34pm

Whether the city validates your signatures or not, congratulations on the efforts everyone displayed over the past few weeks.  I was approached by several petitioners, all of them much younger than any of the candidates running for office.  Seeing democracy at work gives one hope for the future of our state.

posted by: Cedarhillresident on August 10, 2011  2:47pm

posted by: Anderson Scooper on August 10, 2011  3:15pm

My guess is that Ferrucci ultimately takes a liberal approach to accepting signatures, as the Mayor will benefit greatly from a crowded field, and a dispersed anti-DeStefano vote.

Can the NHI tell us how many of the Dem challengers turned in petitions for November? Was it just Kerekes? Or will we see another 4-5 person field?

Finally, you have to wonder if Team Kerekes might challenge the validity of other candidates’ signatures….

posted by: Elaine Braffman on August 10, 2011  5:13pm

All of this is very exciting. What an outfield of players we have. Gotta give everyone alot of credit for the effort that is being put in to qualify and go onto the primary election! So many hard workers helping the candidate of their choice. Wonderful to see democracy in action. New Haven is coming alive again with hope! So many residents and taxpayers have felt stifled for so long. This is a thunderstorm of incredible magnitude.

posted by: Bill Saunders on August 10, 2011  5:27pm

To think, if you add all those signature up, that’s about as many people as actually voted for King John in 2009.

posted by: cedarhillresident on August 10, 2011  6:38pm

Elaine you took the words out of my mouth!! It is exciting! We are a witness to hope! What a wonderful thing! I echo your words…everyone that did door knocking every, candidate that has but their lives on hold all deserve a hand…and all that signed the petitions are now a part of New Haven history in the making!! Bravo to the citizens of New Haven!

posted by: OMG on August 10, 2011  6:39pm

I can’t believe it. Has the world ended? Our mayor forever, John D Stefano Jr, will join in a debate with the other 4 candidates. How can this be? We have the gubernatorial candidate who was once so strong one of his opponent had to portray him in a blue dress, yet now he has to join a debate to get noticed. Is real democracy breaking out in New Haven? I doubt it. MBA is so near to Wooster Street I reckon it will be slices all round. Can’t beat a freebie to curry favor with the voters. They are so over taxed a free slice is a real treat.

posted by: Observer on August 10, 2011  9:27pm

Ferrucci says she had to call in reinforcements????  I wonder who those folks are?

posted by: K on August 10, 2011  10:54pm

It’s time for Graves, Dawson, and Lee to pull out.  Kerekes is the only one that has real momentum and can beat Johnny boy.  I’d hate to see the vote split and have DeStefano win again!

posted by: Bill Saunders on August 11, 2011  2:10am

I have one question for the debate that I hope will be answered.

Why is the new Metropolitan Business Academy the ugliest piece of Architecture in New Haven,  & how did the stewards or our great city let this travesty happen on the taxpayer dime?

posted by: MBA on August 11, 2011  7:32am

It is interesting that they are going to hold it at the MBA.  What was the resolution of the school being built on the neighboring property?

posted by: Cedarhillresident on August 11, 2011  8:26am

Ha… I am in total agreement with Bill Saunders last comment! :) But I have to say the yellow rubic cube on Park and frontage is a close second!

posted by: robn on August 11, 2011  9:31am


The MBA has got a lot of competition.

posted by: FairHavenRes on August 11, 2011  10:17am

Please, please, PLEASE can we consolidate the Democratic candidates??!  Otherwise Destefano is just going to win again.  Seriously guys, bow out and let the strongest candidate run!

posted by: Noteworthy on August 11, 2011  10:53am

I guess this answers the question for Martin Looney about “organizational capacity.” The final gross number of petitions filed by Jeffrey is 3,685 and they came from a very broad spectrum from all segments of New Haven. Democrats wholeheartedly embraced his message of a brighter future with jobs and education vs. stagnation and despair and another two years of it under the current administration.

Because of the Jeffrey campaign’s intensive scrutiny and own internal verification process, it is expected the final certified number will come in around 2,500 - well above the minimum threshold. This would speak to organizational effectiveness too. This also shows strength of character and leadership that when presented with an unfair, biased and tilted playing field, through persistence and hard work, long hours and solid strategic decisions, one can prevail with the help of a lot of friends and volunteers. The battle continues. Join the cause for a better tomorrow.

P.S. Somehow I’m missing all the dissers from the other day.

posted by: streever on August 11, 2011  11:07am

After the primary, we’ll know who the strongest candidate is! and frankly, I think any of these candidates would do well in a general election. I imagine a lot of unaffiliated voters, independents, green party, and republicans are tired of the current Mayor and will gladly support an “Independent Democrat” in the general.

I personally think Kerekes is the best candidate of them all—he has been the most active in City politics in the past few years, demonstrating a nuanced and balanced view of the budget and the city finances that I haven’t heard from any other candidate.

He is the only candidate to accrue any votes in the DTC endorsement, a process rife with coercion.

He generated 50% more signatures than any other candidate

He was the first candidate to qualify for public financing.

With all that said, I respect the other candidates and appreciate the choices they offer New Haven residents. I’m glad they are running. I want to see everyone run in the primary—this is how democracy works.

Yes it is messy, yes, your guy sometimes loses (Gore vs Bush). When I had my Ward Committee vote to endorse Mayor I had no idea which way it was going to go. It could have gone a way I really didn’t want (DeStefano). But, I believe in the process of letting representatives and citizens make decisions free of coercion.

I was prepared to accept their vote, even if I didn’t like it. I’m prepared to accept the outcome of an election, even if I don’t like it even if it is “spoiled”. I sincerely hope that the potential Mayoral candidates will unite behind the strongest challenger post-primary, but if they choose not to, that is their right. It will be up to us as citizens to cast our votes in a meaningful way.

posted by: Graves Supporter on August 11, 2011  11:59am

Congrats to all the petitioning candidates and their supporters. It bears noting that claiming a certain number of excess signatures is meaningless, when the qualifying number is 2100. If any candidate were trying to get 5,000 signatures I imagine that would have been possible —but the magic number is 2092 verified registered voters. Anyone who made that number is welcome to the race that counts, the Democratic Primary. (Likewise, claiming to be the only candidate to get votes in the DTC, that was boycotted by all the other challengers, is not very meaningful either.) Good Luck on Sept. 13th.

posted by: Guy Noir on August 11, 2011  12:33pm

There is a legion of residents who have been hoping and praying for a Jeffery Kerekes,since Sen. Looney was defeated 10 years ago.

He has ignited a passion for authentic change in his advocacy of transparancy in government, and restoring integrity to City Hall,a quality incompatible with this endless administration.

posted by: Bri guy on August 11, 2011  11:21pm

All I have to say is. We are in trouble. These guys look like clowns. I’m going to tell you readers on the independent what George bush told me when he left office ” f#ck ya I’m Outta here ”

posted by: streever on August 12, 2011  8:45am

Graves Supporter:
It isn’t meaningless, and I’m wondering why you need to run down the efforts of others? Like I said, I respect and applaud all the challengers and am glad they are running. I listed specific reasons why I think Kerekes will do better in the primary, but I’m not trying to criticize anyone else.

posted by: Chrisitne Josie on August 12, 2011  9:38am

Elaine Braffman said it best “All of this is very exciting. What an outfield of players we have. Gotta give everyone alot of credit for the effort that is being put in to qualify and go onto the primary election! So many hard workers helping the candidate of their choice. Wonderful to see democracy in action. New Haven is coming alive again with hope! So many residents and taxpayers have felt stifled for so long. This is a thunderstorm of incredible magnitude.” DEMOCRACY AT ITS BEST