Jarjura write-in victory

The "Education" Candidate:  Incumbent Mayor Taught Voters How To Cast Write-in Choice

Published on 11/10/2005
Waterbury, Connecticut

Mayor Michael J. Jarjura figured he had given voters plenty of reasons to back him in the four years since he took over a city reeling from the arrest of its former mayor on federal child sex charges.

But after a Democratic primary loss in September cost him his spot on the ballot, he had to teach them how.

Election officials believe Jarjura's 2,450-vote victory – he won less than 40 percent in a six-way race Tuesday – made him the first incumbent mayor in Connecticut to win re-election as a write-in candidate.

It's another chapter in Waterbury's unusual political history, which includes three indicted mayors, a state takeover of the city's finances and a native son who served as governor for 11 years before being brought down by a corruption scandal.

On Election Day, hundreds of volunteers manned the polls, wearing bright yellow rain slickers with "Jarjura, the 'Write' choice" on the back. They handed out pencils with the same slogan and cards with pictures of voting machines and step-by-step instructions for casting write-in votes.

Garrett Casey, Jarjura's former chief of staff and an architect of the victory, said those efforts were key. "Forget about issues. The issues were well-defined. The primary defined them," he said. "This was about educating voters and trying to create some reason for voters to try something new."

Jarjura initially planned to return to private life after he lost the primary to Karen Mulcahy, a former tax collector whom he fired. But a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters persuaded him in early October to try a write-in campaign.

"They knew that the city of Waterbury needed Mike Jarjura as the mayor," said campaign manager Robert Brown. "What happened in the primary, you had 6,000 people out of 58,000 voters in the city decide who was going to be the nominee. We said, we're going to let those 58,000 people have the final say."

A cable television commercial that ran 109 times a day for two weeks showed Jarjura going into the voting booth and demonstrating how to cast a write-in vote. The campaign also rented three voting machines, set them up in headquarters and bused in elderly residents for coffee and voting demonstrations.

Brown estimated that Jarjura, an executive with his family's produce business, spent anywhere from $85,000 to $100,000 on the write-in campaign, some of it his own money. Because it was a long shot, he was reluctant to ask supporters for funds.

The effort worked, though poll workers reported that a handful of confused voters penciled in Jarjura's name on a metal tab rather than sliding back the tab and writing on the paper underneath it.

Enough voters cast their ballots correctly to give Jarjura 7,907 votes, or 38 percent, to 5,455 votes, or 27 percent, for Mulcahy, the next highest vote-getter, according to unofficial results. Turnout was about 40 percent.

The city's registrars of voters said there were no problems counting or interpreting the write-in votes.

Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, said Jarjura likely had an easier time than many write-in candidates because the incumbent had strong name recognition.

"It would be obviously very difficult for voters to cast ballots for a write-in candidate who didn't have much exposure," he said. "In Jarjura's case, it's a very different situation. He's very well-known, a previous mayor. It was as if he was a party nominee, almost."

Jarjura said winning required a lot of work. "I don't think people can fully appreciate the odds we were facing here," he said after declaring victory Tuesday night. "It took going at full throttle for 30 days. We had to educate people how to do something that's never been done."

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