Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Each His Own

DeStefano won. He'll now serve his 10th term as Mayor of New Haven. But yesterday, my boys and I did our part to promote Jeffrey Kerekes at the polls. Although the turnout was strong in favor of Kerekes, eventually it wasn't enough to unseat the greasy DeStefano machine. But early in the morning, we were hopeful.

At 7AM the boys wheeled their red Radio Flyer wagon up the hill to our local voting station. The wagon boasted a Kerekes for Mayor sign. Inside the wagon was a blanket, some Halloween candy, a few drinks, and the kids' DS's. My boys were totally prepared to spend time working for Democracy.

The first half hour or so, the kids sat in the wagon playing Kirby and Super Mario and chowing on Tootsie Rolls (breakfast of champions!). After a while, though, Nolan hopped up to join me. My little shadow. My snuggle buddy. The tough guy who loves to be by mom's side. He asked for some palm cards and handed them to some cranky adults, and he wondered why the current mayor was still the mayor after 18 years.

"That's as long as Aunt Grace has been alive!" he marveled.

Oh honey, I know.

There were a few other Kerekes volunteers working this particular poll, while about 20 yards down the sidewalk a growing throng of men gathered in support of DeStefano. The first one I noticed was a New Haven firefighter--let's call him....Rich--who (along with 19 other firemen) sued the city of New Haven when their lieutenant exams were tossed out by the mayor on the basis that no minorities passed the exam. The suit went all the way up to the Supreme Court, and this guy and his 19 compadres won. The city must now pay them millions. (If you're so inclined, the 20 even have their own website about their case:

So, to summarize: Twenty firefighters sued the city for millions and won. Now the city has to pay them. And yesterday, some of those 20 were campaigning on behalf of the mayor that they sued.

Stomach turning yet? This is local politics at its best.

Being a local girl, I have several childhood classmates who are now New Haven firefighters. Some of them--guys who don't even live in New Haven--showed up to campaign yesterday. Smile wide, eyelashes batty, I shouted down the sidewalk: "You guys are bringing in reinforcements from East Haven?"

They looked surprised that I said anything. I just kept smiling.

"East Haven. Milford. Wherever. Whatever it takes," Rich jabbed back.

A few minutes later, newly clad in a bright yellow "New Haven Firefighters for DeStefano" t-shirt, Rich walked over to me and put out his hand, introducing himself. I nodded, introduced myself, and then told him I knew exactly who he was. I explained that I once dated one of his "brothers", now deceased. He became very solemn and said he was sorry for my loss. Twice. Then he used that as a springboard to discuss "his" incumbent versus "my" candidate.

"So then you understand how imporant the department is, especially if you have children." The implication was that Kerekes wants to shutter some firehouses (not true), and that DeStefano would never let that happen (don't count on it).

I blinked and stared at him for a few beats before answering him. "I know how important the department is. I've had to call twice for my older son's anaphylaxis."

"Great. So you understand."

"Not great. And I understand that I called 911, not DeStefano."

He nodded and held up a t-shirt, then turned to my boys. "Hey, kids. You guys want a New Haven firefighters shirt?"

Sean chomped away on gum, bleep-blooping his way through Kirby, and didn't even look up. "Nah," he said.

Nolan was standing next to me, Tootsie Pop in his mouth.

"You want a firefirghters shirt?" Rich asked Nolan.

"You mean a 'Firefighters for DeStefano' shirt," I corrected him.

Nolan shook his head no.

Just then, my friend Mike, also a New Haven firefighter, pulled his car up along the sidewalk. His son, who is very close with my boys, was in the backseat. The boys ran to talk to him, while Rich and I took turns talking to Mike. As he and I were chatting about plans to get the boys together that afternoon, I heard Rich asking Nolan again if he wanted a shirt. I turned around, and did my best to sound good-natured when I said, "Don't you go behind my back to offer him that shirt again!"

Then I looked at Nolan and softened. "Seriously, honey, do you want the shirt? If you want the shirt, you can absolutely have it. It doesn't matter who Mommy is voting for. You can take it if you want."

He raised his eyebrows, lollipop firmly in place, and again shook his head no again.

Rich figured he would try one more time. "If you don't take the shirt, I won't let you climb on the firetruck next time I see you."

That did it. The kid was tired of this nonsense. Nolan shrugged, popped the Tootsie Pop out of his mouth with a loud smack, and said, "I've already been on lots of fire trucks."

Rich looked at me. Then he looked back at Nolan.

"Nolan right?"

Nolan nodded, pop back in his mouth.

"How old are you?"

"Seven," he slurped through his lollipop.

Rich introduced himself, shook his hand, and walked away.

Nolan looked up at me and smiled. That smile I know so well. It's a lot like my smile. I know I was beaming it right back at him.

I might be worried about the current state of affairs. But I'm pretty confident the next generation will be able to handle whatever comes its way.


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