On the eve of Election Day, John DeStefano Jr.’s campaign team was trying to recreate the scene of the night before the candidate’s victory three months ago in the Democratic primary election for Connecticut governor — down to the same band, Rizzo’s Dilemma from Guilford High School. But the prospects for a DeStefano win in the general election could not get much bleaker.
Over 100 DeStefano supporters and staffers gathered near Bottega Lounge on Temple Street for Monday night’s last-minute rally, which featured short speeches from DeStefano and other Connecticut politicians. Optimism about the election results pervaded the evening despite a Nov. 1 Quinnipiac University poll that showed DeStefano trailing Republican incumbent Gov. M. Jodi Rell by 24 percent among likely voters.
DeStefano said in his speech that he hoped support from New Haven would put him over the top in the race.
“New Haven needs to help take this home,” DeStefano said. “It’s time for Connecticut to stand first again. We can do this. We can get this done.”
At the rally, outgoing Connecticut Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan said voter turnout will be key.
“It’s time for a change, and I know people feel that,” he said. “The question is whether they’ll get in and vote.”
About 125 of Rell’s supporters attended a rally in the incumbent’s hometown of Brookfield, Conn., on Monday night, Rell spokesperson Rich Harris said. He said Rell was planning to vote this morning and to do some light campaigning before watching the election returns.
“We never take anything for granted, but we’re certainly looking forward to a good day,” Harris said.
Some at the DeStefano rally said they had no doubts their candidate would win, poll results notwithstanding.
“Polls mean nothing,” said Peter Criscuolo, a member of DeStefano’s finance team. “Unions are our main support, and they’re going to make us win tomorrow.”
Others, while remaining positive, were more reserved.
“It’s too close to call,” Ward 27 Alderman Thomas Lehtonen said. “I think anything could happen, though I realize the polls read differently.”
New Haven resident Maureen Carney said she appreciates the work DeStefano had done for New Haven’s schools during his tenure as mayor and hopes he will have a chance to continue this work as governor. Before DeStefano was first elected mayor, Carney said, she and other parents had to fight every year for a larger education budget — a situation that dramatically changed after DeStefano was elected mayor in 1993.
“The first year he became mayor, all the schools were fully funded,” she said. “There were no more fights [for funding].”
DeStefano often refers to public school reform as one of his greatest accomplishments in his 12 years as mayor — in addition to downtown revitalization, the emergence of the local biotech sector and improvements in relations with Yale.
But DeStefano’s critics have accused him of unethical behavior — pointing to his solicitation of gubernatorial campaign funds from city contractors — and of being unresponsive to community members about major city initiatives such as the Gateway Project, which aims to revitalize downtown.
Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Mary Glassman and Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal expressed confidence in DeStefano’s chances.
“I’m excited for what Connecticut is going to do tomorrow,” Glassman said. “Connecticut tomorrow is going to get the governor they deserve.”
Ward 1 voters can vote at the New Haven Public Library at 133 Elm St. today. Ward 22 voters can go to Edith Johnson Towers at 114 Bristol St. Polls close at 8 p.m.