In one seemingly effortless, bipartisan, grandmotherly swipe, M. Jodi Rell took the wheels right out from under John DeStefano on Tuesday, right?
Not so fast.
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Even after Democrat DeStefano’s 300,000 vote, 30-point trouncing this Election Day — which came despite his party’s tidal wave of victory everywhere else — one relic of his campaign escaped Rell’s reach. And its wheels are anything but flat.
Powered by gasoline (which explains things, as Rell was beloved for her car tax abolition), the relic sits in a driveway. It did not vote. It is not even a registered Democrat. But just three weeks ago, it did carry DeStefano and his posse on a trek throughout Connecticut: the “DeStefano Goes Back to School” tour.
No, it is not a limousine. It is the official and unofficial DeStefano RV, but DeStefano doesn’t own it. When he rides aboard, its owners are elated.
“He kicked his shoes off, he pulled off his shoes, he pulled out his phone,” described Cathy Weber, who owns the RV and lent it to the campaign. “He’d get up and go to the refrigerator and get what he wanted. He was just — and I don’t want to sound corny — but he was just a good old guy. I’m like, ‘I’m helping this man become governor.’”
Proud, she continued her description of DeStefano’s campaign routine.
“Fruit, cookies, cold cuts, kick your shoes off, telephone time,” she said. “This is an honor!”
Inside the RV, a refrigerator was keeping the cold cuts, apples and oranges cold. Petroleum was powering the vehicle’s portable electricity mechanism. The stereo was probably tuned to classic rock. A small table within the cabin featured a napkin and some financial papers on its top — Weber keeps the books for DeStefano and congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, as well as three other local public figures.
And then, a little past noon on the Saturday before Halloween, DeStefano was inside.
He did not kick off his shoes; instead, he seemed somewhat nervous and said he felt tired. But DeStefano needed to stay alert: four more college stops awaited him that day.
At one point, the RV passed a pumpkin festival.
“This street is so cool,” DeStefano said, turning his head. “The buildings are really terrific … a haunted waterfront! Isn’t that nice?”
An eager campaign staffer asked DeStefano if that meant he would like to stop for a pumpkin.
“I’m okay on pumpkins, I’m okay,” he said, his classic razor-thin grin forming. “It was the popcorn that was interesting to me.”
He later explained that running for governor was interesting to him as well. He said he could see himself in any executive role, but never as a legislator. So this was the next logical step.
Now, perhaps it is clear that DeStefano, like the RV, belonged in New Haven all along. Even on the campaign trail, after emerging from the RV, he appeared awkward introducing himself to college students who had never heard of him before. He said, while still inside the vehicle, that it was hard to be away from home.
“I miss City Hall,” he said. “I do.”
At one point during the day, the RV got stuck. Sort of. The driver was afraid that it would not fit underneath the approaching tunnel. DeStefano shook his head, perhaps wondering why he was sitting in tight quarters with a reporter from the News on the day before voter registration ended, while he was trailing by dozens of points in the polls.
The seven-foot monstrosity managed to fit, with room to spare. Weber even said she was considering trading in for a better — and bigger — recreational vehicle one day soon. Maybe DeStefano would have better luck using that one, instead.
Either way, the RV emerged from Tuesday unscathed. And Whitney Haring-Smith ’07, who organized the trip, agreed that DeStefano wasn’t entirely defeated. His unique message — universal health care, cutting electricity costs, managing senior property taxes — will keep going, he said.
“His campaign focused on putting out big ideas,” he said. “These endure long past Election Day.”
Though the RV may be parked for now, three weeks and a devastating election later, take care to look through your rearview mirror next time you ride to Hartford. One day, it just might make it there.