Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Campaigns and Coffee

I had an informal meeting with John DeStefano and members of his campaign as they passed through Enfield today. (Before you ask, I'm still not supporting anybody.) Mayor DeStefano was speaking at the Democratic Town Committee, to which the campaign was kind enough to invite me. I had a nice chat with the mayor, Aldon Hynes and Shonu Gandhi beforehand at the local Starbucks. I'll share with you those of my observations and recollections worth sharing:

John DeStefano is an interesting and engaging man who seems to have a great deal of knowledge about many, many subjects. We talked about issues ranging from health policies to urban renewal to massive social trends. Amazingly, he seemed equally passionate about all of these things. He is energetic, charismatic and, if you haven't had your coffee yet, a little overwhelming, too. I found it interesting that he was apparently adapting his upcoming stump speech in his head as we spoke.

We were slightly late for the meeting of Enfield Democrats, which was sparsely attended (this is vacation month). I listened to the mayor's stump speech with interest. It was a detail-oriented speech, longer on policy and strategy than base-exciting rhetoric or anecdotes. One of the most thought-provoking points he brought up was that Rell has been essentially running a campaign against Rowland since taking office. I hadn't looked at the situation quite that way before, but that does indeed seem to be at least part of what she's doing, and she has been very successful at it. DeStefano is looking for ways to re-frame the upcoming campaign. Democrats in the General Assembly have already tried and failed miserably: we'll see if he is more successful.

The crowd, such as it was, reacted positively to the speech. A lot of people left with DeStefano DVDs. It matters that none of the other candidates have bothered to come this far north. We really do feel ignored from time to time.

I overheard someone (not a campaign staffer) say about Susan Bysiewicz: "I like her--just not for governor." Huh.

It's apparent that the focus of his campaign will be on high expectations for the future. It has the potential to be quite convincing, if framed in the right way. Bill Curry didn't have much luck with it.

I had an excellent talk with Shonu and Aldon after the meeting about blogs and campaigns. I even got to speak with some of the town Democrats. In sum, I had a blast, and I'd like to thank the mayor, Aldon and Shonu for an enlightening and fascinating evening.


DeanFan84 said...


Catching the DeStefano fever? I'd love it if you did!

Here in New Haven, the Reformers continue to battle the exceedingly heavy-handed practices of the Dem Machine. (Imagine single-party, Politburo dynamics, and you won't be far off.)

Several signs point favorably towards glasnost. Others signs don't. Is John DeStefano a Machine Democrat who merely talks the talk? Or is he a True Progressive committed to walking the walk!

The upshot is that if you put up a New Haven local politics thread, several of us will provide an interesting case study of Ward Politics in DeStefano-Land.

Overall, the pattern has been for the Machine to stamp out any and all independent voices. However, the 2005 landscape has the Mayor promalgating a more Progressive universe. (With the Machine hanging on to a Neanderthal Past.)

New Haven Machine Values are: Control, Loyalty, Omerta.

New Haven Progressives want: Open-ness, Integrity, Debate.

P.S. While this debate includes JDS, it is much bigger than DeStefano. But it does get to the leadership question...

Anonymous said...

Genghis-- how did you like the Mayor's personality? I have never met him, but those who have told me he comes across as a bit of a "dork"-- both in the positive and negative sense of the word. He comes across extremely competent and knowledgeable on the issues, but also as a little too eager -too-please and a little too wonkish. What did you think?

Genghis Conn said...


The Democrats in Connecticut are slowly evolving away from "machine" politics, although this is the way the party used to work statewide.

Email me your analysis of the situation in New Haven, and I'll put it on the front page.

Shonu said...

Genghis, I really enjoyed talking to you. It was great to finally meet you!

Aldon Hynes said...

Random comments

Coffee: It was great meeting you Genghis. I look forward to more chances to talk face to face.

The dork factor: I can see how some people might view Mayor DeStefano on first impression as being dorky. He is very knowledgeable about the issues and very excited about them. However, I believe that if you spend more than just a few minutes with him, or for that matter, watch the DVD, you will find his authenticity quite appealing. I hope that everyone finds a chance to hear Mayor DeStefano.

Machine politics: Mayor DeStefano has been pushing hard to get more people involved in politics. DemocracySchool is a good example of this. Without a strong second party in New Haven, the most interesting battles are within the Democratic Party. Susan Voigt is a very strong leader, which can make the battles within the party even more interesting.

Another thing that Mayor DeStefano talks a lot about is the importance of working together. Personally, I believe that primaries can be a good thing as long as people are working together to get the best candidate on the ticket, and don’t spend time trashing other candidates. So my spin: Mayor DeStefano works well with people in the machine, and also works well encouraging new people to be involved. I think it is a good mix.

All of that said, it would be great to have a spirited discussion about the New Haven municipal elections here, as well as discussions about other exciting municipal elections.

MVD said...

DeStefano did a good job when visiting the Groton Democratic Town Committee too. Many of the committee members I spoke to thought he was pretty good. We haven't heard from the other candidates yet--but so far, I'd guess that he's the favorite of many.

John DeStefano said...

Genghis, it was great to talk with you. The great thing about political campaigns is meeting people who are from different places and different experiences but who are passionate about working together to get the same things done. That's how we're going to become the best state we can be--by getting passionate people to work together, and by drinking lots of coffee.

DeanFan84 said...


I am glad you chimed in.

Personally, (meaning not in your official capacity as blogmaster for DeStefano), do you think it appropriate for the Mayor's paid campaign manager, (Mayoral campaign, not gubernatorial), to be tasked full-time to the 3 or 4 aldermanic races that have been targeted by the Machine?

Further, do you think it's right for the Goliath which is the Dem Machine to insert itself into these tiny neighborhood races? (Recruiting challengers, rigging endorsements, staffing campaigns, lending office space, etc.)

Finally, do you think it appropriate for the New Haven Democratic Party, as dominated by Chairwoman Susan Voigt, to lend its support and resources to select Democratic candidates, and not all?

In my opinion, what goes on is simply wrong. It is the equivalent of the DCCC taking sides in a Congressional Primary, or the Governor trying to suggest to a town who its State Rep should be. (i.e. the "this is who we want to work with approach".)

I have had discussions about this with many of the Party insiders, and several people on John's staff. I haven't had this discussion with the Mayor yet, although maybe I should.

For those less familiar with New Haven Politics, New Haven is made up of 30 ward precincts, with each ward sending one alderperson to the our legislative body, the Board of Aldermen. Voting turnout in these neighborhood races can be exceedingly small. Sometimes the winner receives less than 200 votes!

The BOA is dominated by Democrats. Currently, there are 29 Democrats, and one lone Republican. A working majority of 20-25 Democrats consistently votes with the Mayor.

Despite consistent majorities, every cycle the Dem Machine decides to target 3-6 aldermen. Why do they do this? My feeling is for no good reason, -- except to enforce strict Party discipline.

The underlying message is simple: Step out of line, and you will get Whacked.

NewHavenResident9 said...


I know it looks bad for larger town groups to get involved in smaller area issues. I thought the same when i first saw it in action and then i realized why it was that way,

two people from the same party do not always see eye to eye, when that is the case and the direction of a city is at stake, it is important to support the people that you agree with. There is nothing stopping me from funding a democrat running in ny for senate if i believe she should win. I don't live in NY but her vote effects me.

The same is true in aldermanic races. if you believe that one person is more in line with what you believe then you should support them. Yes, it isn't your ward but it is your city and if you are so inspired you should do what ever you can to lead your city in the direction you believe.

If you disagree with that, it is your opinion, but it isn't just about maintaining party discipline, it's about ensuring that the mayor can move the city in the direction that he (and from the changes that have taken place, we all) will benefit from.

Take it or leave it, standing up for what your believe in isn't a bad thing.

Julio Gonzalez said...

Dear DeanFan84,

As a former DeStefano Mayoral campaign manager and part of the "machine," I think that your concerns for process overlook the very real substantive disagreements Democrats often have in New Haven. I also don't know what you mean by the "machine," but am assuming you mean the Democratic Town Committee.

When I was an alderman of the progressive camp, our concern was that there were not ENOUGH races and that the governing happened not through a strict adherence to certain key ideas but by satisfying individual alders, no matter how unresponsive or unprincipled their positions. There was no competition. Read Paul Bass back in the day - a lack of competition was seen as a BAD thing.

By 2001 a lot of people in the governing DeStefano coalition had gotten exhausted with this system and wanted to bring in new people and build a genuinely progressive electoral program. That's what we have been trying to do.

And that means a lot of primaries. I am surprised you think competition is bad. I also don't know what you mean by "not towing the line." I guess you are referring to opposition aldermen voting against the Mayor's responsible budgets, transportation investment in the airport, regulation of slums, regionalization of finanical responsibility for the WPCA, and not supporting the Mayor's vision for development. These seem like substantive and important things that should be the basis for opposition.

Overally, we have tried to recruit fresh people with progressive outlooks to as well as individuals that are connected to their neighborhoods. They have worked hard by themselves and become members of Town Committee and the Board of Aldermen. We've tried to open the leadership development process through things like the Democracy School.

Please explain what is progressive about opposition Democrats like Jorge Perez or Michael Smart - whom, by the way, were endorsed by the "machine" you say always weeds out opposition. How is Joyce Chen that much better than most of our Democrats when it comes to improving her neighborhood? Not in platitudes, in facts.

Finally, I really would like to know what would be the threshold at which the executive in a coalition is "open" and at what point that person simply is aloof and empowers anarchy. In doing my job, it was always important to incrementally improve the quality of the party, what it stood for, and its cohesion. You bet I wish the DCCC did the same thing - part of the national Democrats lameness is that it has simply become a money-dispensing machine, it does not enforce discipline around a shared substantive vision.

Everything that I have ever learned about organizing is that you need a shared vision to energize. The Mayor's policy priorities and style of open-consultation do that for his governing coalition.

And everything I have experienced in politics is that competition makes for stronger organizations. It is not the Democrats job to just sit back and let Republicans or Greens win. It is not the current governing coalition's responsibility to let a minority that holds (in my opinion) bad policy priorities become dominant without being contested.

These minority electoral forces certainly can use the arguments about big money, or the "machine," or "independence," to gain power. And they have tried. Sometimes they win if the candidate is compelling and has other good views, sometimes they don't. I suspect that you might want to say they fail because of the "machines" resources. But I think they fail because they are not an improvement over what the present governing coalition delivers.

I hope my tone doesn't sound hostile. But I feel a lot is riding on progressives getting this right.

DeanFan84 said...

NH Residento--

Please don't confuse your, or my, individual action with the organized efforts of a political machine. I am all for individuals supporting candidates of their choice, that is the essence of Democracy. What I am complaining about is political heavyweights interfering in local races. What ever happened to letting the people decide?

Julio-- I have no problem with either competition or primaries. Why I don't like is heavy-handedness. I asked Aldon specific questions as to whether he thought certain current practices were appropriate. Could you answer to those?

And again, I am going to argue that what is going on now in New Haven is not about building a working majority. (If so, I might give the hardball tactics a pass.)

Instead, it is much more about silencing minority opinions and every hint of opposition to the Mayor. Aldermen aren't being targeted for not sharing a vision. They are being targeted for acting independently, and/or speaking up with criticisms or contrary opinions.

You'd like to say these people aren't team players. I'm saying the system brooks absolutely no dissent.

Julio Gonzalez said...


ON PRACTICES. I think it is fully appropriate for the governing coalition to co-ordinate, discuss, and pick priorities for their political strategy. That's what the Democratic opposition does, the Greens, and Republicans do it to. You seem comfortable tying one group's hands but not the other. Yes, I am absolutely comfortable even if that means that more attention is put on contested wards. How else would it be? You don't provide a threshold at which a "hands off" approach can become bad. You don't provide a threshold during which aloofness to competition becomes a problem. I don't have a problem with outside money either - if you do your research you will find that progressives, particularly female progressives, are made viable by outside money at all levels. And to reiterate, I would LOVE it if the national Democrats developed more cohesive, substantive litmus tests. Enforcing discipline has been a boon to conservatives. As NewHavenResident9 pointed out, everybody in New Haven has a stake in the outcome of ward races - so why is it wrong of there is participation? You continue your tautology that “big” equals “bad.” Unfortunately, you don’t respond to the importance of the policy disagreements, or the responsibility of a governing coalition to contest those aldermen that are actively trying to undermine that coalition. Indeed there is a working majority of 20 votes, which is how many votes it takes to pass an ammended budget. Not much of a margin, is it? Every vote counts as a result.

BROADER PARADOX. I gather from your non-response that you believe substantive policy disagreements should be looked over to preserve "dissent." Apparently, this means that having a system with "dissent" is more important than representation of the policy priorities that the voters actually want.

I disagree. I think voters are smart enough to make a decision about candidates, their styles, and the policies they represent and they usually pick those candidates that they think will substantively improve their neighborhoods. You seem to assume that the "machine" (which you still have clearly defined)has some magical power to persuade people that good, "dissenting" candidates are somehow inferior to the apparently monochrome members of the governing coalition.

That seems somewhat paradoxical. You want to empower people, yet you only feel they can make good decisions if there isn't full-blown competition, or the presence of the governing coalition. Why?

LAZY DISSENT. You seem to argue that "dissent" is paramount. But I ask you again, if the governing coalition disagrees with the POLICY views of people like Paolillo, Perez, Smart, or Chen and there are people in the neighborhoods who agree, aren't you saying that we should suppress choice at the WARD level in the interest of "dissent" diversity at the CITY level.

How many voters who don't want to vote for these incumbents at the Ward level should be sacrificed to ensure diversity at the citywide level? Joyce Chen keeps winning, sure - but a lot of people vote against her, right? And they mostly vote against here because of the issues she and the governing coalition disagree on: budget policy, the airport, slumlord regulation, meeting attendance, her obstruction of community development efforts, her inability to work with public safety officials, etc. It's not like this is high-school popularity stuff. These are bread and butter issues.

You seem to think these "dissenters" lose because they cross the "machine." But in my experience, they lost because they were lazy and actually pretty bad representatives. Kevin Diaz, a "dissenter" lost because he lost touch and spent too much time satisfying the needs of an ineffective CDC and not enough working with other people to make the neighborhood better.

My broader point is that you still have not explained how the dissenting New Haven reformers correlate with good policy or good constituent representation. Is it possible that they are being opposed because they support bad policies and are not universally popular in their neighborhoods?

Genghis Conn said...

Interesting New Haven discussion. Not being from anywhere remotely near New Haven, I don't have too much to add.

But Julio brings up an interesting point about discipline within political parties. Connecticut Democrats were very successful at both winning the governor's chair and in winning large segments of the legislature when the party was run by John Bailey, also known as "Boss" Bailey. The last Democrat to be Connecticut governor, Bill O'Neill, was a Bailey Democrat. Ella Grasso was very close to him, as were Abe Ribicoff and John Dempsey. His daughter is Barbara Kennelly. Bailey died thirty years ago, but his influence remains strong here. You may want to read Joe Lieberman's book about him, if you have any doubts.

Bailey ran a very tight ship, and the party won elections because of it. National Republicans do the same thing, and they win elections. Focus and discipline do matter. Democrats statewide have drifted in a dozen different directions since the decline of the Bailey Democrats, although, because they have been blessed with favorable demographics and a sickly Republican Party, they have continued to win everything but the governorship.

But on what platform? Who are the Democrats? What three issues do they all agree on? With Republicans, this is an easy question to answer. Low taxes, privitization of services, smaller government. There are more. Democrats? Er. Staying in office?

So yes, enforcing party discipline can be stifling and it does shut out opposition. It's a mixed bag, to be sure. National Republicans are starting to find that out as more moderates drift away from the party. But it can pay off handsomely in legislation and electoral victories, if used correctly.

DeanFan84 said...


Again I think it wise to point out to everyone that you are Executive Assistant to the Mayor. In essence, you are John DeStefano's right hand man.

Also, I want to point out that you are writing two words for every one of mine. I think that says a lot.

My feeling is that you are trying to talk over everything I bring up. While that is sad, it is oh so characteristic.

Again, if you want to defend the Party Chair in what she is doing in these ward contests, that is your perogative. I still think it is wrong, undemocratic, and incredibly heavy-handed. Recruiting a challenger is maybe okay, but leveraging the Party Chair's considerable resources in order to rig ward-level endorsements, launch smear campaigns, broker patronage favor, etc. is simply offensive to this New Haven Democrat.

You still haven't answered as to why the Mayor's paid Campaign Director, Tyrone McClain, is being tasked to these ward contests. Do you think it appropriate?

And you don't seem to grasp that so many passionate Dems avoid participation, solely because the New Haven Party is so top-down. (I beleive that people don't participate b/c of the machine. Whereas you put forth the Bizarro-world argument that without the Machine participation would be even lower?)

Eighty percent of New Haven's ward committees don't function properly. Nor do they play by the rules. Does that bother you? (They don't meet, don't form an official committee, don't do anything to build the base, etc. Plus the ward Co-chairs are almost always selected by the Town Chair, and almost never elected.) I could go on about this, but I won't. Just let me say that the absence of grassroots/precinct level strength severely hurts our chances next November against Rell.

What is most lamentable is that so many of you staffers/insiders are living in such a New Haven fishbowl that your brand of power politics makes sense to you. (the one-party machinations make most of the rest of us want to throw-up.)

Finally, a story. Two years ago, I was at the Victory "Party" as led by Dem Chairwoman Susan Voigt, and DeStefano campaign manager, Shonu Gandhi. Five out of six targeted Dems were defeated. (Hooray!?) However, it didn't escape me that the challengers' flyers were all alike, and that the six campaigns were all being run out of the Dem Party HQ's. My thoughts were then that this was a victory for the power structure, ONLY, and otherwise a sad day for representative Democracy.

You guys don't see what I see. Which is that CT needs true leadership, BUT-- suburban CT has always mis-trusted urban machine politics. Real reform in New Haven will aid the Mayor greatly in his bid to become Governor. But people aren't stupid; vain attempts to re-package politics-as-usual just won't fly.

DeanFan84 said...

Yo, Genghis!

"Enforcing Party Discipline?!!"

You are talking about doing so within a two-party system. Right!? (And I would agree with you on that.)

I'm talking about one-party dynamics within Dem dominated urban centers. What happens is that the Party-crats rule, and the people lose faith.

You see it is not only the DLC-type corporate Dems that are spreading disillusionment among working-class people. Democratic power structures can do the same thing.

Go and ask someone in New Haven, "Who STANDS for you?" Maybe they'll say the unions. Maybe the NAACP. Maybe MoveOn. Maybe Planned Parenthood. But what you won't hear is the Democratic Party, or any elected Dems.

The Party just isn't regarded as the champion of the people. Under FDR it was, and also under JFK/LBJ. Since then, Dems have generally been regarded as weak, and/or sell-outs.

Here's hoping we change all that.

Julio Gonzalez said...

Dear DeanFan84,

I don't work for the Mayor anymore. And I did disclose earlier in this thread that I had worked for the mayor both as a campaign manager and as part of his administration. And I did say that it made sense for the Mayor's campaign manager to focus energy on the wards that there are contests.

Your argument is that Susan Voigt et al. are being "heavy-handed" and that this is bad because it stifles diversity of voices. I counter that aggressive competition on substantive policy leaves everybody better. You continue to point to the fact that we are aggressive. I ALREADY GRANTED THAT - I am trying to discuss the consequences. But you go back to the fact that we are agggressive.

Interestingly, you contradict yourself by simultaneously saying that the "machine" is this incredible powerhouse and at the same time pointing out correctly that a lot of the ward committees don't work. The reality is the latter, and we tried to address it by indeed in 2002 starting to ask members that did not want to organize to step off and in some instances primarying them off the Town Committee. Certainly that built team, but it has led to some great ward committees. There is still a lot of work to do - and many of those wards are the ones were the governing coalition has contests.

Indeed a lot of the Democrats that we supported in 2003 used the same self-mailer shaped format because in one of our discussions we realized it was the cheapest way to get a message to voters. We got if off a publicly available book from Catherine Shaw. I don't think this makes us evil. Are we not supposed to talk to each other? We share phones. But so do the Greens, Republicans, and opposition Democrats. You don't answer why it is OK for them to do that and not us.

And to reiterate, you don't seem too eager to defend the fact that Joyce Chen-Mike Smart-Jorge Perez VOTE for policies that create irresponsible budgeting, protect slumlords, destroy transportation assets like the airport, fail to regionalize the fiscal responsibility for WPCA, etc. Those are bad things for New Haven. Obviously, at some point leadership requires figthing people who vote for bad policy. When is that threshold? You don't answer the fact that you yourself indicate the current BOA majority is 20 votes, which is PRECISELY what it takes to win an ammended budget. Every vote counts.

I can understand that you think my views are bizarro. I won't name call back...but I do ask that you keep an open mind about the fact that without IDEOLOGICAL discipline in a coalition, it is THEN that politics becomes TRANSACTIONAL and that is precisely what leads to ethics problems and patronage.

I am sorry if you think my posts are long. But I feel that what you are arguing is very important and should be countered with thorough arguments. Me verbosity doesn't preclude yours.

paul bass said...

Having covered this stuff for a long time, I think Julio makes a good overall point: The more competitive races, the more issues, the better. Both sides are fielding candidates in primaries this year. And other primaries are taking place for reasons apart from the power struggle within the party.

I would differ with some of the specifics of the way Julio frames the two sides--i.e. as good guys versus bad guys. To call Joyce Chen "obstructionist" on development obscures one of the most regressive, antidemocratic moves City Hall made in recent years--trying to destroy a viable, stable, thriving Upper Chapel Street neighborhood through eminent domain. It's precisely because Joyce Chen was independent of the party that she and a few others were able to lead a successful democratic drive to stop an ill-advised plan that threatened to destroy yet one more New Haven neighborhood by repeating the mistakes of decades of failed urban renewal in New Haven. (On top of that, because City Hall was feeling so confident of its new ascendancy at the ward level, it felt it could bulldoze this plan through, literally and figuratively, while cynically leaving critics like Chen out of the loop.)
There are indeed other issues where progressives would agree with City Hall and not with Chen, such as regulation of landlords and gay rights. That's why I agree with Julio's overall point that primaries are good; remember that the machine failed to knock out Chen last time precisely because she was more tapped in to the grassroots and because she was right, and the machine was wrong, on the one issue that most concerned the neighborhood.

Joe Jolly said...

"Is John DeStefano a Machine Democrat who merely talks the talk? Or is he a True Progressive committed to walking the walk!"

If John were a true "machine" dem, there would be NO races this year. Instead, everything would have been worked out in back rooms. So, thank god that he's a True Progressive committed to walking the walk - which means prioritizing ideology and policy OVER power and control.

In short:

Elections are GOOD and favor strengthening the progressive Coalition on NH's Board of Alders.

Back room deals (the alternative) are BAD, and would simply mean more of the same old school people with their old school conservative values (and would be a stab in the back to the solid progressives on the board).

Thank you, Mayor, for fighting for change, rather than settling for the status quo.

Aldon Hynes said...

As a Jeffersonian democrat, I believe that we are best served by a vigorous debate about the issues. I don’t live in New Haven, so I don’t have a lot to say about the issues. I think Julio, Paul, and Joe’s comments about competition being a good thing are on the mark. It sounds like the question that DeanFan84 is raising is whether the way some Democrats in New Haven are approaching the primaries is promoting or thwarting a vigorous debate. I don’t know enough to be able to comment wisely on this.

My thought is that instead of arguing about whether or not someone else is promoting or thwarting vigorous debate, the best thing we can do is step up and do what we can to get a good debate going. So, let’s see some of the aldermanic candidates do Q&A’s here. If there is enough interest, perhaps there should even be a New Haven Local Politics, or some hyper-local journalism efforts like Westport Now or the new Hamden Daily News

Given that many of these races may have less than 200 votes, having a vigorous debate and working hard to get friends and neighbors out to vote would seem to be very effective in getting more people involved and in influencing the outcome of the elections.

paul bass said...

Stay tuned

Genghis Conn said...

No personal invective, please. I draw the line at that sort of vicious personal attack.