As Mayor John DeStefano Jr., in search of his ninth straight term, gears up for the final stretch of his campaign, his re-election staff is changing the way the mayor reaches out to New Haven voters.
In the months leading up to the Nov. 3 general election, DeStefano is spending more time getting face-to-face time with constituents he might otherwise never encounter, rather than with existing supporters at campaign fundraisers. In recent weeks and months, DeStefano has spent more time visiting constituents in informal settings, visiting local churches and going door-to-door at senior living facilities, than he has done in previous re-election campaigns, Democratic Town Committee Chair Susan Voigt said.
“He’s much less in campaign mode than in let’s-have-a-conversation-with-the-mayor mode,” Voigt said. “He’s really focusing on broad, in-person outreach.”
DeStefano is using this campaign season as a means to ensure re-election, and as an opportunity to hear back from citizens about their concerns with the challenges facing the city, Voigt said. Many of the outreach events DeStefano has attended have centered on discussion about improving public school education in New Haven. That shift in focus from aggressive traditional campaigning to more conversational events, Voigt said, is likely a product of the fact that the race this year is significantly less competitive than previous races, such as DeStefano’s 2001 run in the Democratic primary against state Sen. Martin Looney, in which the mayor won 64 percent of the vote.
While two opponents, Independents Angela Watley and Ralph Ferrucci, are registered for the general election, it is widely believed that neither has the political base to win a mayoral election. (Ferucci has run against DeStefano twice before, and lost both times with less than 15 percent of the vote.)
Ferrucci, who announced his candidacy in April, has said he disagrees with the mayor’s decision to close three city senior centers in an effort to cut costs from the budget and is running his campaign with a focus on reducing taxes and crime. Watley has said her dissatisfaction with DeStefano’s policies on school reform prompted her mayoral bid. Her platform is based on the need to bring a new perspective into City Hall, she has said. Neither Ferrucci nor Watley returned phone requests for comment last week.
But Keya Jayaram, DeStefano’s campaign manager, said that while the DeStefano re-election campaign team is confident in his ability to win over voters, that does not mean that they have lost the sense of urgency that would come in a more competitive race.
“I think that the urgency in this campaign comes from the urgency of the times,” Jayaram said, referring to the ongoing debate about school reform and the need for increased job opportunities for local residents. “We want to have a very strong showing, and that is what this campaign is for.”
DeStefano is also spending less time and fewer resources on second-hand campaigning brochures, mailings and paid advertisements and more time on in-person communication.
“While mailing and phone calls are certainly important, the most powerful persuasive voice you can have is in a one-on-one conversation,” Deputy Campaign Manager Ben Shaffer ’09 said. Shaffer is a former president of the Yale College Democrats.
In his efforts to reach out to voters, DeStefano’s staff has also established its own Web site, in addition to delving into the world of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Jayaram is a former campaign staffer for President Barack Obama, and she said the mayor’s move toward a more Internet-heavy approach was inspired by Obama’s similar tactics in his presidential campaign last year.
“I’d say that one thing different about this particular campaign is our attention to new media outreach,” Jayaram said. “We’ve been using technology as extensively as makes sense.”
(DeStefano’s Twitter page, launched last March, boasts 197 followers and 68 Tweets. Thursday afternoon, he added a post about a tentative labor agreement with the New Haven Police Department.)
But Voigt questioned the extent to which heavy use of the Internet would be effective in a local mayoral campaign, particularly because many of New Haven’s older residents do not have the technological savvy to depend on the Internet for their information about political campaigns.
“We still have a significant number of people who are not wired, and we have to be conscious that that continues to be the case,” Voigt said. “We don’t want to make the Internet the main way we communicate.”
The deadline to register as a write-in candidate on November’s ballot is Oct. 20.