Connecticut Attorney General and U.S. senatorial candidate Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 headlined a campaign rally Wednesday that brought Yale’s labor unions together in one room.
With less than a month to go before Election Day, Blumenthal, a candidate for the Senate seatvacated by Chris Dodd, came to New Haven to energize supporters from UNITE HERE Locals 34 and 35 and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization. The race has become increasingly heated as Blumenthal’s lead over Republican Linda McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, has narrowed rapidly from its peak in January. Edward Kennedy, Jr. FES ’91, son of the late Massachusetts senator, joined Blumenthal at the rally, which filled the main hall at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church on College Street.
“Dick Blumenthal has been there for us, and now we’re going to be there for him,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy recalled a course he took while he was a student at the University of Connecticut Law School in which he observed Blumenthal arguing a case before the Connecticut Supreme Court as attorney general. Blumenthal, he said, could have delegated the task, but took the case on personally.
“This man studies issues meticulously,” Kennedy said. “He does his homework.”
Bob Proto, the president of Local 35, introduced Blumenthal. Locals 35 and 34 represent Yale employees, and, along with GESO, the graduate student union, are affiliated with UNITE HERE, a labor union of more than 265,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. Proto drew attention to the extraordinarily deep pockets of the McMahon campaign, which has indicated publicly that it may spend up to $50 million by Election Day. So far, McMahon has spent a fraction of that, about $21 million. Blumenthal picked up that theme when he arrived at the pulpit to address the crowd of about two hundred.
“The people of Connecticut want an election, not an auction,” Blumenthal said — repeating a line he used at a campaign rally with former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 last Sunday.
Other than criticizing his opponent’s campaign expenditures, Blumenthal only referred to McMahon indirectly. He stated his absolute opposition to a reduction of the minimum wage, an idea to which McMahon recently expressed openness at an event sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Business, a lobbying organization. Blumenthal, who has served the last 20years in the attorney general’s office gaining a reputation as a prolific litigator against several industries, spent the rest of his speech expressing his support for working people in the state and imploring the audience to come to the polls in November.
Turnout may prove crucial for Blumenthal, whose lead of over 40 points in January shrank to a low of about threepoints in a Quinnipiac University poll released Sept. 28. Since Blumenthal and McMahon faced off in a televised debate Monday night, a new Rasmussen poll has Blumenthal up 54 to 43 percent, a significant rise from before the debate.
Members of Yale employee unions interviewed after the rally said they were grateful to Blumenthal for his history of supporting their efforts in contract negotiations with the University. Proto, who is also a vice president on the international board of UNITE HERE, said it was easy to energize Local 35 members to support Blumenthal because he has stood up for Yale’s workers.
Local 34 Vice President Antonio Lopes, an autopsy technician in the pathology department of the medical school, said Blumenthal has been an ally of Yale workers in every labor struggle with the University. Another medical school employee, Jess Corbett of Local 34, said that Blumenthal has been responsive not only to labor, but also to citizens in general.
“Everyone knows someone who has called his office and gotten a call back,” Corbett said.
Sarah Egan, the chair of GESO, said that as attorney general, Blumenthal has proven his dedication to labor rights and to the rights of graduate student workers in particular. She said she first met Blumenthal at an early morning rally that GESO held on Old Campus in the spring of 2005 as part of a strike against the University. GESO was seeking greater benefits for teaching assistants, pay equity across disciplines, and a new grievance procedure. Egan said she appreciated Blumenthal’s support for GESO in 2005and now hopes he will take a pro-labor attitude to Washington, D.C. if he is elected in November.
Also in attendance at the church, located at 425 College St., was Ward 1 Alderman Michael Jones ’11. Jones said after the rally that he supports Blumenthal’s campaign and felt confident about his odds in the election. Although the race has become tighter than many anticipated, Jones said, Blumenthal’s lead will likely widen as voters begin to focus on the candidates in the final weeks leading up to Election Day.
Kennedysaid he knew the race would be tight because of what he called “a lot of uncertainty out there.”
“That’s why it’s important to remind people to come out and vote,” he said.
Blumenthal and McMahon will debate twice more before the election: this morning at the Continental Manor in Norwalk, Conn. and on Oct. 12 at the Garde Center for the Arts in New London.
Election Day is Nov. 2.