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Donna & Joe

Though they have no opponents, the town's registrars of voters are still on the ballot and still worth some cyber-ink; meet Republican Donna Norman and Democrat Joe Buonome

Editor's note: This is the third installment of a three-part series profiling East Haven's local candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Republican Donna Norman and Democrat Joe Buonome could teach the feuding power-mongers in D.C. a thing or two about bipartisanship. They said politics is not allowed in their office. They get their work done instead of playing political games. They keep it friendly and respectful. They talk to each other, they listen to each other.  No one shouts.

"I don't know how to get people off their butts to get out and vote"

During a recent interview from the registrars' cramped 10-foot-by-15-foot office in the ramshackle garage behind Town Hall, Norman was emphatic.

"One thing we (she and Buonome) agree on is in the registrar's office, politics is off limits. This has got to be a neutral office. Political shenanigans has to be off limits," said Norman, 61, who  has been the town's Republican registrar since 1993. She's married to former Mayor Bob Norman, who served from 1985-1991.

She called her Democratic counterpart a "sweetheart."

Like Buonome, she has no opposition this November. If there is a challenge for registrar, it would be in a primary race.

While not partisan on the job, Norman boasted of being very partisan in her private life. In fact, she just might be responsible for getting more East Haveners to register Republican than anyone else in town.

She started with her two sons.

On the morning of their 18th birthdays, before they even got out of bed, Norman said she had a special gift for her boys: a voter registration card. She had filled out everything on the form except signature and party affiliation. But the boys knew they had just one party choice and it didn't start with a D. "They knew what they had to do if they wanted supper that night," Norman said.

The boys wanted to eat, so they dutifully joined the GOP.

Norman didn't stop there. She acquired a hit list of her sons' friends 18th birthdays, and on those days also gifted them with a registration card, sans signature and party.

"They wouldn't get macaroni that Saturday afternoon if they didn't enroll Republican. It was a lot of kids I signed up," she said, still proudly beaming.

Norman continues to stump for the GOP. She said she carries registration cards in her purse "wherever I go."

"Voting is so important and people don't  realize how important it is," she said, lamenting over what she considered "low" Election Day turnouts in East Haven.

"Many people fought and died for this right. I don't know how to get people off their butts to get out and vote. Maybe if we gave out free McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken," said Norman, who has worked for AT&T for 37 years and is a member of the East Haven Republican Town Committee.

According to the registrar, East Haven has 15,689 registered voters -- 5,780 Democrats, 2,439 Republicans, 7,442 unaffiliated. In the '08 presidential election, there was a 77.9 percent turnout; in the  '09 mayoral election,  55.6 percent;  in the '10 primaries, 16.6 percent.

"It's my cup of tea"

Democrat Joe Buonome, a retired East Haven cop (1972-2001), was a town selectman in the 1990s; sat on the East Haven Board of Ed from 2000-2004; sits on the Democratic Town Committee; and is now going for his fourth term as Democratic registrar of voters. He said it's his favorite political post. It's a lot more laidback.

"I was tired of the Board of Ed. I hated being on the Board of Ed. I like doing this," the 71-year-old said, sitting comfortably back in his office chair. "It's my cup of tea. Keeps me in the Town Hall. Keeps me in touch with people."

Even the steady barrage of voter complaints he has to deal with every Election Day doesn't seem to faze the Democrat. Mostly, he said, people call when they go to vote and find out they're not registered, but insist they are.

He shrugs it off.  "They're always wrong," he said.

However, he doesn't shrug off so much the dismal workplace he and Norman share. "I bother everyone in town for everything we need," Buonome said. "It could be anything from a paper clip to a room to a new toilet seat."

The garage office is supposed to be temporary, he said. The Registrar's Office was on the lower level of Town Hall until last February. It got pushed out to make room for a new Probate Court space.

Buonome has lived in East Haven all his life, save for two years when he married a Polish girl from Shelton and moved to that town. But he was itching to come back home. So they did.

"We left the Polish food -- kielbasa and pirogues -- (and came) back to East Haven for some sauce," he said.

And right back into town politics. Although he makes a distinction. "I'm political but I'm not a politician. I go to fundraisers and put up lawn signs but I don't campaign. I don't sell myself," said Buonome.

However, he said what has brought the most joy to his life was serving on the blue force. Those were the days.

"I still miss it. I loved it," the ex-cop said.

He talked about a time he played Santa as an undercover cop, stationed outside the old Bradley's. Under his big red suit he wore uniform and gun. His job was to look out for purse snatchers and other street criminals. During his Santa tenure, he had to apprehend just one purse snatcher.

"I still miss it," he repeated, more than once.

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