Door to door, Lauren Garrett heard a non-binding phrase she hopes to turn into a winning margin this year: “I think I voted for you last time.”
Garrett, who ran two years ago against then-mayor and now Curt Leng in a Democratic primary, is campaigning again for the Democratic nomination for mayor. She said she has knocked over 2,000 doors in the past two months. She also said she plans to personally hit 3,000 more before the September primary.
During Garrett’s rounds on Sunday, Whitneyville resident Elizabeth Johnson was one of many to recognize Garret from his 2019 run for the same position.
“I think I voted for you the last time,” she said.
Garrett smiled before offering his standard introduction: “I ran for mayor in 2019 because our finances are in a mess. And they’re getting worse, so I’m running again.
Garrett, who works in real estate and is a mother of three, first became involved in Hamden’s politics while attending Education Council meetings in her twenties. In 2017, she was elected to the Legislative Council. In 2019, she relinquished her seat to run against Leng in the mayor’s primary. Although Garrett lost, she said she built the necessary infrastructure that summer to propel her into this year’s election.
The Democratic city committee plans to approve the candidate it picked on July 27, after which other Democratic candidates will be able to apply for a spot in the September 14 primary ballot.
Democratic candidates announced so far include Garrett, who is running against Brad Macdowall, a current representative of the general council, and Peter Cyr, a statewide political organizer. Mayor Leng did not officially announce whether or not he would run again, but suggested that he might try to appear on the general election ballot as a third candidate.
“Well, I’m certainly not entirely happy with the way things are going,” Johnson replied to Garrett, noting Hamden’s high taxes.
That was another clue: Garrett came up with an analogy to explain the complex story behind which Hamden has the highest per capita debt in the state.
“There has been a lack of transparency,” she began, describing how she thinks Leng abused capital transfers, or the transfer of bond funds for investment projects to pay off debt. , and other strategies to try to balance budget deficits.
“Imagine taking a mortgage on a house, but you don’t take the house and you keep the mortgage,” Garrett said.
In other houses, she gave another example: imagine “take out the money, put in a credit card, don’t get things and just get the debt”.
So, Johnson asked, what’s Garrett’s plan?
“To cut expenses in a way that doesn’t hurt people,” Garrett proposed.
When canvassing, Garrett often criticizes Leng’s actions, then claims she will do the opposite.
For example, she told most doors that Leng had granted raises to nine non-union employees during the pandemic. She said Hamden had not put his $ 60 million health care contract up for bid for two decades due to political patronage.
“Holy cow! Exclaimed another Hamden resident, Nancy Ovedovitz.
On his website, Garrett says “spending restraint” and “tough negotiations” at all levels are crucial. The problem that has plagued Hamden for years, she says, “is terrible mismanagement.”
In an email to The Independent, Leng said that “accusations of mismanagement are pure politics.” He claimed that Garrett’s canvassing was “a misleading manipulation and a misrepresentation of the facts.”
“You can’t pretend the city hasn’t strengthened its finances, that we haven’t saved millions in medical insurance savings and stabilized our city pension fund. These are facts, ”he said.
He also noted that Hamden is self-insured and that “95% of our insurance costs are out-of-pocket expenses paid for the services and prescriptions of city and school board employees and retirees.” Leng reported that the city’s contract with Anthem Blue Cross has been competitively tendered several times by Brown & Brown, the company that acts as Hamden’s official agent for insurance. He said Hamden was able to move all of their unions to high-deductible health savings account plans, which “will save the city millions.”
Garrett noted that Brown & Brown’s vice chairman is Lew Panzo – who was also the former chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and raised money for Curt Leng’s past campaigns. “I don’t think you can have a contract for two decades and bid competitively,” she argued. examine the possibility of hiring a new referral agent.
Meanwhile, back at the gates, Ovedovitz’s “Maybe I voted for you two years ago” changed to “you have my vote” at the end of the conversation.
Garrett has established contact with thousands of Hamden residents inside and outside of her West Woods neighborhood over the years, she said. Even when someone doesn’t immediately recognize Garrett, Garrett or his team often remember them.
Garrett usually solicits at least one other person; She said having other people to track door knock data while she introduces herself to residents increases efficiency and allows her to have more in-depth conversations.
On Sunday, she was joined by three supporters regularly called by residents and Garrett herself as “the entourage.”
Sean Grace, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, Jennifer Pope, co-founder of the Hamden Progressive Action Network and wife of the Democratic State Central Committee, and Alexa Panayotakis, Garrett’s campaign treasurer, composed what Grace preferred to call “the peanut gallery”. Sunday.
Garrett also claimed that “it wouldn’t be safe for me to go out on my own.”
From Facebook to real life
Concerns about security and political assaults were echoed by an owner Garrett spoke to on Sunday.
Grace recognized her immediately. “Nice to see you in person, Facebook friend!” He said cheerfully. “You are one of the funniest Facebook friends I have.”
Panayotakis also tried to spur the memory of the woman. She recalled how the woman invited them inside for ice cold water and introduced them to her pets on one of the hottest days of 2019.
The woman, who did not want to be identified because she “is afraid of violence”, could not locate everyone. But, she said, “I’m ready to leave Leng. Things must change.
“What are your concerns? Garrett asked.
“The roads are in a terrible state,” she said. “Is my car still in the driveway or has it been stolen?” She asked sarcastically, before recalling how a salesperson at a car dealership in Branford urged her to take extra steps to protect her car on the grounds that Hamden’s roads are badly damaged and damaging vehicles .
“I specifically requested fog lights so I could see the potholes,” she said.
Garrett claimed millions must be spent on roads each year for basic maintenance, but that “Hamden hasn’t even paved our roads for two years”. She added that Hamden received $ 30 million through the American Rescue Plan Act, which is to be used over the next two years. Garrett wants to invest these funds in sustainable infrastructure.
When again discussing how to limit overall spending, the woman asked “what about libraries? “
“I love libraries,” Garrett said. She explained that she had three children in Hamden public schools and that funding education was at the heart of her campaign.
“Public education and public libraries are the cornerstones of democracy,” continued the woman who refused to give the story her name. “Without them we will have an even dumber population than today.”
Other than a “Nasty Woman” bumper sticker, she said she refused to put up political signage or present political messages because she feared she would become a target for aggressive conservatives in Hamden.
As Garrett’s team turned to walk away, the woman shouted “Good luck, Lauren!”
Sean Grace has said how important it is for Garrett to knock on doors herself rather than relying entirely on volunteers to solicit her. Garrett has spent four to eight hours a week for the past two months meeting residents on their doorsteps.
It’s fine, she says, to discuss Elizabeth Johnson’s garden or take a ten-minute break to take pictures of a neighborhood girl’s pet rabbit.
“I’m not trying to catch up,” Garrett said. “I’m in the lead.”