Mayor John DeStefano Jr. won his fifth Democratic mayoral nomination Tuesday night in a landslide victory over state Sen. Martin Looney — a win overshadowed by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
At the end of the day, a campaign widely considered to be the closest in a decade ended with DeStefano winning 62 percent of the vote, gathering 9,859 votes to Looney’s 5,974. In Yale-dominated Ward 1, DeStefano outpolled Looney 212 to 14.
The vote paves the way to another term for DeStefano, who will be overwhelmingly favored in the November general election against Republican Joel Schiavone ’58. Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in the city.
Ron Smith, DeStefano’s running mate for city clerk, also defeated Looney-backed Katurah Abdul-Salaam 8,337 votes to 5,737.
In his victory speech just after 9 p.m., made at nearly the same time President George W. Bush addressed the grieving nation, DeStefano faced a crowd of ecstatic supporters and urged them to remember the sobering events of the day.
“We can celebrate our victory on another night,” DeStefano said as he offered condolences to the families of the victims. “What we should really celebrate is this wonderful country.”
But the mood among the mayor’s supporters was hardly somber. Packed into downtown’s trendy Alchemy club, they whooped, cheered and laughed as they celebrated wins across the city. DeStefano received majorities in 26 of New Haven’s 30 wards.
Among the many in the crowd were Fire Chief Dennis Daniels and Bruce Alexander and Mike Morand, both of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs.
As a backer shouted “That’s a mandate!” DeStefano told the crowd voters had “sent a clear and strong message” that his accomplishments in home ownership, education and crime reduction made him a success.
Looney, who said he spoke with DeStefano just minutes after polls closed, addressed a somber audience at Tycoon’s in a 9:15 p.m. concession speech.
“The challenger’s theme is always it’s time for change, the incumbent’s theme is always steer the course,” Looney said. “And tonight, obviously, the theme of stay the course prevailed.”
The state senator said the most memorable part of his day was an early evening prayer service he attended with DeStefano.
“The extraordinary loss that the world and the nation suffered today puts everything else in what seems to be a minor, backward key,” he said, noting that the attacks created turmoil for both campaigns. “It puts things in perspective.”
Primary elections in New York City were cancelled, but Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz decided early Tuesday that elections throughout the state would go on.
In Hartford, Gov. John Rowland said the elections were a secondary concern for him.
“It’s very difficult to even think about voting today,” Rowland said.
While the city had been riveted by the close race in recent weeks, both mayoral campaigns worked with heavy hearts all day to turn out voters, many of whom preferred quiet mourning at home to a trip to the polls.
“Our emotions have changed,” said Looney campaign manager Jason Bartlett. “But we’re still trying to pull votes. What can you do?”
Voter turnout citywide was 15,833 — around the number of votes the campaigns were expecting to be cast. As of Friday, there were more than 36,500 Democrats registered in the city.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said that a group of volunteers, made much smaller by the tragedy, had particular trouble getting students to the polls. He said he and other DeStefano supporters had hoped to bring out 350 voters in the ward — far more than the 225 who voted.
“It’s hard, when you go to knock on someone’s door and they are crying,” Healey said.
Staff Reporters James Collins and Andrew Paciorek contributed to this report.