Less than 48 hours before polls were to open in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Martin Looney found himself in enemy territory.

As he walked the tree-lined streets of Westville yesterday afternoon, the state senator pitched his platform to homeowners who live just blocks away from the home of New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.

Looney will face DeStefano, a four-term incumbent, in Tuesday’s Democratic primary — the most hotly contested mayoral race in a decade.

The Westville neighborhood, located three miles west of Yale’s central campus, is one of the race’s many battlegrounds.

Most of the lawns in front of Ward 26’s upper-middle-class houses sported signs in support of his opponent. But Looney remained unfazed as he tried to convince residents of the many “missed opportunities” New Haven has experienced since the mayor took office almost eight years ago.

The 21-year state Senate veteran walked briskly between houses, carrying a blue-and-white L.L. Bean tote bag stuffed with souvenir potholders he had printed for his campaign.

While Looney represented over half the city before the state Legislature, the residents of Ward 26 were not among his constituents. Still, he beamed as he told potential voters of his recent endorsements from the New Haven public teachers’ and longshoremen’s unions.

Making his way up Kohary Drive, Looney carried a highlighted voter registration list, stopping only at those houses whose residents were registered Democrats.

“Anything specific you can tell me quick,” asked one resident of Kohary Drive as he stuck his head out of a half-closed door. “I know you’re for everything good and everything fun, but tell me something else.”

Looney thought briefly, then began talking about one of the many small differences in policy between the two candidates.

As the senator tells it, the campaign is being fought on two key fronts — education and downtown redevelopment.

As the man listened, Looney touched briefly on what he says have been “the two major problems” with the Elm City’s schools.

“The mayor has put too much money into magnet schools and there are way too many administrators citywide,” he explained, listing the two issues from a tape-like campaign memory bank. “There’s a perception that you’re going to be a failure if you don’t win the lottery for entrance into one of the magnet schools.”

Looney claims his recent endorsement vote by the New Haven teachers’ union is a “vote of no confidence” in the city’s school system and the mayor.

To promote accountability, Looney’s quasi-running mate and city clerk candidate Katurah Abdul-Salaam said the senator would seek to hire more teachers, as well as increasing pay for current ones.

“That’s what he’ll deliver when he gets elected,” Abdul-Salaam said, pointing to the senator as she prepared to knock on another door. “I’ve raised three kids in the school system, and we need more teachers. Educators are the most important people in the world.”

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20411″ ]