DANBURY — At the local Democratic Party headquarters, mayoral candidate Roberto Alves was preparing to knock on doors, grabbing a bite to eat while checking in with State Sen. Julie Kushner and Democratic Town Committee Chair Andrea Gartner.
His campaign manager, Francesca Capodilupo, walked into the main street office with Alves’ 13-week-old rescue puppy, a playful hound mix named Abigail Barklett, a name inspired by the candidate’s love of The West Wing.
“I wasn’t sleeping anyway,” Alves quips about the decision to adopt a puppy in the home stretch of the mayoral race.
Barklett stayed behind with the campaign team as Alves headed a few miles east of City Center. Alves described this neighborhood, which is part of Danbury’s fourth ward, as a diverse, middle class community mostly comprised of younger families. Alves grew up in the fourth ward too, and drove past the road he lived on as a child on the way to Briarwood Drive.
“I grew up with friends from all over the world, in a community that was Portuguese, Brazilian, Dominican, and Ecuadorian,” Alves said. “My barber since I was 16 was Dominican, and my first girlfriend was Puerto Rican, and I learned Spanish so I could talk to her grandmother. Right now, there are over 40 native languages at the high school. What Danbury offers in terms of diversity is really special.”
The son of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants, Alves speaks English, Portuguese, and Spanish, an asset when communicating with as wide a swath of Danbury voters as possible.
Knocking on the door of a mint split-level home on Briarwood Drive, Alves stopped himself before launching into his elevator pitch, asking the 24-year-old man who answered the door if he would prefer to speak Spanish.
“I could tell by his accent that he was Dominican, and Danbury has a huge Dominican population, so I said que lo que, which is a Dominican greeting, not a Puerto Rican greeting, not an Ecuadorian greeting, a Dominican greeting,” Alves said. “It changed the conversation completely, and made him smile a bit, like, this guy knows me.”
Alves targets specific houses when he goes door to door, and considering the breakdown of Danbury’s registered voters – 15,000 Democrats, 9,000 Republicans, and 21,000 unaffiliated – Alves said that while he will engage with Republicans, he does not seek them out in attempts to change their mind, focusing instead on getting out the vote with Democrats and persuading unaffiliated voters.
Still, Alves is sent to a house with a Dean Esposito for Danbury sign displayed prominently in the front yard. According to his voter registration data, one voter in this house is unaffiliated, and it is that resident who opens the door.
Omar Shoheb, a 24-year-old assistant manager at Rundown, a sneaker store in Bridgeport, told Alves that he had not really looked into the upcoming election. Rather than getting into the specifics of the race, Alves asked Shoheb about his work, joking that he’d have to hook him up with an exclusive.
“My cousin is a big sneakerhead,” Alves said. “We have to get you guys to open a store in Danbury. I’ve really been trying to find businesses that want to invest in downtown, and I think we need younger energy like guys like you opening businesses here.”
Shoheb responded by talking about a sneaker store in Danbury that closed, and said he hoped to open his own business here one day.
“I’ll look into your ideas,” Shoheb said.
Alves said making personal connections with voters comes naturally to him when he goes door to door.
“I’m an extrovert, and I’ve always liked connecting with people,” Alves said. “You have to find a way to relate to people with personal connections that aren’t just about politics. For me, asking him about an exclusive and using that term was a way to make an immediate connection.”