In hot race, push to get out votes

Since returning to campus last week, Yale students have been bombarded with political signs, voter registration drives and cars and trucks blaring campaign messages over loudspeakers. Don’t expect it to subside for a couple more days.

As Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary approaches, supporters of Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and state Sen. Martin Looney are gearing up to get out the vote in the most competitive mayoral election in a decade.

DeStefano campaign manager Julio Gonzalez ’99 said his campaign would call voters, arrange transportation to the voting sites and poll voters throughout the city.

His counterpart in the Looney campaign, Jason Bartlett, said his staff would continue canvassing door-to-door and by phone, circulate pamphlets to remind people to vote and dispatch a fleet of vans and cars from Looney’s four campaign headquarters.

Organization in the field may play a key part in an election that has already piqued the interest of many New Haven residents, as record numbers of voters participate in the election by absentee ballot.

Deputy City Clerk Sally Brown said that as of Friday, 1,837 absentee ballots had been issued and 1,150 had been returned. In order to count, the city clerk needs to receive the absentee ballots by Tuesday.

The DeStefano campaign has focused heavily on getting voters to request and return absentee ballots, a move met with criticism from Bartlett.

“They were targeting and going after and trying to get people to vote by absentee who had never voted before and trying to bank their vote, and that is not what the absentee process is about,” Bartlett said. He added he thought it was inappropriate for campaign workers to go to households after ballots were received.

Gonzalez, however, defended the strategy as productive and worthwhile, and said Bartlett’s comments were designed to cover up what he said was Looney’s disadvantage in field organization.

Bartlett said he was worried about the potential abuse of the absentee system, and Brown said there was the possibility of fraud.

“There’s no safeguard we have,” Brown said. “You can apply for an absentee under someone else’s name, there’s nothing we can do.”

But Gonzalez said he wasn’t concerned with that possibility.

“In this election, everybody’s talking to every voter,” he said. “If there was massive fraud, people would have heard about it.”

Throughout recent weeks, both campaigns were also registering new voters and urging unaffiliated voters to become Democrats.

Susan Ferrucci, New Haven’s Democratic registrar of voters, said that 36,500 Democrats had registered as of Friday. Gonzalez and Bartlett both predicted between 15,000 and 17,000 of those voters would turn out Tuesday. That type of turnout would be below the high level of 1989, when nearly 30,000 voters selected John Daniels over DeStefano, but would be much higher than in the past three election cycles.

The DeStefano campaign focused its attention on Fair Haven, where it is backing challengers to three incumbent aldermen, Gonzalez said. He added that campaign volunteers and staff initially signed up as many voters as possible and later went back to urge them to vote for the mayor.

Bartlett said his campaign concentrated on areas where it expected high numbers of Looney backers, such as the East Shore and Westville neighborhoods.

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