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Greater New Haven Central Labor Council President Bob Proto, who also leads the Local 35 union, said he will begin a concerted campaign next week to coordinate labor support for Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s gubernatorial bid this fall.

As Yale’s primary political organizer for UNITE HERE, the labor umbrella that represents clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers at the University through Locals 34 and 35, Proto said he plans to assess DeStefano’s popularity among Connecticut unions and begin organizing grassroots campaign efforts. Several DeStefano supporters said the unions’ cooperation will be a major advantage in his fight for the Democratic nomination, but campaign officials for Dannel Malloy, the mayor of Stamford and DeStefano’s only Democratic competitor at this point, said they are skeptical that labor support can carry DeStefano in the primary election.

UNITE HERE Locals 34 and 35 endorsed DeStefano in January and will now commence a more formal effort to woo uncommitted unions and collaborate on voter registration and turnout drives, Proto said.

“When we endorse someone, it’s not a paper endorsement,” he said. “I’m going to be working to get all the key unions representing thousands of workers in the state to participate in the DeStefano campaign.”

Proto said he plans to contact leaders for statewide organizations such as the Food and Commercial, Teamsters and Building Trades unions. Some of these groups, such as Building Trades, have already endorsed DeStefano at the state level, while others have supported him officially at only local levels, or not at all.

Proto will offer a special familiarity with DeStefano as he solicits endorsements, said David Moakley, second vice president of the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council.

“Mr. Proto has developed a very effective campaign organization within his own union,” Mokley said. “It’s going to take a lot of that type of effort from the entire AFL-CIO to make sure John DeStefano gets elected.”

But Chris Cooney, the campaign manager for Malloy, said he does not think Proto’s efforts will pose a serious threat.

“We would have expected [DeStefano's union supporters] to do that, probably earlier than this and on a broader scale,” Cooney said. “We’re thrilled with the support we already do have, and we’ve very optimistic that we’re going to be able to garner some more.”

The distribution of labor endorsements will not become clear until the end of March, Cooney said. Malloy secured endorsements from Connecticut House Speaker James Amann and former New Haven Mayor John Daniels last month.

So far, DeStefano leads Malloy in union endorsements based on his record of crisis management as mayor of the Elm City, DeStefano campaign director Shonu Gandhi ’03 said.

“They really singled out the mayor’s record of accomplishment as unique because the challenges that he’s faced and overcome in New Haven, the strategies of coalition building he’s employed,” Gandhi said.

Proto said DeStefano has built a stronger union base because of his role as mediator in past disputes, especially contract strikes at Yale. UNITE HERE has supported DeStefano is his past mayoral campaigns.

“I think he’s going to get much more support from labor than Malloy,” Proto said. “With the last two contracts, he played an important role in getting both parties together.”

While several other union leaders agreed that DeStefano surpasses Malloy in general labor support, some said both candidates will have trouble securing statewide endorsements. The president of Carpenters Local 210, Glenn Marshall, who endorsed Malloy at his local level, said his union will likely not commit to either candidate as a Connecticut body, because area unions have varying loyalties. The casualty of the struggle will be the Democratic Party, Marshall said.

“What ends up happening is they basically beat each other up and use a lot of resources,” Marshall said. “When it comes time to run in the general election, Republicans have a little bit of an edge because they don’t have to worry about the primary first.”

Malloy and DeStefano will face off in an August primary. The winner is expected to face Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell in November’s general election.

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