It’s almost over.
After a divisive Democratic primary battle that ended under the shadow of national tragedy, the costliest mayoral election in New Haven history comes to an end today.
In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 13 to one, four-term incumbent Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is expected to defeat Republican challenger Joel Schiavone ’58 by a wide margin.
New Haven’s 67,000 registered voters will decide by 8 p.m. today whether DeStefano’s eight-year record and post-primary campaign strategy — to campaign as little as possible — make him deserving of reelection.
Polls open citywide at 6 a.m.
In the Sept. 11 primary, DeStefano defeated state Sen. Martin Looney by a 2 to 1 margin, though both Looney and DeStefano said afterward they thought the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York may have affected voter turnout.
After almost a year of waiting, the DeStefano campaign was confident Monday night.
“We feel good,” campaign manager Julio Gonzalez ’99 said. “We have a substantial number of identified supporters, and we feel good about our field operation.”
As he has on the eve of every mayoral election, DeStefano spent a quiet Monday night talking with senior citizens at the Bella Vista Senior Center.
“Tomorrow we are just going to worry about turning voters out.” DeStefano said. “Obviously the level of enthusiasm is less than it was in the primary.”
Gonzalez, a former Ward 1 alderman, said DeStefano supporters will be working to combat voter apathy.
“It’s a bit late to persuade folks,” said Gonzalez, who has been promised a top position in DeStefano’s administration should the mayor win reelection.
The mood at Schiavone campaign headquarters on College Street was equally as positive Monday night. Though Republicans last held the city’s highest office in 1951, Schiavone campaign manager Ted LeVasseur vowed an upset.
“I think we have a fantastic chance,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and I think a lot of people are going to be surprised tomorrow night at 8 o’clock.”
Schiavone will spend time tomorrow at each of New Haven’s 34 polling places, and staffers will make phone calls to potential voters, LeVasseur said.
Schiavone said after the primary he hoped to appeal to New Haven’s almost 20,000 independent voters and those Democrats who voted for Looney.
Looney unenthusiastically endorsed DeStefano on Oct. 23.
Schiavone has complained for months that DeStefano is ignoring him. Since Sept. 11, the two candidates have met in only one formal debate, during which Schiavone pelted the mayor with personal insults and attacked his education and policing policies.
DeStefano’s campaign spending slowed considerably after Sept. 11, a decision Gonzalez said came about because DeStefano already had enough name recognition “left over” from the primary.
Yet Schiavone’s spending — and the little that DeStefano has spent since September — has been enough to set a New Haven mayoral spending record. By Oct. 11, the two had combined with Looney to spend over $1 million in the race for City Hall.
Throughout the costly primary campaign, Looney and DeStefano campaigners traded insults and accusations, filing formal complaints alleging everything from physical harassment to illegal campaign spending.
But in the campaign’s final hours last night, DeStefano was light-hearted about the big day.
“I don’t know; hopefully everyone votes,” he said jokingly.