In victory, DeStefano sounds conciliatory tone

The day after Mayor John DeStefano Jr. won his fifth Democratic mayoral nomination in a landslide victory over state Sen. Martin Looney, New Haven’s Democratic leaders reacted to the large margin of victory and said they do not think the brutal campaign will preclude members of the party from working together in the future.

Wednesday, DeStefano sounded a conciliatory note, saying Democrats must come together for the November general election. DeStefano will be heavily favored against Republican Joel Schiavone ’58 in the heavily Democratic city.

Looney will continue to represent New Haven in the state Senate, meaning the former mayoral rivals will have to work together. DeStefano will also have to contend with a reconstituted Board of Aldermen that will include several Looney supporters.

While the campaign was the most hard-fought in a decade — DeStefano raised a record $452,000 — the election hardly provided the nail-biting finish many expected. The incumbent received 62 percent of votes cast, equaling his share in his 1999 victory over former alderman James Newton.

Many were surprised with the margin. Looney could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but his campaign manager, Jason Bartlett, blamed the defeat on “mischaracterizations” by DeStefano supporters, an unfair media and the effects of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks.

“The national tragedy certainly had an impact on voter turnout, specifically our new voters,” Bartlett said. “A group we went after aggressively was the Hispanic population, and they were really affected by the tragedy, with many family members in New York.”

DeStefano said he did not think the attacks had an effect on the outcome, adding that he was surprised with how easily he won.

“I guess I should have trusted my message and where the city is,” he said.

The weeks leading up to the election severely divided the city’s political establishment. Democratic Town Chairman Nick Balletto, manager of DeStefano’s previous campaigns, supported Looney. Both candidates backed challengers to incumbent aldermen who supported their opponent. There was name-calling, theft and even assault.

But DeStefano said he was confident he and Looney will have to be able to work together.

“When Marty and I talked last night, I told him I thought it was important for us to stand together up in Hartford,” he said. “I intend to stand with Martin, and I think that is his intention, too.”

State Rep. Cameron Staples, who endorsed his Hartford colleague, said business must go on.

“Obviously I was hoping that he would be successful, but the voters have spoken,” Staples said. “I’m sure all of us will put the race behind us and work together.”

DeStefano said he did not anticipate problems working with the new-look Board of Alderman, which will contain many new faces and many Looney supporters, but he did suggest his victory gives him a clear mandate to chart the city’s course.

“My intention is to work with them around an agenda that will improve opportunities for people around the city,” DeStefano said. “I will show up for that kind of agenda, and I hope they do too.”

Many aldermanic races were even more intense than they mayoral contest, as candidates backed by DeStefano and Looney squared off. But Ward 26 Alderman Lindy Gold, a DeStefano supporter who defeated Sergio Rodriguez Tuesday, said she expected relations on the board to improve.

“Frankly, it will be much more productive than it has in the past few months, when issues were clouded by the desire to create opposition, and everything was tainted and personalized,” Gold said.

But DeStefano-backed Ward 30 Alderman Portia Jenkins, who lost to Nathan Joyner, said with the way aldermen had been “stirring up trouble” prior to the election, she could not say if cooperation would prevail.

Gold and Jenkins said they expected Balletto to be replaced in spring elections, but DeStefano said that kind of talk should wait until after November.

Balletto could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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