Malloy's huge margins in cities might be enough to win
November 05, 2010
When — and if — this voting mess settles down, the story of Dan Malloy's apparent victory over Tom Foley in the governor's race will be a tale of the "two Connecticuts."
Foley's popularity lies in the suburbs. Malloy owes his victory margin — if it holds up — to voters in the cities.
On election day, Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport delivered astounding and unexpected knockout punches to the Greenwich Republican's chances in the race for governor.
Combined, the three cities handed Malloy roughly 45,000 more votes than Foley, although the ongoing vote counting may change this. In a contest where Malloy may be winning by anywhere from 2,000 to 11,000 votes, the cities are the reason we may have a Democrat in the governor's office.
The long narrative of "the two Connecticuts" — where there's one state with successful schools and stable middle-class communities and another with low performing schools and impoverished neighborhoods — appears to be a deciding factor in this race. Add to this the organizing heft of the state's public employee unions and you get a game-changer for Malloy.
Without the New Haven surge, we'd very likely be talking about Gov. Foley.
All of this means that we can expect Malloy, who described himself the day after the election as an "activist" governor, to pay close attention to the long languishing problems of housing, education and jobs in our biggest cities.
In New Haven, in particular, Malloy supporters framed the race as between someone who would help cities and a Republican who would take away services.
"We felt if Tom Foley won it would be devastating for our city. We communicated that to everyone working for us and everyone we talked to,'' said state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a Democrat from New Haven, who aligned with a coalition of labor groups and other activists to get out the vote on Tuesday.
Holder-Winfield, who works for the American Association of University Professors, said they set a goal of 26,000 votes for Malloy in New Haven. They came close: Malloy received 22,298 votes — 5,700 more than New Haven Mayor John DeStefano received when he ran for governor four years ago.
"We tracked them down. We had rides to the polls if you needed a ride. We had cars there within 5 or 10 minutes," Holder-Winfield said. "We planned this for a long time. It's always done. It's not always done this well."
A dead-heat race tilted in Malloy's favor very likely because of hustling on the ground by rank-and-file union members in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven.
"They live or work in the cities. Here was a historic opportunity to bring real change and help elect a governor who respects and honors workers,'' said Matt O'Connor of the Connecticut State Employees Association. "What really counted were the direct personal connections."
Perhaps because he knew the power of unions in the cities, Foley accused Malloy of cutting a secret deal with the unions that would protect them — a charge Malloy repeatedly denied. The next governor will have to cut services and raise taxes to overcome a projected $3 billion deficit. State employee jobs and benefits will almost certainly be on the chopping block.
"This was the election of pocketbook issues,'' said Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union, Local 1199. "People were really motivated because for our members, who the governor is makes a huge difference."
Chernoff told me the SEIU, with hundreds of volunteers and thousands of phone calls, brought the message home in the state's cities.
The SEIU, whose members include janitors and nursing home employees who live in the cities, spent extra time emphasizing what the next governor would mean for them — as in "do you want to have a job?"
"We had hundreds of people who took the day off on Election Day, and quite a number of people who took the day before off," she said.
On Election Day, Malloy told me there were "no similarities at all" between him and Foley. "We have nothing in common. I have different values. I have different life experiences. I have different professional experience."
Over 50,000 voters in three of the poorest cities in the land — janitors, low-paid nursing home employees and working class union members — believed that Malloy will remember them when it comes time to cut jobs and spending.
Our next governor, mayor of Stamford for 14 years, owes Connecticut's big cities big time. I doubt he will forget.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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