Donald Trump wasn’t physically present at the Bella Vista senior complex in the Heights on Sunday night.
But at an annual New Haven pre-election ritual, the Republican president was at the center of nearly every pitch made by a dozen Democratic candidates seeking local, state, and national offices.
Their primary message: a vote for a Democrat running for any office is a vote against Trump, his allies, and his policies.
“We need to vote,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “We can’t wake up next Wednesday and say we’ve elected a Trump look-alike, a Trump surrogate, a Trump friend.”
On Sunday night, 12 Connecticut Democratic politicians who will be on the ballot this Tuesday met up with around 50 Bella Vista residents for a get-out-the-vote rally in the common room of the complex’s Building D.
Bella Vista is home to around 3,000 residents, mostly low-income seniors and people with disabilities, and has long been a required visit for any local, state, or national Democrat looking to turn out New Haven’s Democratic Party vote. New Haven and statewide candidates come here often, including one or two nights before every election.
On Sunday night nearly every candidate striving to represent New Haven in some elected office next year descended on Bella Vista to make closing arguments for their respective campaigns.
Greeted with smiles, hugs, handshakes, and affectionate nicknames, the candidates plied the seniors with campaign swag and boxes upon boxes of pizza, and encouraged them to use their collective democratic voice on Tuesday to rebuke Trump and his party.
The Democratic candidates currently running for office who showed up Sunday night included gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, attorney general candidate William Tong, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Probate Judge Clifton Graves Jr., New Haven State Sens. Martin Looney and Gary Winfield, and New Haven State Reps. Al Paolillo, Jr., Robyn Porter, and Roland Lemar.
Current and former Democratic politicians who are not on the ballot this year but who nevertheless joined the party included Blumenthal, Mayor Toni Harp, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, and former East Rock Alder and former independent mayoral candidate Justin Elicker.
Harp set the tone for the hour-plus slate of candidate stump speeches by beseeching Bella Vista residents not to take their right to vote for granted, particularly at a time when Republican politicians throughout the country are working to limit that right.
“Our sense of democracy is challenged like never before,” Harp said. “And we’ve got to let the people in Washington, the people in Hartford, know our minds.”
Bysiewicz, a former Middletown state representative and a former secretary of the state, described her ticket with Lamont as focused on creating jobs, protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and supporting pay equity for women.
“This election is more than just an election,” she said. “It’s an emergency. It’s a matter of life and death. People need healthcare. People need prosperity. People need their rights protected.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Joe Markley, she argued, will work against all three of those values.
She pointed out that Markley was the one member of the state Senate to vote against the state legislature’s recently passed pay equity law. She said that two companies where Stefanowski has served as a leader, General Electric and UBS, have largely moved their workforces out of Connecticut. And she said that Stefanowski and Markley, like the president, are strongly opposed to protecting ACA, better known as Obamacare.
“There couldn’t be a starker choice,” she said about deciding between the Democratic and Republican candidates vying to be the next leaders of the state.
Tong similarly took a national perspective on his attorney general race against Republican Susan Hatfield.
He said that when he walked into the building’s common room, a resident took him by the hand, looked him in the eye, and said, “You need to stand up to him.”
“We all know who ‘him’ is,” Tong said. “He’s the ‘him’ down in Washington right now.”
He recalled how a Florida Trump supporter recently sent a slew of homemade pipe bombs to prominent national Democrats and Trump critics. He spoke of how an anti-Semitic domestic terrorist shot and killed 11 congregants of a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the connection between Trump’s violent and anti-immigrant rhetoric and actual violence committed against religious and ethnic minorities.
He spoke of how President Trump has proposed to denaturalize U.S. citizens who are immigrants. The president has also proposed revoking birthright citizenship for U.S. citizens who are children of immigrants.
“If you’re a woman,” he said. “If you’re an immigrant, if you depend on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, if you live in the city of New Haven, the president of the United States has declared war on you and your family. And on Tuesday, we’re gonna do something about it.”
Tying together the economic agendas of Stefanowski and Trump, Murphy said that the Republican Party at both the state and the national levels is bent on enriching the wealthy elite at the expense of the working and middle classes.
Stefanowski has run a single-issue campaign focused on cutting taxes, particularly the state income tax, which makes up nearly half of the state’s annual budget and which, if phased out entirely, would by some estimates give a $1.3 billion break to the state’s 400 richest families. In late 2017, Trump ushered through Congress a $1.5 trillion tax cut that largely benefited America’s wealthiest earners.
Murphy said that the Stefanowski and Trump administrations will pay for their tax cuts by taking money out of Social Security, Medicare, and other social service programs.
“That’s just not the American I believe in,” he said.
Blumenthal, who is not on the ballot this year, said that Lamont represents “basic fairness,” while Trump and Stefanowski want to transfer wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest Americans.
“Do you remember how we felt that Wednesday morning two years ago,” he said, “waking up to the results of that election? It was like a gut punch. It happened because people din’t vote.”
Rounding out the hour, Lamont, who arrived late after getting stuck in traffic traveling to New Haven from a Hartford campaign event, said that his and Bysiewicz’s ticket represent a defense of Obamacare, the state renters’ rebate program for seniors, lower property taxes, and fair income taxes on the wealthy.
“For the next four years, I’m going to fight for each and every one of you,” he said.
After the candidates had finished their pitches, Bella Vista resident Simon Rosenthal said his support for Lamont dates back to 2006, when the Greenwich businessman ran a campaign explicitly against the Iraq War and against the privatization of Social Security. His longstanding admiration for the candidate, he said, is more than enough to let Lamont win his vote this year in his bid to become governor.
Bella Vista resident Gayle Naranjo had blunter explanation of her support for Lamont.
“So long as he’s not a Republican,” she said, “I’ll vote for him.”
And Bella Vista resident Anita Walters, who expressed skepticism during a prior campaign stop about Lamont’s understanding of issues that most affect seniors, said that she is looking forward to voting for Bysiewicz and Merrill, and will somewhat grudgingly vote for Lamont as the “lesser of two evils.”
A fellow Bella Vista resident standing nearby told Walters that she is having trouble deciding who to vote for on Tuesday.
Walters gave her a formula that she finds helpful in clarifying her support for Lamont.
“Ned wants to give us our rebate checks,” she said. “The other one wants to take them away.”
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch the full slate of candidate pitches at Bella Vista on Sunday night.