Consider the hatchet buried. Sort of.
The man Mayor John DeStefano Jr. beat in September’s rancorous Democratic primary has endorsed the four-term incumbent in his re-election bid against Republican Joel Schiavone ’58.
In a carefully-worded statement released Tuesday, state Sen. Martin Looney said he was merely fulfilling a promise he made last year when he entered the race.
“As stated prior to the primary, I will support the nominee of the Democratic Party as determined by the primary and that nominee is John DeStefano,” Looney wrote.
The announcement comes in the wake of an especially contentious year-long primary contest between the two Democrats, which fueled political and personal tensions between them and helped to widen a growing split in New Haven’s Democratic party leadership.
Schiavone campaign manager Ted LeVasseur said the endorsement “didn’t seem real energetic.”
“Primaries are typically very rancorous,” he said Wednesday. “In the end, the loser has no choice but to endorse the winner if he wants to preserve his political future. No one was surprised when Bradley endorsed Gore or McCain endorsed Bush.”
LeVasseur said he did not think the endorsement would affect Schiavone’s post-primary campaign strategy of appealing to Looney supporters.
Looney’s attempt at party reconciliation also comes at a crucial time for New Haven’s municipal budget, parts of which face economic uncertainty in Hartford. Republican Gov. John G. Rowland and the Connecticut legislature will meet in a special session on Nov. 13 to address an estimated $300 million budget deficit.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks sent the national economy into a nose dive, the fate of many Connecticut municipalities’ state funding remains in jeopardy.
DeStefano’s campaign manager, Julio Gonzalez ’99, said the mayor will need Looney’s support if he is re-elected.
“We were glad to receive the endorsement,” he said. “We look forward to working with the Senator at Hartford. So much for the state of Connecticut hangs in the balance, given the budget that the governor is putting on the table and shoving down our throats.”
Looney said he was committed to working towards the same goals as his former rival.
“During the next two years, I intend to continue to work with [DeStefano] to benefit the people of New Haven and of the Greater New Haven region,” Looney said in his statement Tuesday.
Despite the former rivals’ pledges to work toward stabilizing the municipal budget, Rowland’s spokesman Dean Pagani said the governor had no real control over funding New Haven receives from the state.
“The governor cannot approve state aid to cities and towns,” he said. “That would have to come through approval of the legislature.”
While Rowland has not made a formal endorsement in the New Haven mayoral race, Pagani said he was “sure” the governor would support Schiavone because he is a Republican.
Despite Looney’s gesture at magnanimity, DeStefano campaigners said problems still exist within New Haven’s Democratic party leadership.
After supporting DeStefano in his previous bids for City Hall, Democratic Town Committee Chairman Nick Balletto threw his support behind Looney in this year’s race — a move that galvanized the formation of two rival factions within the party.
“Since the end of the primary, there’s been a lot of outreach,” Gonzalez said. “But there are still some places where the coalition the mayor has put together isn’t exactly in step with people who supported the senator.”