History in the hands of New London voters today

New London - Passing through New London Monday, it was clear there was an impending election.

Signs dotted lawns. People opposed to selling off a portion of Riverside Park rallied outside City Hall. The Democrats hosted their annual Election Day Eve Pasta Dinner at the Senior Center.

Activists stood at the Solders & Sailors Monument at the foot of State Street, holding up signs declaring "Democracy in Action Day'' and "100 percent Hope."

Today, the city's 12,793 registered voters will not only choose seven city councilors and seven school board members but will also elect a mayor who, for the first time in nearly nine decades, will lead the city.

Some of the six candidates vying for the four-year mayor spot were making phone calls and going door-to-door Monday, asking for support and urging residents to vote.

"No doubt, people are energized throughout the city,'' said Kevin Cavanagh, a former mayor and city councilor who has been working for mayoral candidate Daryl Justin Finizio and the entire Democratic slate.

Last year, voters overwhelmingly amended the City Charter, eliminating the professional city manager form of government and replacing it with a four-year elected mayor with broad powers. The candidate who emerges today with the most votes will become the city's new top executive, earning $86,000 each year.

The mayor will be in charge of department heads, the law department and the budget. He or she also will have veto powers over the City Council, and six out of seven council votes will be needed to overturn a mayoral veto.

This city of about 27,000 has about 6,192 registered Democrats, 1,249 Republicans and 5,218 unaffiliated voters. There are also 134 residents affiliated with smaller parties such as the Greens and Libertarians.

It is a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1, but where historically a Republican has received the highest number of votes for City Council.

The registrars of voters began setting up voting machines in the three voting districts at 3 p.m. Monday, preparing for what they hope will be a 40 to 45 percent turnout.

But neither Republican registrar Barbara Major nor Democrat registrar Bill Giesing could venture a guess as to the outcome.

"We should know by 9 o'clock (tonight),'' Major said.

On Monday, the mayoral campaign - which began in January for Finizio, in February for City Councilor Rob Pero and a few months later for petitioning candidates Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, Andrew Lockwood and Martin T. Olsen Jr., a city councilor and the city's last ceremonial mayor - remained in high gear.

Pero was in his car, making calls on his cellphone between door-to-door visits.

"I think people are ready to vote,'' he said. "They're ready to really see one voice on a daily basis working for them."

A weekend email blast from Bill Vogel, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, advised the GOP faithful to talk to neighbors and friends who are Democrats and urge them not to vote for Finizio or City Councilor Michael Buscetto III, who lost the Democratic primary in September and is waging a write-in candidacy.

Both Finizio and Buscetto were busy Monday doing some last-minute campaigning.

"We've been making calls and people are responding well,'' Cavanagh said from Democratic headquarters on State Street. "People are saying, 'I'm really glad you called.'"

Buscetto, meanwhile, has been holding tutorials on how to write in a vote.

"Today, and this evening, we are practicing coloring in the circle 1-G and writing in the name, Mike B," Buscetto said when asked how he was spending Monday. "That's the goal for today and tomorrow."

Lockwood, one of three petitioning candidates for mayor, said he handed out 4,000 brochures during the past week and knocked on 200 doors on Monday in low-income neighborhoods on Huntington Street and at Thames River Apartments.

Lockwood, who is an underdog in the race and is opposed to selling a portion of Riverside Park to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said he's also been promoting a "no" vote on Riverside.

There's a lot of interest in the election, he said.

"I don't know if they will all come out to vote," he said. "But even if I lose this election, as long as we save Riverside Park, I will have won."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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