At 11 a.m. on a frigid Saturday morning in January, almost no one on Sherman Avenue answers his door — especially not for political campaigners.
But for Tanya Fridland ’11 and Zoe Liberman ’11, the goal was quality, not quantity. Although they were able to account for just 12 of the 60 registered Democrats on their list, they measured the success of their efforts in terms of the meaningful — and sometimes persuasive — conversations they had with about a half dozen of Ward 2’s registered Democratic voters.
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Fridland and Liberman were two of approximately 25 Yale students who joined 50 other local non-Yale volunteers Saturday morning in order to canvas New Haven neighborhoods on behalf of presidential candidate Barack Obama.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. was one of these canvassers. DeStefano, along with six city aldermen, has officially endorsed Obama for the upcoming Feb. 5 primary elections. After meeting with other canvassers in the cafeteria of Wilbur Cross High School and giving a short speech, DeStefano visited about a dozen homes on his route in the Hillhouse area, expressing his support for Obama and encouraging residents to vote.
“We don’t just need a Democratic president,” DeStefano said to campaign volunteers in the high school cafeteria. “We need the right Democratic president.”
While volunteers gathered maps and lists of names and addresses, DeStefano told the News he was supporting Obama’s campaign because it “is not about fear or divisive politics, but hope and change.”
The 75 enthusiastic volunteers then divided into pairs on routes with a list of approximately 60 registered Democrats to visit, as part of the first Obama canvassing effort in New Haven. As volunteers waited to be driven to their starting points, their admiration for the Illinois senator dominated conversation, as it did during much of the day.
“Obama doesn’t do things to please people,” Charlotte Renfield-Miller ’10 said. “He does things because it’s right.”
Brian Bills ’11 said he agreed, and praised Obama for his experience with inner-city issues.
“Having a president from South-Side Chicago would be the coolest thing to me,” Bills said.
Bills and Faye Maison ’11 were assigned to canvas along Edgewood, Orchard and Elm Streets and Kensington Avenue. Of the 55 people Bills and Maison attempted to visit, 12 answered their doors, Maison said. The majority of people Bills and Maison spoke with were supporters of Obama, and the few that were undecided were leaning toward Obama. None of the people they spoke with said they were definitely voting for another candidate, Maison said.
Along the way, they visited the home of Frank Douglass Jr., a registered Democrat, former Ward 2 aldermanic candidate and a chef in the Trumbull College Dining Hall. During a ten-minute conversation with the canvassers, Douglass said he is definitely an Obama supporter, as are most of his friends and family. It seems to him that most of the residents in the neighborhood are fans of Obama, he said.
“To be honest, it’s because [Obama’s] black,” Douglass said.
A Platt Street resident, who was not approached by any canvassers because he is not registered as a Democrat, said “Obama speaks a pretty good case,” but his race will hurt him, instead of help him.
“People I work with don’t believe he has a snowball’s chance in hell,” said the resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “This could be an uphill struggle.”
Ann B., a Sherman Avenue resident who works at Yale and spoke with Fridland and Liberman for almost half an hour, said afterwards that she is still on the fence when it comes to Obama — and it has nothing to do with race.
“It’s the issues that matter,” Ann said. For her, she said, these issues are health care, crime and quality of life in the inner-city. She, along with another one of the six residents interviewed after being canvassed, said she is not yet sure if Obama, Clinton or another candidate best represents her views on these issues. The other four interviewed said they will definitely vote for Obama.
Megan Evans ’10, who helped coordinate Saturday’s canvassing efforts, declined to say how many voters canvassers reached Saturday or how many said they will vote for Obama. But she said she considers Saturday’s canvassing drive successful because of the enthusiasm of the volunteers.
“The good thing is how excited people have been when they’ve come back from canvassing,” Evans said.
Although a Jan. 2 poll conducted by the News said 26.4 percent of Yale students support Obama, as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s 12.1 percent, recent polls for the whole of Connecticut suggest that something else is playing out state-wide. A poll completed Jan. 20 by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut reported that Clinton is the favorite, with 41 percent, while Obama trails behind with 27 percent of Democratic voters.