Wine and sandwiches were on the menu at Book Trader Cafe, but surprises were not.
Before a mostly student audience, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. named Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99 his campaign manager at a brief reception held at the Chapel Street cafe Thursday afternoon.
The announcement was not much of a surprise, and those involved in city politics had been expecting the news for some time.
Gonzalez informally assumed the role of DeStefano’s campaign manager months ago in his race against fellow Democrat state Sen. Martin Looney. On Thursday, DeStefano made it official in a brief, humorous speech to a laid-back group of students and city residents, in which he praised the organizational credentials of his appointee.
The announcement represents a major change from the mayor’s previous campaigns, the last two of which were run by Democratic Town Chairman Nick Balletto. But the DeStefano-Balletto relationship has become rocky recently, and DeStefano said he had to look elsewhere after learning Balletto would be supporting Looney.
Victor White, campaign manager for Janice Daniels, who is running for alderman in Ward 20, said he thought Gonzalez was a breath of fresh air.
“It signifies that things are starting to change for the better,” White said. “People don’t want to be stuck in the same old rut.”
Guests included a veritable Who’s Who of students involved in city politics, including Ben Healey ’04, whom the Ward 1 Democratic Committee has endorsed to replace Gonzalez when he leaves office this year. Also present were Healey’s three most recent opponents in the Ward 1 race — Lex Paulson ’02, Michael Montano ’03 and Anne Leone ’03.
Victor Corona ’03 and Shayna Strom ’02, two students who are active in Pierson and Davenport’s Ward 7, also showed up to support Gonzalez and DeStefano.
After a contentious and sometimes divisive Ward 1 endorsement process, many students said they were beginning to work together in support of DeStefano.
In fact, Paulson, who has said his relationship with Gonzalez was strained during the endorsement process, served as master of ceremonies Thursday.
Gonzalez said he was confident that DeStefano’s camp would receive the student vote.
“An overwhelming amount of students will support DeStefano because he has a proven record,” Gonzalez said.
But Jason Bartlett, Looney’s campaign manager, is not giving up yet, saying he expects Looney to do well among Yale students.
“Julio is a Yalie and has more access to the students, but I still believe the students are focusing on issues,” Bartlett said. “They understand that this is one of the poorest cities in the state and in the country, and they don’t like to see political patronage running public affairs.”
David Watts, a New Haven resident who will begin his first year at the Yale Divinity School in the fall, said students aren’t the only fans of Gonzalez.
“DeStefano couldn’t have picked a better person,” Watts said. “Julio understands town-gown relations, and he’s going to do a great job campaigning.”