Obama campaign hopes to energize New Haven support

As Barack Obama took the stage in Charlotte, N.C., to accept the Democratic party’s nomination for president Thursday night, his campaign organized a watch party that drew dozens of New Haven supporters.

Around 80 New Haven residents from across the city gathered at 100 York St., in the apartment of Lydia Bornick, executive director of the New Haven Public Education Fund, to watch the final night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Active involvement in New Haven’s grassroots efforts supporting Obama’s re-election has not reached the same level as it did four years ago — prompting organizers of the party to view it as an opportunity to recruit volunteers and plan for the last stretch of the campaign.

“Today is about celebrating Obama’s re-nomination together and energizing people to volunteer,” Bornick said. “This party is one way to get New Haven residents to actively take part in this presidential campaign.”

Bornick, who campaigned for Obama in the 2008 presidential race, said the president can count on an “amazingly strong” volunteer base in New Haven. In the past four years, she said, the city Democrats have been supportive of the Obama administration, particularly his landmark healthcare reform law. Though Obama supporters in New Haven — a city in which 30 out of 30 aldermen are Democrats — are united by their belief in the president’s ideas, Bornick added, they have yet to coordinate their efforts through one entity this election season.

Raymond Zheng, a member of the Obama campaign based in West Hartford, attributed this decline in direct involvement to loss of contact between local volunteers and the national campaign. He added that after Obama’s victory in 2008, the campaign did not continue to reach out to volunteers in the area because of a lack of funding and resources, causing them to become less active.

“The majority of volunteers felt left out,” Zheng said. “[The lack of involvement] is a great frustration and my job right now is to work with volunteers here to try to re-establish what we had before.”

At the party, attendees planned specific initiatives intended to reach out to as many donors and volunteers as possible in the New Haven area. They said they will hold weekly voter registration drives in the New Haven Farmer’s Market in front of City Hall on Wednesdays, as well as phone-banking events on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They will also be coordinating canvassing operations in key states like Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and local Obama supporters are advocating the establishment of an Obama re-election headquarters in New Haven, Bornick said.

Three volunteers interviewed said that during the four years of his administration, Obama has begun to address the needs of New Haveners, including high-quality public education, new job opportunities and the integration of minorities and youth into the political system.

“That’s why I think it’s very important that President Obama be re-elected,” said Pia Pyles, an attorney and a New Haven resident. “He needs to be able to continue what he started.”

In particular, Pyles added, one of the major issues at stake is the Affordable Care Act that Obama signed into law on March 23, 2010. Pyles said that as a woman living in New Haven, she is very excited about the benefits provided to women by the law, including no-cost access to mammograms, screening for cervical cancer, contraceptive counseling and breast-feeding support.

Pyles, who was also active in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, echoed the hopes of the party’s organizers that more residents of New Haven would pledge their active support in this “crucial” race through door-to-door campaigning and phone-banking.

“We’re in the home stretch,” she said. “Obama does need our help.”

Obama will face off against GOP nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the general election on Nov. 6.

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