Editor’s Note: This week, CT Examiner spent more than six hours on the campaign trail with Hartford Democratic mayoral candidate Arunan Arulampalam. Later this month, we will spend the day with the Hartford Republican mayoral candidate Mike McGarry.
HARTFORD – With just five weeks until Election Day, Hartford Democratic mayoral candidate Arunan Arulampalam’s days on the campaign trail are long – about 12 hours per day if not more– and are spent dialing for dollars from supporters and donors, meeting with constituents at various venues, door knocking and attending events.
Arulampalam, who was in an often-bitterly fought primary with several Democratic opponents, is the overwhelming favorite to defeat Republican opponent Mike McGarry in the Nov. 7 general election and to claim his seat as the city’s next mayor. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Hartford by a 13-1 margin. The city’s Democratic Mayor, Luke Bronin, decided last year that he wouldn’t seek a third four-year term and has since thrown his support behind Arulampalam.
CT Examiner spent more than six hours Thursday with Arulampalam, his campaign manager Cristan Corza and his scheduler Sincere Lawson, on the campaign trail to observe a day in the life of a candidate seeking to be mayor in the Capitol city.
Thursday was a typical campaign day for the 38-year-old CEO of Hartford Land Bank who met with a supporter for breakfast at the eatery, Fire By Forge — where the candidate spends time several days a week — which is right around the corner from both Arulampalam’s Russ Street headquarters and his nearby Hungerford Street home in the city’s Frog Hollow section.
Outgoing with residents, supporters and almost everyone he came in contact with – often stopping to talk about his agenda and plans for the city if elected – Arulampalam’s day officially started at Hartford City Hall for a flag-raising honoring the city’s upcoming Puerto Rican day parade.
The candidate spent around 20 minutes mingling with friends, supporters and local political leaders, taking in the festivities and posing for pictures. Arulampalam, who plans on attending the weekend parade, chatted with Hartford State Rep. Jimmy Sanchez, City Council candidate Amilcar Hernandez and even a city police officer for a bit before getting in his car and heading to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville for the annual State Building Trades Convention.
Arulampalam told CT Examiner that he felt he owed it to attend the Building Trades Convention, noting that the bulk of his campaigning is spent within Hartford’s city limits.
“They [the Greater Hartford/New Britain Building Trades] endorsed me in July. It was a tough thing to do since I was running against establishment candidates,” he said. “It meant a lot to me; they knocked on doors and covered a huge chunk of the city for me. They are really committed to my campaign.”
Arulampalam was expecting to meet with Ted Grabowski, president of the 1,000-member Greater Hartford/New Britain Trades, speak to members and then head on to his next event.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
To his surprise, Arulampalam was asked to speak at the convention, in a large ballroom at the Mohegan Sun casino — and afterward received the endorsement of the 31,000-member Connecticut State Building Trades Council, of which the Greater Hartford/New Britain Trades is a part.
“I came today because the building trades were there with steel in their spine and stood with me early on. You guys knocked on over 1,000 doors for me and covered the entire South End for me. I’m running for working people…. It’s great to build luxury apartments downtown, but if they are not built by the people in this room, it doesn’t mean that much,” Arulampalam said during his 10-minute speech to union members.
Grabowski told Arulampalam on his way out that “We will get boots on the ground” for the candidate.
After the endorsement of the state building union, Arulampalam told CT Examiner that he will continue to have a pro-union platform and is honored to have the support.
“Their hands built so much of what goes on in this state. I am so proud of this endorsement,” he said. “It’s so important we get kids in the building trades because there are so many employment opportunities that can lead to six-figure careers.” He noted that building trades union members represent, among others, electricians, iron workers and carpenters.
On many days, Arulampalam said, he grabs a sandwich to go for lunch, as his schedule often doesn’t leave him much time for a meal in the middle of the day. “My day often ends at 10 p.m. and I’ll then scarf down food,” he said.
On this day however, the meeting with union officials didn’t last as long as planned, so he had time to pick out a restaurant at Mohegan Sun, sit down, relax and enjoy a meal without rushing.
After bypassing several eateries, Arulampalam, and his staff, Corza and Lawson, decided on Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace. Arulampalam had a veggie burger and chatted – off the record – about local and state politics.
It was then off to his campaign headquarters—about a 45-minute ride — located near the state Legislative Office Building, to take part in a ritual he is not too crazy about: Asking for money. He said he often spends several hours a day – in his car, out on the town and in his headquarters – talking on the phone and making fundraising calls.
“In the past when it was a tight [primary] race, I’d make more calls than I do now. No one loves that piece of it, you do it because you have to be successful,” he said.
Arulampalam, who is running on a platform of fiscal stability, jobs and affordability and safe spaces for the youth, arrived at his campaign offices at about 1:15 p.m. and made about 10 calls.
“I thanked people for their support. The calls ranged from checking in with key supporters to DTC [Democratic Town Committee] members,” said Arulampalam, who makes most of his calls walking around in his offices. “I am talking to the people with their ears on the ground to see what they are hearing and what they are seeing. This campaign includes the voices of as many people as possible.”
After the primary, Arulampalam said, he reached out to many of those who worked on the campaigns of his Democratic opponents to consolidate support.
“A lot of them wanted to be on my campaign, but some felt pressured to be with the more established candidates [notably State Senator John Fonfara and former state senator and state Superior Court judge Eric Coleman]. I am in the process of bringing the city together, healing and speaking in the city with one unified voice,” he said.
It was then off to what is, perhaps, Arulampalam’s most rewarding part of campaigning: Door knocking.
On this day, Arulampalam was joined by Andrea Hill, a 5th District Democratic Town Committee member, and resident of Tuscan Brotherhood Homes, located in the northeastern part of the city.
The candidate spoke to about a dozen residents, most expressed concerns about crime and public safety.
Some residents declined to talk to the candidate but everyone that did threw their support behind him. Arulampalam handed outcampaign literature and queried residents on their top priorities. Many residents let the candidate and his staff into their homes.
“He is a stand-up guy and very personable,” said Diane Googe, who was sitting by her apartment with Dorothy McCalop.
McCalop said she would be voting for Arulampalam in five weeks because “I’ve heard good things about him. He is a family man and he will do great things for the city.”
McCalop said that anyone Mayor Bronin supports has her vote.
“I love Mayor Bronin,” she said. “He helped me out with a few situations,issues I had with rent.” McCalop said residents pay 30 percent of their income, under HUD rules, on their rent.
“The landlord overcharged me and he [Bronin] helped me out. I called HUD and never got any answer, but his [Bronin’s] secretary got right on it for me.”
Resident Donna Hansley said she first met Arulampalam at the North End Senior Center a few months back “and we had a good long talk. This is my boy.”
Many residents, including Hansley, said crime remains a top priority.
“Let’s stop the shooting and killings,” she said.
Arulampalam told Hansley and others that he supports bringing back beat cops, something the city had decades ago, to walk the neighborhoods.
“I also want to rebuild the relationship [of police] with the community,” said Arulampalam, who reiterated his goal to create an Office of Violence Prevention within City Hall if elected. The office, he said, would work hand-in-hand with police, the schools, and the Department of Children and Families “to prevent violence before it happens and identify those at risk.”
Arulampalam is also a strong proponent of keeping schools open after hours so young people can enjoy recreational activities. “I also want to have a robust parks and recreation, music, and arts program to keep kids engaged,” he said.
Resident Lisa King said one of the biggest concerns of those living at Tuscan Brotherhood Homes is the lighting – or lack of lighting.
“You can’t go out at night because there is no lighting in the common area,” she said. I called the city in August and they gave me a case number. They said they were working on it.”
Arulampalam said issues like lighting in senior housing complexes “is a common complaint I hear.” He said that, if elected, he wants to get a list of all housing complaints and to “address them in my first year in office.”
As he so often does, Arulampalam spent about 90 minutes with his wife Liza, a senior minister at Hartford’s Center Church, and his five children, ages 2 to 10.
Arulampalam was with his family at his home until about 5 p.m. , before heading to an event for the Bushnell Park Conservancy.
“I’m first and foremost a dad and husband,” he said. “I hope to give everything to the city but it’s also important to be there for my family.” He also said he regrets missing “soccer games, recitals and putting the kids to bed [because of his campaign duties]. You need to create boundaries to be a whole person.”
Without CT Examiner, Arulampalam attended Bushnell Park Conservancy event before capping the night off at 10 p.m. at the Tropix Caribbean Grille with several local disc jockeys.