At the close of a regular Democratic Town Committee meeting in Manchester, Connecticut, in December, 79-year-old Joe Rafala, a World War II veteran and party worker for more than sixty years, decided he had had enough with the state’s junior senator, Joe Lieberman.
Rafala, like many in Connecticut, had voted for Lieberman in the past but is troubled by Lieberman’s continued public support for the Iraq War. Before the meeting adjourned, Rafala presented a surprise motion proposing that the committee reproach the senator by sending him a letter criticizing his stance on Iraq.
“I was upset about our boys and girls in the armed forces getting killed, coming home in body bags,” Rafala says. On January 3, the committee overwhelmingly passed the resolution. Rafala, who considers himself a moderate Democrat, speaks for many in the state who have tired of Lieberman’s constant cheerleading for the war and for President Bush. “This man has gone too far,” he says.
It’s pretty unusual for a Democratic Town Committee to formally criticize its Democratic senator. Lieberman appears to be taking the action seriously, as he has offered to meet with Rafala and others from the committee early next week. But the senator’s office did not respond to requests to comment for this article.
Lieberman has been a fixture in Connecticut politics since 1970, when he served in the State Senate. He was a popular state attorney general in the 1980s, and voters catapulted him to the US Senate in a stunning upset in 1988 against incumbent Lowell Weicker. Though liberals griped at Lieberman’s frequent backbends toward the center, support for him remained strong. In 1994 Lieberman won the largest landslide victory ever in a Connecticut Senate race against Republican Gerald Labriola. Six years later, when he simultaneously ran for re-election and stood as Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate, Connecticut voters sent him to the Senate again, apparently untroubled that his ambitions appeared to lie elsewhere.
But Lieberman’s support for the war has alienated many of his constituents who are frustrated with an occupation that seems to have no end in sight.
Just as a political moderate like Joe Rafala is an unlikely figure to emerge as a critic of Lieberman’s stance on the war, Manchester is an unlikely town to play host to any kind of protest. Democrats have dominated local politics for thirty-three of the past thirty-five years, and registered Democrats far outnumber registered Republicans. A former mill town in central Connecticut with a population of 55,000, Manchester sits just east of Hartford. The median household income is $49,000, which is a little above the national average but below the state average. “These aren’t some guys sitting around on their yachts,” notes Tom Breen, a reporter at Manchester’s Journal Inquirer.
The chairman of the Manchester Democratic Town Committee, 82-year-old Ted Cummings, is also a veteran of World War II; he has led the party there for forty-four years–longer than any other chairman in the state. Manchester’s Democrats have traditionally been moderate, he says, but lately they’ve been critical of the Patriot Act and of the Bush Administration’s failed attempt to privatize Social Security. Like Rafala, Cummings once supported Lieberman, but now he is fed up.