Green Party mayoral candidate Ralph Ferrucci strides down Dixwell Avenue, away from the Gothic spires of Yale and into one of New Haven’s more dilapidated neighborhoods. It is the Sunday night before elections, and Ferrucci means business.
“I mean this,” he says. “When I’m running for mayor, it’s for the win.”
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Ferrucci, a perennial third-party candidate in New Haven elections, is making his second bid for mayor in Tuesday’s election against Republican H. Richter Elser ’81 and Democratic incumbent John DeStefano Jr.
This past weekend, Ferrucci went door-to-door seeking the support of residents who do not normally vote and from those who might not have known that they have an alternative choice to DeStefano, who is overwhelmingly favored to win today’s election.
Ferrucci has focused his campaign on fighting police corruption, rebuilding New Haven community centers and discrediting DeStefano, but many students at Yale have expressed doubts about the Green Party hopeful’s promises — especially his insistence on pressuring the University to donate more money to New Haven.
Over coffee at the Book Trader Cafe, Ferrucci enumerated what he perceives as the incumbent mayor’s failings.
“City Hall is so corrupt right now — the Democratic Party is so in bed with DeStefano — that the only way to get him out is through an independent party,” Ferrucci said. “A lot of people just don’t vote in New Haven. We’re trying to attract new voters.”
On Monday, just one day before the election, Ferrucci’s campaign manager Steven Pope stood on Dixwell as dusk fell, asking passersby if they had registered to vote. After about 30 minutes, Pope noticed that the All Right Corner Market was still open and convinced Ferrucci to try to talk to the owner. Pope went into the cramped store first and told the man behind the counter that Ferrucci wanted to talk to him.
After Pope left the store, Ferrucci walked in, and he and Robinson stood together in silence for several seconds. Those close to Ferrucci say the independent truck driver, who delivers cookies for Pepperidge Farms, is comfortable around working-class people. Born and raised in New Haven, Ferrucci graduated from the Eli Whitney Regional Vocational Technical School in 1991 and later received a diploma for illustration from Paier College of Art.
His father, Ron Ferrucci, said he always thought of his son as an artist and was surprised when he entered politics.
And, he said, his son the candidate usually has trouble with public speaking.
At the All Right Corner Market, Ferrucci broke the awkward silence by mentioning a major part of his platform — taxing Yale.
“You gonna get his DeStefano ass out of there?” the man behind the counter asked.
“OK, I’ll vote for you,” the man said.
DeStefano said he is not worried about Ferrucci.
“I can’t say I feel threatened,” the mayor said. “I don’t think of elections in that way. You do the best to get the chance to discuss the issues you care about. If going door to door works for Ferrucci, then let him do it.”
Ferrucci’s platform is somewhat scattered and ambiguous — he wants to channel money away from after-school programs and into youth community centers, he wants the city to stop issuing Elm City ID cards and start helping people become citizens, and he wants to press the University to give more money to New Haven.
But he said his desire to provide New Haven with an alternative to DeStefano is a driving force behind his campaign.
“The mayor does just enough to make himself look good,” Ferrucci said at Book Trader.
This is not Ferrucci’s first time running against the seven-term mayor of New Haven. In 2003, Ferrucci ran against DeStefano on the Guilty Party’s ticket, with an eclectic platform including an initiative to run the city’s school buses with vegetable-based bio-diesel and a pledge to forgo half the mayor’s salary to fund a local homeless shelter. The Guilty Party had entered the New Haven political scene two years earlier, when it was created by local artist Bill Saunders as part of a piece for Artspace’s Citywide Open Studios. In 2001, the Guilty Party ran Saunders’ drag queen alter ego, Lil’ Miss Mess Up, for mayor. When organizers refused to give Lil’ Miss Mess Up a place in a debate between DeStefano and his opponent, she crashed it.
Two years later, Ferrucci decided to run as the Guilty Party candidate, mainly because no one else was running against DeStefano, he said. DeStefano initially refused to debate Ferrucci in 2003, saying that his opponent was more of a performance artist than a politician. Ferrucci made local bar Rudy’s Restaurant his campaign headquarters and raised $850 from his constituents, compared to DeStefano’s $220,000. And he wore a Che Guevara T-shirt on Election Day.
“That campaign was all press, no actual campaigning,” Ferrucci said. “We just wanted to get attention and alert people to how ridiculous the situation was.”
Then Ferrucci received 15 percent of the total votes.
“That surprised a lot of people,” said Ferrucci. “That surprised me. I think that really surprised the mayor.”
After that, Ferrucci decided to get serious about his bid for New Haven’s highest political office, but Yalies remain skeptical of his platform.
Upon returning to campus from Dixwell on Sunday night, Ferrucci and Pope attempted to engage Yale students on the street, asking them if they had registered to vote in New Haven. The duo was largely ignored. Many students simply walked past Ferrucci as he told them that he was running for mayor.
Yale College Democrats President Eric Kafka ’08 said he is suspicious of Ferrucci’s plans to tax Yale because the University is a nonprofit organization and is not taxable by law. The College Democrats have endorsed DeStefano.
Ferrucci said he is uncertain about what will happen to the future of his political career if his bid for the mayor’s office is unsuccessful.
“It’s been a long campaign,” he said. “If we lose, I’ll probably sit down with Elser and talk about 2009.”