NEW HAVEN – All four Democratic candidates in New Haven‘s mayoral race said that they handed in thousands of signatures from supporters Wednesday, potentially setting up a four-way primary in the race for the city’s top office.
Each candidate had faced the task of getting 2,406 registered Democratic voters to sign a petition in support of their candidacy and submitting it by 4 p.m Wednesday to get on the Sept. 10 primary ballot.
New Haven has been a Democratic stronghold for many years and the winner of the primary five weeks from now will likely replace Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who is leaving office after 20 years.
All four camps had reported having thousands more names than necessary. And some of them came up with creative ways to submit their petitions to the city registrar well before the afternoon deadline.
Henry Fernandez, the former New Haven economic development administrator, organized what his camp called a “mini parade” of supporters late Wednesday morning. The candidate drove a 1950s Chevy sedan as a procession of his supporters made its way from his headquarters to the registrar’s downtown office.
Fernandez said he had handed in 6,021 signatures, the most that any campaign reported on Wednesday.
“We just thought it was important to send that message strongly about the support that we have and the organization that we have to win,” said Fernandez, who said his campaign had talked to more than 10,000 people during the effort.
Jason Bartlett, campaign manager for state Sen. Toni Harp, said her team had started turning in signatures more than a week ago. By Wednesday, he said supporters had handed in about 5,400 names.
Harp, widely viewed as the race’s front runner, lost her endorsement from the local Democratic Town Committee and her top spot on the primary ballot when the party failed to submit its endorsements on time two weeks ago.
That error forced Harp to gather petitions just to get on the ballot. But Bartlett insisted that the effort had energized her campaign. He said she had handed in most of her signatures on July 30.
“We’re clearly more organized, while the other candidates waited until the last minute to hand their signatures in,” Bartlett said. “We would rather the Democratic Party didn’t make the mistake it did, but we rolled with it and turned it into a positive.”
Alderman Justin Elicker tweeted around lunchtime that he had turned in 4,673 signatures. And campaign staff for Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina said he had gotten about 4,400 names in his effort.