Some candidates stop shaking hands to lend a hand

You know something strange is happening when you see candidates taking down their signs a week before the election.

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast, emergency management officials urged local political campaigns to take down their signs so they did not become wind-blown projectiles during the storm.

Republican candidate Christopher Coutu, who is vying for the 19th state Senate District, has peppered the 10-town district with signs large and small, including about 50 4-foot-by-8-foot billboard signs. He got to most of them.

"We left up two big signs, and they got ravaged," Coutu said. "One on Otrobando Avenue was in 20 different shreds."

Candidates throughout the region have suspended door-to-door campaigning and phone calling and canceled campaign events. Two Second District debates scheduled for this week were canceled.

Candidates instead have spent their time trying to assess the region's damages or simply dealing with the storm's aftermath.

"I didn't do any campaigning Monday," said Daniel Docker, Republican 39th District state House candidate. "I was helping my neighbor clean up."

Cathy Osten, who is running against Coutu, and Paul Formica, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, have been busy as the top elected officials in their towns.

Most of Sprague Thursday, where Osten is first selectwoman, was in the dark. The school, fire departments and the 14-unit senior housing complex don't have power. The seniors are "toughing it out," she said.

CL&P is reporting today that less than one percent of Sprague is in the dark.

"We have a problem with a main distribution line," she said. "A 100-foot tree fell on the main line. Of course, it's in Sprague, a 9-mile stretch of wire."

Osten said other than "casual visibility," which apparently included supporters holding signs at some major Norwich intersections Wednesday, she hasn't done any campaigning since the day before the storm. Some of her campaign staff have been working in the district towns clearing trees and helping residents.

Formica, the first selectman in East Lyme, knows what Osten is going through. East Lyme was especially hard hit by Sandy, bringing Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Courtney, Formica's opponent, to town to tour the damage.

"I've got 97 percent of the town of East Lyme without power, so I'm hoping the best I can to energize everybody," Formica said Wednesday. "I have some people whose houses are cut in half by trees or by waves. I don't even have power at the polling places right now. My first job and my first responsibility is to the town of East Lyme right now as the head of the emergency management."

Courtney and Formica had scheduled debates on Monday and Thursday, but both were canceled. With so little time before the election, they won't be rescheduled.

Courtney said he was canceling events "all over the place." His campaign headquarters in Colchester is closed.

He and several incumbent state legislators are meeting plenty of people in their districts this week, but no one is talking politics. Courtney stood with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in Stonington Wednesday peering into a gaping crevice. He toured East Lyme with Formica on Tuesday.

"I think everybody is sort of in a holding pattern here as progress is being made to see how people are faring," Courtney campaign spokesman Josh Zembik said. "Our focus is really on the official side, in terms of connecting people to resources. That's exclusively where the focus has been."

State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, a candidate for re-election in the 20th District against Republican Mike Doyle, also toured her district with Malloy Wednesday.

"There are people I've met over the last couple of days who truly are devastated by what has happened to their lives," Stillman said. "For me to be a part of that certainly puts it all in perspective. And certainly it makes me want to work harder to ensure they get the care they need medically and are treated properly and can get their lives back together."

Stillman added: "I'm still waiting for electricity myself. Those who haven't been affected dramatically, they're just waiting for their power to come back."

Doyle said he didn't take down his large campaign signs and was pleased to see that all but two of them made it through the storm OK.

He said he doesn't mind that Stillman has accompanied Malloy and Wyman on their official tours in her capacity as the 20th District incumbent. He was grateful that leaders in the district's towns have kept him informed of storm-recovery efforts.

Doyle said he went to see the damage on Pequot Avenue in New London and ended up directing traffic.

"This is not the time for politics," he said. "It's a time for healing and helping people in need. If the governor wants to come down, it will bring the state's attention to this region."

Incumbent 39th District state Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, also toured Pequot Avenue Wednesday with Malloy. Hewett said he collected his large campaign signs prior to the storm so they wouldn't cause any damage. He suspended campaign literature distribution and instead of campaigning at local coffee shops, has been listening to people's storm stories.

"I just met a lady at the doughnut shop, and she said she got some ice from the doughnut shop to keep her insulin cold until she gets her power back," Hewett said. "Let's worry about the lives that have been disrupted."


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